Correspondence (novel)

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Thomas, Sue. Correspondence. 1991 (?). London, UK: The Women's Press, 1992. New York City: The Overlook Press, 1993, 1994.[1] Excerpt in Reload: Rethinking Women + Cyberculture.

From the Kirkus (ambivalent) review:

Unobtrusively British what-is-real, who-is-who, computer-reality puzzler whose narrator, despondent at the deaths of her husband and children in an accident, becomes a "compositor" — one who uses computers to compile virtual-reality fantasies. In this particular creation, the narrator appears as Shirley, a lonely woman with a liking for quiet woodlands and empty beaches. As the narrator, almost constantly plugged into computer hardware, grows ever more withdrawn, she gradually transforms herself with surgery and grafts into a machinelike cyborg. Her last emotional act is to create Rosa — a contented, eccentric earth-mother who lives in a ramshackle old cottage in the woods. Shirley and Rosa become friends and, ultimately, lovers. At last, just as the narrator loses all memory of the past by achieving full cyborg status, Shirley accidentally drowns in the sea; but a virus that has appeared in the cyborg's programming turns out to be none other than Rosa, so there's survival and redemption after all.[2]

Google Books summary: "Cyborg imaginings mix with romance and transformation in this complex first novel where even the reader has a role to play. The narrator works as a compositor, a new kind of storyteller, but she is designing a different future for herself. Once a wife and mother, now she longs to escape from the world of human emotion into the calm and pain-free life of a cyborg. As her surgeries move towards closure, her story characters Shirley and Rosa have other agendas, leading to an unexpected outcome."[3]


A hypnotic mix of cyberpunk and magical realism [...]. A novel of woman and machine, Correspondence blurs the boundaries between virtual reality and real life and examines the interconnectedness of fantasy, desire and memory. More than a novel, Correspondence is a roleplay and you are both reader and narrator, a computer programmer who is a compositor of fantasies. You take your source material from the accumulated hopes and desires of the world, but you must be careful. Sometimes the end result is unexpected. Emotionally deadened by the loss of your family in an accident, you begin turning yourself into a machine; you become an extension of the prosthetics for your compositing work. Soon there will be no future for you, and no past; no emotion and no pain. But your machine consciousness is not yet complete, and from your source material you create Rosa. As she grows and flourishes, Rosa develops a life of her own and starts to distance herself from you. Still deeply connected to the woman you have made, you are left with devastating choices. Subversive and utterly imaginative, Correspondence breaks the boundaries of conventional fiction to explore the meaning of consciousness itself.[4]

So see for VR and the theme of the cyborg and dehumanization, for which cf. and contrast such works as "C. L. Moore's "No Woman Born," Damon Knight's "Masks," and — especially for one variety of contrast — the film EX MACHINA.

Headnote (at least in Reload) from Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind[5]:

When people ask, "Could a machine ever be conscious?" I'm often tempted to ask back, 'Could a person ever be conscious?" I mean this as a serious reply, because we seem so ill equipped to understand ourselves. Long before we became concerned with understanding how we work, our evolution had already constrained the architecture of our brains. However, we can design our new machines as we wish, and provide them with better ways to keep and examine records of their own activities — and this means that machines are potentially capable of far more consciousness than we are. To be sure, simply providing machines with such information would not automatically enable them to use it to promote their own development, and until we can design more sensible machines, such knowledge might only help them find more ways to fail: the easier to change themselves, the easier to wreck themselves — until they learn to train themselves. Fortunately, we can leave this problem to the designers of the future, who surely would not build such things unless they found good reasons to. (Reload p. [195])

RDE, finishing, 13Jun23, 23Jul23