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Book Review: Proxies

Review by Beka^Kiro (Anomalism)
04:08 pm December 13th, 2003

Title: Proxies
Author: Laura J. Mixon
Published by: Tor, 1998

I finished reading Proxies by Laura J. Mixon several weeks ago, almost at the same time as a lot of things were happening to turn the local consensual reality on its ear, so this book review has been delayed quite a while.

I've been wanting to write a review of it though, although that's not something we normally do about the books we read, because multiplicity is central to the plot, although I did not expect it from the back-cover summary.

Early on, it is revealed that two of the main characters, Pablo and Buddy, originate from one biological body. I word it that way, because another central premise of the book is the use of artificial remotely-controlled bodies, called "proxies," which are indistinguishable from human bodies in outward appearance. Children with immune deficiencies have been used in experiments about how to optimize the use of remotely-controlled machines and bodies, and because it's such an immersive experience, their physical bodies have been maintained in "creches" while these proxies (artificial bodies) are the only ones they have ever used for most of their young lives.

The scientists are aware that most of the children are especially good at "twinning" or operating two or more bodies simultaneously, but they do not realize that the "twinning" is done by "twins" - two or more separate people working independently, although biologically using the same brain.

Interesting premise for most multiples, no? Seeing as "if you could have your own body (in this world), would you?" is a question many of us seem to consider at some point or another.

There are also interesting formatting techniques used to portray co-consciousness and even simultaneous awareness of an event while shielding thoughts from each other. Some different vocabulary is also used, such as "assuming prime" for what we would usually call "taking over the front" - when one takes over the interaction, playing the role of "Pablo" as the "singlet" child that the scientists are aware of.

The book does have its flaws in dealing with multiplicity, such as when the scientists finally witness an argument between proxies that are both supposed to be controlled by Pablo -

[....] Marsh frowned and rubbed at his head. "Jenna . . . this is bad. This is really bad. It looks like Pablo has multiple personality disorder. Is it an artifact of the twinning process? How many of the others have it?"

Jenna shrugged. "Maybe it's twinning. Or maybe it was Patricia's excesses over the years. She was over-the-top a lot," she added, at Marsh's sharp glance.

Now, that exchange takes place 8 pages from the end (in the mass market paperback), and it's quite clear from the previous 460 pages that what the scientists think doesn't really matter, they don't have the control anymore. But still, the use of "multiple personality disorder" as a diagnosis and the automatic assumption that it's due to trauma or is artificially imposed is rather annoying.

However, the assumption that it might be due to trauma is also referred to by one of Pablo's other system members (later in the book, it is revealed that he and Buddy are not the only ones), when she says how she was "birthed" from someone's screams - but even that can be accepted, because it's clear in the book that she was required by the system, who seem to have deliberately created her, it might not be that old "dissociation theory" of "splitting alters."

Also, true dissociation - when the mind refuses to deal with something it can't accept - is also demonstrated in the book, when Pablo witnesses something he is unable to cope with, and so Buddy takes the front. No "splitting" results, but after Pablo thinks that "he'd had another blackout."

There is also a frustrating reference to needing to find and awaken the original child:

He's our center, she realized. She could feel the strands that united her--and Buddy, and Pablo--to him. He's our father and our child.

Unless he awakened, they would never be whole. They would always be in fragments--at odds with each other, in pain.

Obviously the literal interpretation of that passage seems to imply the need for integration, but there is no other reference to "fixing" the multiplicity except by the scientists in a brief (and futile) continuation of the discussion quoted above, and no integration takes place. Therefore if you want to take "be whole" as a metaphor, like we did, for "remembering and making peace with the past so they can make peace with each other" you'll find as much or more in the book to support that interpretation - and I do wonder if that is what the author had in mind.

It seems to me to be a portrayal of multiplicity as natural--or at least the most natural way for them to live and continue living now--and the characters are written as real, complete people, who are in a lot of turmoil because of a painful past that needs to be reconciled and healed by each of them. I think that the occasional unconfirmed implications that it could be trauma-dissociation model "DID" are just there for the many people (potential readers) who the author feared could not otherwise accept the story.

Beyond the multiplicity issues, the science it is based on is really interesting and well used and well explained, although sometimes the explanations come earlier or later than when they would have best fit or been most helpful. The writing is decent - not terribly impressive, but not bad either. It's probably not a book that will keep you up turning pages past your bedtime, but neither is it one that would be a chore to read.

Overall, I think it is worth the read - especially if it doesn't cost you anything but the time spent, ie, if you can find it at a library, or perhaps used. Personally I got it from the library, and I don't think I'll buy a copy. Once read is enough, but I will probably be considering the ideas that it inspired for years.

- Kiro (Lwro'Kirosthzan Summerstorm Trillium)
of Beka household/anomalism
13 December 2003

Please do not reprint this review without our explicit consent. Thanks.

You can write to Pavilion at pavilion@ karitas . net. Back to the library
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