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July/August 2014
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The Robot Lovers, by Dean Hudson (1966)

EONS AGO, before videotapes and the Internet drove them toward extinction, softcore pornographic paperbacks were a lucrative market that enticed contributions from scads of respectable genre writers, such as Robert Silverberg, Dean Koontz, Lawrence Block, and John Jakes, many of them funneled to publishers via the famous Scott Meredith Literary Agency. Who lurked behind the "Dean Hudson" penname? According to Earl Kemp, who worked for Nightstand Books then, none other than Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Ed McBain. Having already published many stories in the sf zines of the fifties, McBain turned to that mode for The Robot Lovers, delivering a tale more Pohl-Kornbluth satire than a book to be read with one hand.

Working for Diversions Unlimited at the projected close of the 1960s, seeing himself as hip and swinging, Conrad Bullock's main job is sexually servicing gorgeous celebrities who license their likenesses for anatomically correct Barbie-type dolls. But when DU invents full-sized male and female sexbots, Conrad finds himself a neurotic fuddy-duddy longing for the good old days of man-woman carnality. Countering the robot fad involves public "sex bouts" that culminate with the titanic mating of Conrad and Hollywood star Nigeria Poitrine.

Eschewing most corny euphemisms (although breasts are frequently "bowls"), McBain gleefully skewers romance; psychology; New Age self-help (sexologists Bertha and Kurt Krankhaus); macho boasting; fashion; celebrities; advertising; the booboisie; and capitalism, foreshadowing later literary outings by Fred Saberhagen and Richard Calder. And fulfilling sf's mandate for predictions, he nails the current popularity of the full Brazilian—or the "bare-bottom" look as it is somewhat confusingly termed here.

—Paul Di Filippo

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