Bodies of Summer

Great science fiction novels – Nineteen Eighty-Four is the pre-eminent example – declare their otherness in an opening sentence, and Martin Felipe Castagnet’s Bodies of Summer is no exception:

“It’s good to have a body again, even if it’s the body of a fat woman no-one else wanted.”

As we live more and more of our life online, the idea that our existence might continue there once our bodies are off-line has gathered momentum – in fiction, at least. Castagnet takes this idea one step further: in the future he presents, consciousness can not only be saved but then reinserted into a new body:

“The state of floatation is the maintenance of brain activity inside an information system. It’s the first step necessary to save an individual consciousness. After death, you can then proceed to the second, optional stage of migration from one support to another: from the web back into a physical body.”

Orwell’s dystopia was successful, however, not simply because of the logic with which he pursued his ideas to their end but because his fictional society was recognisably post-war Britain. In Bodies of Summer, but for the absence of death, life continues as normal. Wealth, first of all, decides what kind of immortality you experience: our narrator, Ramiro, must carry around a battery “plugged into my body like a leash between a dog and its owner” when he first returns to the physical world – “the only model my family could afford.”

Catagnet neatly weaves the repercussions of rebirth throughout the novel – sometimes in discursive paragraphs, but largely through Ramiro’s family. His son, Teo, now an old man, suffers from dementia, and though the minds of the dead can be saved, the minds of the living cannot – he thinks Ramiro is his grandmother and is doomed to die naturally. His great-grandchildren, in contrast, are not only comfortable with Ramiro’s reappearance in a different body, but seem to have become disconnected from the idea of death:

“One of the boys beat the other one to death. They weren’t fighting. They weren’t even mad. They did it because they thought it would be fun.”

The family also hire a carer for Teo, Cuzco. Cuzco has chosen to return in his own body, a process which makes him clumsy and slow. Ramiro’s grandchildren disagree about hiring him:

“September… says that they have to be patient with Cuzco, that it’s not his fault that he’s clumsy. Wales replies that Cuzco is a handicapped piece of shit and they don’t have any business giving out charity, that’s what the government is for.”

Cuzco lives in another part of town, and must arrive unseen by neighbours – in a futuristic form of racism, his kind are widely despised.

Not everyone wants to live forever: Ramiro’s wife, we learn, chose to die, and he has returned to find out about her life after his own death. Particularly important is to find his “former best friend.” This gives the novel the impetus of a mystery:

“I haven’t forgotten what he did to me all those years ago; but before that he was a good friend and I haven’t forgotten that either.”

Bodies of Summer is a perfect example of science fiction as literature, a novel which takes a possible future and uses it to question what it means to be human. The narrative voice – credit here to translator Frances Riddle – is convincing from the first line, and within moments we are fully invested in the world Castagnet has created. I was gripped by it from beginning to end.

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9 Responses to “Bodies of Summer”

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings Says:

    Sounds fascinating, Grant – and very believable, which all the best speculative fiction is!

  2. Caroline Says:

    That first line is amazing. The book sounds very interesting.

  3. bookbii Says:

    Sounds like an interesting read. Have you seen the TV show Travelers? This has a similar theme in that people’s consciousness can be inserted, or overlayed, over the consciousness of someone who was meant to die at the time of their death. This deals quite interestingly with the consequences of being inserted into a body which is dependent on drugs, or someone with mental or physical incapacities which were unexpected. Not quite the exact same thing, but a similar concept.

  4. Kat Says:

    Great review! Castagnet sounds brilliant. I often find out about literary SF at the Tor publishing site, but my literary blogger friends aren’t usually keen on it so am thrilled you wrote about it.

    • 1streading Says:

      I’m quite happy to read SF as that’s what I grew up reading. This is a great example of taking a ‘science’ idea and transferring it to a very real world.

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