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The Gynoid Interview (With Danielle de Santiago)

Wednesday 30th November, chilly, calm morning, pale sun breaking through cloud. the wind has blown itself out for the moment, no rainstorms or flooding in Brighton or at least not yet. Solidarity: I'm going to be marching with the unions in an hour or so (alongside Peter). A very undisruptive route, from Victoria Gardens to the Level, if you know what that means. I totally support this day of action, down with the Bad Barons of Westminster, and their settled determination to make the rich richer, persecute the poor, and reduce the middle classes (historical aberation that we are!) to the level of upper servants. And what happened to that Robin Hood tax may I ask?

But meanwhile, here's an interview I did earlier this year with a most engaging, and sympathetic interviewer, Danielle de Santiago. (Never did get a copy of the magazine: ah well, it's true I don't speak German but I could have looked at the pictures. I think possibly Danielle decided the rest of the content wasn't suitable fare for an elderly English lady).

would you please introduce yourself to my readers and tell them who you are

I’m Gwyneth Jones, I’m English, my politics are Green, because I think about the future; my working habits are sedentary, but I go to the gym often, and dream of climbing mountains. I’m very fond of cats, also frogs. I’m fascinated by science and technology, and by myth and “fairytales”: to me this is all related, all about telling stories that try to explain how the world works, and how actions have consequences. Plus, I like extraordinary things, and believe purely material, “rational” explanations can never be adequate. I’m frequently identified as a feminist writer, but just as frequently rejected by feminists. I’ve been writing in different genres of the fantastic for many years.

you are the novelist who actually createt the term of "gynoid" for your novel Divine Endurance...can you please tell us what your inspiration was?

In science fiction terms I was inspired by Issac Asimov’s “Robot” stories, written long before real-world robotics had come anywhere near “creating” a humanoid robot. Actually the super-powered machine-in-human-form is is a much, much older idea in European culture, eg the Golem. Asimov followed that tradition, by pondering on the consequences. Would human beings become helpless, in the care of these devoted, super-intelligent, super-powerful machines? Would the servant become the master? I became fascinated by that puzzle too, and wrote a story about the “perfect servant”, and what she means in a far, far future world. Inventing the term “gynoid” was really incidental. Andros means “man” in Greek. An android is a man-like robot. Gyne means woman. It seemed obvious to me that a woman-like robot would be a gynoid. But Cho (the metagenetic gynoid) is a real character in the story, not just a gadget in human form. As the story developed, I think her feminine approach to her task of making people perfectly happy became important.

how can we imagien the gynoids you were having in mind back then?

Dolls. Cho is a doll, a fanstastically perfect toy. She has the life of a toy who does not know that she’s a toy, but yet doesn’t question that she is incomplete alone. She is empty inside until she can find her person, a human being she can look after and cherish forever. It doesn’t have to be a male human being. In fact, Cho’s lover will be a woman. Long after I wrote the book, I questioned what was behind the creation of Cho, in my own mind. I realised that in ways I myself been brought up to be a perfect, devoted companion. I wrote about this and you can find the essay here:

in your novel the gynoid is a female roboter slave...what was she created for?

She was created as a very exclusive, very expensive, incredibly dangerous kind of robot companion. Sexual pleasure is part of her repertoire, but she can do much, much more. Her long-gone human designers actually became very worried about the potential powers of these “angel dolls”. They tried to build safeguards, but the safeguards turned out to be catastrophically inadequate. Cho’s kind were programmed to satisfy the deepest of human desires. They found the deep desire for death in the human psyche, and death is what they have provided, for billions. By the time Cho emerges and goes in search of the remnant of humanity, the process is almost complete. It’s up to Cho and her lover, if possible, to find out what “the angel dolls” have done, and change this result. In other words the story of Cho is a fable about our relationship with machines. They are wonderful, they serve us devotedly, they can create a paradise of instant gratification for us. But they are also the engines of death.

today fembots/gynoids are still or rather even more a subject as people keep on beeing fascinated by the idea female robots ...of course that is mainly a male fantasie..of a sexy robot who is willing to satiesfy ally our wishes...what is your opinion about that and what do you think where these needs for artifical women comes from?

Simple! Men, and possibly women too, believe that artificial women will do what they are told. Now that functioning humanoid robots are becoming a real possibility, the idea of a male-formed humanoid robot may be too threatening. A machine that looks like a woman looks harmless and submissie (although this may be illusion). So it’s not all about sex, but obviously (male) sexual fantasies are important. As a sexual partner, a female-shaped humanoid robot promises to be as tolerant as a rubber doll. “She” will do anything, embarrassing or plain nasty, and the client doesn’t have to explain or negotiate. My accidental invention “gynoid” did not catch on in science fiction, the term “female android” is preferred, but I’ve noticed that whenever another author has used the term, the gynoid is always a sex-worker. As if there would be no point in giving a robot female form if “she” was not to be used for sex.

a lot people write about the contact between the subjects or erotica and science/technic...what do you think about that?

