Author: Deborah Teramis Christian
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: December 31, 2019
Shelves: Female-fronted, Female-authored, Female-dominant
Like the best science fiction, Splintegrate is a novel of ideas, one that explores questions of identity on a number of levels. Deborah Teramis Christian delves deep into body modification, cybernetic implants, and cloning, while also taking a hard look at dominant/submissive roles, the question of slavery, and overlapping sexual identities.
Known to her clients as the Winter Goddess, Kes is a fantastic character, a strong woman and a sympathetic heroine. We first see her as a coldly professional dominatrix, costuming herself, setting a scene, and playing a role for Janus, a male client. There is emotion there, but it is one step removed from the moment. We next see her playing a flirtatious game of dominance and submission with her boss. In both of those cases there is unrequited love, an obsession others have with the ideal of the Winter Goddess. When we see her with Morya, a submissive from her original house, the full depth of Kes’ emotional identity is revealed. With her, we are introduced to a love that is genuine, passionate, and happily reciprocated, and yet still tied up with dominant and submissive identities . . . and somewhat restrained by questions of property.
Where the story gets really interesting is when Kes is forced into a highly secretive program – Splintegrate – that sees her unwittingly cloned, her personality splintered and reassembled, each clone having different pieces missing. That splintering allows the story to get even deeper into those issues of identity, exploring Kes and her relationships from different angles. Not only does it take us beyond dominance and submission, but into issues of loyalty and obligation. We are reminded how all the facets of our personality, the good and the bad, define us, and forced to take a hard look at what happens when facets are softened or removed to isolate and accentuate others.
Behind all of this is a tightly woven thriller dealing with plots both political and criminal, one that involves a game of succession at the highest levels of imperial power as well as the most dangerous levels of criminal authority. We see men and women willing to do anything for a cause, but we also see how personal wants, needs, and desires drive them to sometimes contradictory goals. Nothing about this story is clear-cut or obvious, and once the question of clones gets introduced, with imperial demands interfering with scientific discovery, further schisms between personal pride and professional duty begin pulling at the threads of that story.
At one point I’d heard Splintegrate described as “Kushiel’s Dart gone cyberpunk” but I don’t think it’s quite so clear-cut. Yes, there are absolutely parallels to Kushiel’s Dart in Kes’ role as a BDSM courtesan, flipped (of course) from submissive to dominant, and I think both books do an excellent job of exploring the erotic power exchange within a mainstream work of imaginative fiction, but there is a marked difference in sensuality between the two stories that I think sets them apart. There is a narrative point at which Splintegrate very clearly diverges from that comparison, becoming a true cyberpunk thriller in the final arc. It turns away from the question of BDSM identities and becomes instead an exploration of who and what lies beneath those identities. It’s some heady stuff, especially with the elements of hacking, artificial intelligence, and cloning woven into the mix, but that’s precisely what a good science fiction tale should be.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.