Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press
Publication Date: December 2014
Length: Short story collection (146 pages)
Format I read: Paperback
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher.
An excellent little collection of short stories, The Female Factory is the eleventh in Twelfth Planet’s eponymous Twelve Planets series – twelve books of short stories by some of Australia’s best female SFF writers. I’ve read a bunch of the previous twelve and they’ve all been excellent. This one’s definitely in the running for my favourite so far!
Hopeful mothers-to-be try everything. Fertility clinics. Pills. Wombs for hire. Babies are no longer made in bedrooms, but engineered in boardrooms. A quirk of genetics allows lucky surrogates to carry multiple eggs, to control when they are fertilised, and by whom—but corporations market and sell the offspring. The souls of lost embryos are never wasted; captured in software, they give electronics their voice. Spirits born into the wrong bodies can brave the charged waters of a hidden billabong, and change their fate. Industrious orphans learn to manipulate scientific advances, creating mothers of their own choosing. From Australia’s near-future all the way back in time to its convict past, these stories spin and sever the ties between parents and children.
I was once taught that, in the gothic, the grotesque body can be encapsulated by things that are ‘of the body and yet not of the body’. Hair on your head is good, cut hair on the floor of the barbershop is repellant. The female body is accordingly a more grotesque body than the male. It is a leaking vessel – bleeding, producing milk, and, worst of all, birthing children. Pregnancy is a very literal moment of a body containing something that is of the body and yet not of it and children are the walking, talking embodiment of it. The female body is thus a creator of gothic.
As a theory it’s at once hideously sexist and incredibly cool. Because who doesn’t want to be Cthulu-mama?
Anyway……The uncanny nature of reproduction is captured in these four stories in a way that leaves you feeling like they really could just come true at any moment. They are gleefully, creepily, almost normal.
The IVF treatments controlled by giant corporations, unwanted embryos captured in software, risking death to change our trapped selves, female bodies controlled, taken apart, and constructed by those around them. Something in each story feels very familiar and despite their fantastical or science fictional settings. It’s that little hook back to real life that leaves you wondering, worrying, waiting for it all to come true.
4.5 out of 5 stars