Years ago, when people first started using the internet, this globally dispersed machine seemed to have unlimited potential. Innovative science fiction writers, the Cyberpunks, were obsessed with the idea of fusion between humans and machines: a kind of erotic, disembodied, data-mediated nirbhana. Very soon after that, we realised that there were only two reliable ways to make money online: porn and gossip, which seemed like the real world’s ironic response to the science fiction dream.

Nowadays the internet is a huge part of many people’s lives, and we live with it like wearing an old sock. The image of the (usually male) geek, who gets turned on by gadgets, thrilled by killer applications, and avoids human contact is still a figure of fun. But sexual pleasure that happens in our heads, and doesn’t involve another person, certainly is closely related to other kinds of arousal. I can understand the idea that there is a thrill, like sex but beyond sex, in machine-mediated pleasure.

do you think that a gynoid like the one you had in mind will ever exist in the future?

No. Cho is a personification of an archetype, like Death or Love. She’s a real character, in the story, but she’s not a real prototype of some possible future robot. She’s The Machine, not any particular machine.

where do you see the social problems with the possible existance of fembots/gynoids?

The world is already full of flesh and blood fembots/gynoids, in the sense of sex-workers (including exploited wives and concubines) who are treated like blocks of wood, and do not have the power to negotiate human rights for themselves. There are plenty of human female domestic slaves too. What would be the difference? I fear that a significant “population” of non-sentient fembots/gynoids would only make it more difficult for real, flesh and blood working women to maintain their independence. But if they were sentient? If they were “man-made”, but whole human beings with human minds? Then they’d just be people, like the rest of us, another exploited underclass.

a very interesting aspect is the fact that the sex-robot fantasy seems to be a male only idea..or do you think that women feel the need for a male robo-slave as well?

The male robo-slave is not unknown in science fiction. In Joanna Russ’s famous feminist satire The Female Man, one of her characters is a futuristic, augmented female assassin (called Jael), who keeps a male robo-slave as a pet. He’s literally a pet, built from “chimpanzee germ plasm”, and controlled by digital impulses, but she uses him as a sextoy. Another US writer, Carolyn Cherryh, has written several novels featuring a subrace of synthetic humans called azi. Female characters in Cherryh’s books tend to be strong and determined, and are often in positions of rank and power. These women are not above exploiting male azi, as more or less willing sex-workers. I think both these fantasies have an appeal for women readers, and if (heterosexual programmed) male robo-slaves became available, I’m sure there would be a market for them.

if you could design yourself a would he be like?

I wouldn’t want to do that. If I designed a servitor, I wouldn’t want it in human form, I don’t have a place in my life for a slave, or even something that looks like a slave. If I designed a humanoid robot, I’d design it for a function that human beings couldn’t perform: like surviving in deep space or on an alien planet. I’d want to be able to inhabit the robot form by telepresence, so I could fly close to the sun or into the cloudy depths of a gas planet. It would be a “gynoid” when I was inhabiting it, obviously, but I wouldn’t worry about making it “male” or “female”.

one more question..please tell my readers about your recent book

My most recent book is called Spirit, it’s a retelling of The Count Of Monte Cristo, in a fantastical space opera setting, with a woman in the lead role. In the world of Spirit it’s against the law for an AI to be embodied in human form: with the exception of sex workers and street-level police officers. These two jobs are thought to be too psychologically and physically dangerous for human beings, and yet best conducted in human-shaped form. So there are bots, and they may look like women or men, but they aren’t artificial humans, they are fully sentient software agents, temporarily inhabiting human-shaped machines.


That's it. Now take a good look at Takashi Murakami's* little lady, dear readers, especially female readers. I mean the image I'm using as a keynote: Hiropon. Take a good long look, and think about it. Murakami didn't call his cornucopia girloid "heroin" (that's what's what Hiropon means) for nothing. You do not need, you really do not need that uplift bra, you don't need the underwiring, and you definitely don't need the silicone implants.

Well, correction: you don't need to militarise your assets, if you have any desire at all for women and men to treat each other like human beings.

Once the weapons are out, everyone loses.

*to be fair, I suspect Murakami came at his image the other way round, and his little girl with the huge tits is meant to say "A hugely toxic spiritually destructive drug is like a grotesquely desirable young woman." But the message is the same.


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Jo on :

Hi, Gwyneth. What an interesting interview. I remember Danielle talking about his plans for it - as a friend of his, I can tell you his post gets lost with depressing frequency (both ways) and chances are so too did your magazine. That or life and complications (of which there have been many) got in the way of sending it. Forgive him!

Jo x

Gwyneth Jones on :

Thanks for your comment and if you're in touch with Danielle say hello & give him my best wishes. i enjoyed doing that interview.

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