Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Unwelcome Bodies

"They call themselves 'body sculptors.' They take healthy people and turn them into monsters. Giancarla's a plastic surgeon too — one of the best, but not the best, and it sticks in that massive craw of hers. She only took me in to try to start a fad. 'Amputee chic.' It lasted about three months. Then she tried making burns fashionable." María Luisa rearranged her hair to try to cover more of her scar. "But will she fix me? No. She claims it's bad for business."
~ "The Last Stand of the Elephant Man"
There is something both marvelous and horrifying about the extremes to which the human body can be taken. Nebula Award-nominated author Jennifer Pelland explores those themes in her new short story anthology Unwelcome Bodies. As she described it to John Scalzi:

We already live in a time when plastic surgery and body modification are pushing the boundaries of what constitutes humanity. Right now, people are having surgery to change things as fundamental as their face or their gender. Are you the same person if you can’t recognize yourself in the mirror? If you have your labia and vagina turned into a penis? And what about the people who use extreme body modification to make themselves look deliberately inhuman, maybe by tattooing every inch of their skin, or by splitting their tongues, or having horns implanted in their scalps?

That’s happening now. What’s going to happen in the future as medical technology comes up with more effective ways to change our bodies? And on the other side of the equation, what about when things go terribly wrong with someone’s body? How does that change them in ways other than the obvious?

It's not just body modification that she explores. Her stories also touch on sex and disease and immortality - and the the sometimes terrible intersection of religious fanaticism and biology.

You can read several of the stories from Unwelcome Bodies online:


  1. Anonymous6:59 PM

    While "scandalous" in the context of those who may have made poor choices of either modification or surgeon, how many of the changed are more comfortable ultimately? And how many of these procedures are reversible? Can horns be removed? Can exaggerated penii be made "normal" again?

    Some procedures, like sex reassignment surgeries and amputations, are pretty much permanent.

  2. I think that whether a body mod is going to make someone more comfortable or not is going to depend heavily on the modified person's relationship with their body. At least in the context of Pelland's "The Last Stand", the modifications are not usually permanent, and the discomfort (both in the modified person and in the viewer) seems to be intentional. I think it's an interesting idea that in a world where disfigurement and "ugliness" are optional, some people would make that choice.


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