Thousands of years in the future, mankind has re-purposed some technology an alien race left behind to create space travel. What they do is strap a woman into a machine, give her an orgasm so powerful it knocks her into a coma, and then the machine transports an entire spaceship 3.8 light years. This process is extremely unhealthy for the woman but she recovers, gets back into the machine and gets another orgasm, repeating the process until the ship gets to its destination. There women are called Pilots and they rarely survive ten years doing this. Why do they do it? Did I mention that it is a really good orgasm? Like, the best humanly possible?
Society doesn’t like to think about the price the Pilots pay. The ship crew treat the Pilot more like a component than a person. Most of the passengers are in hibernation for the voyage, but the rich and powerful stay awake and have a voyage-long party that pushes the boundaries of science fiction decadence. As for the crew, well there is only seven needed considering the ship itself can’t move on its own.
That is the premise of Norman Spinrad’s The Void Captain’s Tale, except as you can imagine, something goes terribly wrong for one Captain. The problem is that he meets his Pilot, ( a big social no-no) and develops sympathy and an attraction to her. Instead of just pushing a button and inducing a coma-strength orgasm into his Pilot, he finds himself caring for her well being as well as being aroused at the idea of being a sexual partner of sorts.
This was a challenging book to read. The writer mixes words from different languages into the text, perhaps to show how much language has evolved, but the end result is a page that takes me three times longer to read then usual. Even the English words are of a higher education level and I don’t think I have ever used the dictionary function on my kindle as much as I have for this book. It can be exhausting to read, but it also creates the effect of feeling like I am reading a different culture.
The struggle is well worth it. This is a book that luxuriates in sensation and decadence. Whether it is the Pilot and her ultimate orgasms, or the never-ending party and party favors, or the extremely sexual interactions between the Captain and the passengers, this is a book about pleasure. It is also a book about how pleasure can become a prison and a distraction from fulfillment, but not in a preachy way that endorses an ascetic lifestyle. Technically, this book is not erotica but I would be willing to argue that it is. Ultimately it is a thoughtful book about pleasure, which is all too rare.