Every once in a great while a story emerges that breaks the mold and really challenges readers. The Last Fembot by KT McColl is one of those books. Set in some unspecified time in the future of an America that’s gone disastrously wrong, McColl offers a glimpse of a dystopian society rarely seen in serious fiction—that of feminism gone awry. Ignore the title. Ignore the cover art. Ignore this book being tagged as a romance. This is a serious piece of sexual politics as science fiction.
In Fembot we follow the life of a farm laborer named Jude. A middle-aged man who in his youth had stepped out of line, Jude bears the lash marks of a sinner. His crime? He fell in love. Now he’s a man who has given up on women, let go of his dreams, and accepted life as a virtual slave. He knows he’ll spend the rest of his days working the fields and his nights scavenging the ruins of abandoned suburbs for supplies.
But then, this is the life most men lead in Jude’s world. That is because all men bare the stain of Ultimate Sin. As it is written in the religious texts of the Sorority, the sadistic matriarchy that rules all, all men must suffer for the crimes of their gender. And the Ultimate Sin being when men of the past built androids in an attempt to improve upon what the Goddess had already deemed perfect, the creature She made in her own image—woman.
We never quite learn exactly how our modern world collapsed in The Last Fembot. Only that sometime in the 21th Century relations between the sexes grew so hostile that men turned to technology for lovers and life companions. This was followed by a feminist uprising that led to the new world. All of this is related by way of hazy memories and unreliable hearsay, but the underlying cause is undeniable. Women decided they need men like a fish needs a bicycle. So men built a better woman—one which was willing to share love, companionship, affection, loyalty, and be absolutely gorgeous while doing it. In response women collectively rebelled. So when Jude uncovers one of these “better women” while scavenging the ruins of the old world, a chain of events is set in motion that changes his life forever.
I do find it quite telling that the “perfect” feminist society portrayed in Fembot has more than a few similarities to fundamentalist Islam with heavy doses of BDSM. I can’t help but believe this is intentional. Especially considering the main antagonist of the story bears the name of Mohamed’s favorite wife—Aisha. As well, there are more than a few callbacks to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
As much as I enjoyed (and was impressed) by Fembot there are elements that strain credibility. Unless there is some unseen workforce of technicians maintaining the technological wonderland the Sorority inhabits, or a population of skilled men doing all the high-risk jobs that keep the lights on and the water running (as in our time), the Sorority’s utopia would be in shambles within a decade. Likewise, the idea that the Sorority’s all-woman military (no matter how well armed) could maintain any measure of control over a large population of men is beyond far-fetched. Contrary to popular fiction, neither the Greek amazons nor the viking shield maidens ever won a single victory. Similarly, attempts to integrate today’s military has proven that only the most extraordinary of women can keep pace with an average USMC rifleman, and even then, still fall short in front line combat situations. Throughout the story I kept expecting an explanation for Sorority’s hold on power. For awhile I was certain it’d be revealed the warriors who served the Sorority were combat androids or a breed of genetically altered super soldier. Unfortunately no. Regardless, none of this detracts from Jude’s journey or the deeper themes explored by Fembot.
Now I’d be remiss if I did not mention the fembot herself—Jessie. From Metropolis to The Stepford Wives to Ex Machina, our culture has long pondered the implications of a synthetic woman. We’ve seen them as demon temptresses, mindless slaves, and heartless machines dutifully fulfilling a program. More recently, though, the fad has been to make the fembot a gender swapped Pinocchio. McColl does not fall prey to any of these narrative traps. No, Jessie and her kind fall somewhere between the original Frankenstein and Asimov’s R. Daneel. Jessie is absolutely NOT a “real girl” underneath all that synthetic skin, but is most certainly alive, independent, and capable of love. She’s not human, but rather something new (and possibly better).
As mentioned above, The Last Fembot is tagged as a romance title, which is probably due to author KT McColl’s prior works. McColl is primarily a romance writer and there are plenty of moments in Fembot where that comes through. That isn’t a bad thing, though. At its core, this is a book about matters of the heart. About love and need. About the complex relationships between men and women. And about how feminism’s quest to legislate human nature can turn disastrous. Who better to tackle these issues than a romance writer?
The Last Fembot asks the question: what happens when matters of the heart are made into matters of law?