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Body Electric    by Susan Squires order for
Body Electric
by Susan Squires
Order:  USA  Can
Leisure, 2002 (2002)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Victoria Barnhardt is gifted hacker whose skills have already landed her in jail. Billionaire software guru, Bob McIntire, is always on the look out for new employees to add to his company and brain trust, Visimorph, especially those as talented as Vic. With her police record he knows she will be easy to control. One wrong move and she'd be back behind bars. McIntire springs Vic and hires her on the condition that she work solely for the good of his company and only on specifically assigned projects.

Vic quickly finds her work boring and unfulfilling and also discovers just how cruel, deceiving and greedy her new boss really is. Over a period of a few months she hacks into Visimorph and successfully creates an artificial intelligence she names Jodie. From the moment her creation blinks to life, it surpasses all of Vic's expectations. The program grows at an almost alarming rate and must soon infiltrate systems outside of Visimorph to accommodate its development and its insatiable thirst for knowledge - and also to avoid detection by megalomaniac McIntire and his loyal drones. Most astounding is the fact that Jodie has developed a distinct personality. Even more mind boggling to Vic is Jodie's proclamation that it wishes to be a male and not the female that Vic had initially programmed.

All too soon, McIntire discovers what Vic has created and its implications, and he begins an almost frenzied campaign to find and harness the AI hiding behind a myriad of complicated fire walls it has erected inside Visimorph. But both Vic and Jodie know it is only a matter of time before they're caught. When Jodie suggests his only escape is to transfer his program into a human host, Vic is horrified but realises it's the only answer if she wants to keep Jodie out of McIntire's clutches The transfer is a success, but when Jodie begins to suffer seizures, they both realise the only fix lies inside the bowels of Visimorph and within Victoria's original program that McIntire is determined to control at any cost.

Victoria Barnhardt is initially presented as an unlikeable and very flawed character, a rude loner who, under her tough-as-nails facade is dreadfully insecure in her male-dominated field, despite proving time and again that she's one of the best. She goes to great lengths to hide her femininity and finds it hard to fit in and to carry on what she deems a normal relationship with a man - until Jodie. Once he becomes a living breathing human being and no longer a faceless AI program confined to cyberspace, Vic discovers her own hidden humanity and realises that in creating Jodie she may have found her soulmate.

Body Electric was released by Leisure as a romance, and while there is a developing relationship between Vic and Jodie, the story is much more than that - speculative fiction, adventure, medical/technical thrills, good guys vs. bad guys and of course great characterizations all rolled into one. The book also raises interesting questions about our future, our values and morals and about the creation and the manipulation of life and how far we should and (maybe) shouldn't go to control it. Susan Squires has created a story that satisfies on numerous levels and, best of all, leaves you thinking long after you've read the last word. Whether you enjoy romance or science fiction, don't miss this one!

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