by Ray Fawkes (Writer) and Vince Locke (Illustrator)
Top Shelf Productions, 2015
Junction Total is a technosex horror thriller set in a near future world, or perhaps a sideways-in-time version of this one, where hipsters and goths maintain constant connection to their blogs and blog audiences. The latest pursuit among the cream of them is neumod: body modifications part bio and part hardware, like sweet-tasting hallucinogenic tears or phosphorescent runes that dance around under the skin, advertising their wearers’ arousal. But the most extreme of them is the Junction True, where a couple has their digestive systems rerouted so the Master can give nourishment to their sub, or “puppet” through a locking metal socket, both portals keyed only to each other. The puppet cannot eat on his/her own; they have total dependence on the Master. It’s the ultimate D/s relationship. When blogger Dirk Brody becomes infatuated with blue-dreadlocked Teralyn, a neumod fixture on the scene, the plot is set in motion: her price for returning his attraction is to become her gut-controlled puppet. Being not too bright, he accedes, and the rest of the story concerns the illegal operation they have and its repercussions.
There’s also a subplot where Dirk’s friend, Gothic Lolita Naoko, does research for her own blog on how neumod modifications have disfigured and ruined the lives of their owners, with some sly commentary that could have come from the lips of today’s out-there bodymod advocates (One character windily opines neumod failures are not victims, but explorers and pioneers, even as she displays arms covered with horrid red scars.) Naturally, Naoko also discovers Teralyn is unstable and psychotic, but by that time it’s too late to save Dirk.
It was pretty clear the Junction Total was used as metaphor for an all-consuming D/s relationship that goes from bedroom play to real life. Yet the story wasn’t much of a love story. The doomed couple decide to become doomed far too quickly; there really was no clear reason for Dirk to become so smitten with Teralyn that he hands over his life, even if he thinks it will make good blog fodder. There was no clear reason for his disillusionment either, which seems to occur only days after their joint coming-out party. The love story at the heart of the novel felt skipped over, which was a shame — the book could have done with being at least two chapters longer, or at least had some of the non-essential stuff (like the doctor endlessly pontificating) excised in favor of character development. One thing the story did play up was the Junction connection as sexual. Teralyn’s portal is on her back, where Dirk’s is where his stomach is, so when they are connected, and their metallic tentacles interlock, he looks like he’s buggering her. This brought up to question of who really is the Master in a situation like that… the one with the responsibility, or the one who is the object of the responsibility? The first is a moral acceptance, the second is physical. It’s suggested that the Master has the short end of the stick, even if they have the power… Dirk enjoys it, while Teralyn is not so thrilled.
I was a big fan of the artwork. The horror was soft-pedaled, and the tragedy enhanced, by the watercolor panels, which had a delicate, fairy tale feel. The characters were as pretty and graceful as ballet dancers, as hauntingly damaged as absinthe drinkers. (The artist also worked with Nail Gaiman on The Sandman, which I have never read, so I’ll check that out.) It was the major enjoyment of the story for me, and I felt the plot itself should have been more up to it.
A few things about the story did not make sense. The mechanics of the Junction Total are never fully explained, only talked around, but it is stated that “most” of the puppet’s digestive tract is removed. Yet later on in the story the characters are hooked up to giant, refrigerator-sized sustenance units through their portals when their partners aren’t there. A portable IV bag and line would suffice for water and nutrients, and a colostomy bag if the large intestine is gone. If the stomach had been left, water could still be absorbed by the body.
In the end, the story did have some thought-provoking things to say about body modification outlaws and how they justify themselves, but stopped short of a declared editorial stance.
The final question the story seems to ask: Is bodily modification (and perhaps the idea of a D/s relationship) a route of self-actualization… or self-destruction?
A sketch by Vincent Locke (not from the novel reviewed)