Wednesday, 28 February 2001

K.W. Jeter: Dr Adder (1984)

Edition: Grafton, 1987
Review number: 770

K.W. Jeter was unable to find a publisher for this, his first novel, for many years. This is not because of low quality, but because it was perceived to be obscene. Like J.G. Ballard's Crash, it portrays an extreme sexual perversion in order to make points about Western culture.

The setting is the Los Angeles of the fairly near future, a Philip K. Dick style background. There, on the Interface between LA and Oakland, surgeon Dr Adder pursues his vocation, creating amputee whores to cater for the innermost secret desires of men. He faces opposition from TV evangelist John Mox and his MFOErs (short for Moral Forces, but obviously having other connotations).

Jeter's message about society is bleak, essentially amounting to an accusation that America is crippled and that the "moral majority" is full of hypocrisy. The main point, made by the way in which almost the whole of society is reduced to the Interface, is reinforced by little allusive references - the Mickey Mouse tattoos on amputee androids intended to replace the victims of Adder's surgery, for example. (This particular reference, which is thinly veiled in the novel, may have been another reason for the reluctance of publishers.)

Jeter's writing is very powerful and provocative. This is at least in part due to the subject matter, which many will find obscene (which is, at least to some extent, the point - Jeter wants to make us realise that some aspects of our lives are obscene). The obvious question, then, is whether the results justify the strength of the content, for in this case only the end can justify the means. (If the purpose is either missing or remains unrealised, then the novel is just unpleasant pornography.) Since its publication, Dr Adder has perhaps lost some of its impact, since both its cyberpunk style background and the unpleasant sexuality have become reasonably common in novels. The true measure of the significance of Dr Adder also lies in this fact, if looked at from the other side - it is one of the forerunners of what is a major force in modern literature.

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