The Body Electric: Review

October 22, 2014 2014, 4 star books, Layla, sci fi or futuristic 47 ★★★★

The Body Electric: ReviewThe Body Electric by Beth Revis
Published by Self-Published on October 6, 2014
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 482 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-stars
The future world is at peace. Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift--the ability to enter people's dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother--to help others relive their happy memories. But not all is at it seems. Ella starts seeing impossible things--images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience--and influence--the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love--even though Ella's never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing... Someone's altered her memory. Ella's gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn't even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella's head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings. So who can she trust?

Raise your hands if you enjoy any of the following:

  • Conspiracy theories!
  • Fighting the man!
  • Technology in the future!
  • Androids!
  • What it means to be a human!
  • …or embodied!
  • …or an individual subject!
  • Playing “catch that allusion” re: sci-fi as a genre!

Because The Body Electric thinks about all of these things, and if these are things you are also interested in thinking about, you’re in for a good time, I promise. While I wasn’t totally in love with everything in this book (and I’ll get to that), the book does a lot of things right: it entertains many interesting questions, features solid world-building, and is written beautifully. And those aspects were enough to make my readerly experience a positive one.

Here’s the premise: our heroine, Ella Shepherd, lives in postwar Malta in the new city of New Venice, the site of a new global government. Shortly after Ella discovers that she can enter and explore other people’s memories while they are having a reverie (technology her mother invented), government representatives approach Ella and ask her to use her abilities to search out a terrorist threat in the city.

What emerges is predictable – who can Ella trust? will she be betrayed by those she holds most dear? – but no less exciting and suspenseful for all that. I’m going to refrain from being super spoilery, but although I could see most of the narrative twists coming, the novel was still exciting and interesting to me. I think it’s because the heart of the novel isn’t really about plot (though I want to stress that I think it’s a good plot) – it’s about questioning what makes us human.

Through Ella, the book interrogates what it means to be human. One aspect of this has to do with memory. The importance of memories in the book is huge; the book suggests that one of the things (if not, in some ways, the thing) that defines us both as humans and as individuals are our memories. Ella works in Reverie Mental Spa, which features her mom’s technology: reveries are a “state of controlled lucid memory recall” – a sort of reparative therapy for the brain where patients experience their best days again and in so doing, boost their mental and physical health. What this focus on memory means for Ella as a character is interesting, too. Are our memories what make us who we are? Ella is forced to question fairly early on whether her own memories are perfectly intact or not, and what – if anything – that implies about her personhood. My feels about this under the cut! View Spoiler »

The book also considers the importance of embodiment in thinking about what makes a person; androids, cyborgs, and artificial life play a huge role in this debate in the novel. New Venice is peopled with robots who perform different social functions (but mostly seem to be servants); however, all human life is artificially enhanced through the use of nanobots that – variously – give its host good vision, allow them to see holographic images, track their physical location, and deliver vaccines. Citizens also wear cuffs that are linked to their identities and their nanobots (it’s not precisely clear whether people who occupy a lower socioeconomic status are also forced to do this; there seems to at least be a suggestion that they’re free from technology and the government oversight this entails). Anyway. While our narrator Ella draws a distinction between androids and human beings at the beginning of the novel – “it’s really only when you see an android’s face that you know something’s … off” – the novel immediately challenges this dichotomy by depicting a world in which much of human life has been artificially enhanced with technology. Humans are *already* weird hybrids of machine and human in the book from the beginning, and what really interests me about The Body Electric is how much the book continues to push at the boundary between the two. (How many nanobots are too many nanobots? Can robots feel pain? How does embodiment shape our experience of consciousness? Do androids dream of electric sheep?) If you’re interested in tracing questions like these through the book, you’ll really like it. View Spoiler »

I had a few problems with the book (the romance, the ending, the bee motif), but its engagement with these larger questions really made me care less about them than I might have otherwise done. I think first and foremost – I didn’t really care about Ella’s romance with Jack, although I should have done, but I understand why it’s an important part of the narrative (see the previous spoiler if you want to know why and accept being spoiled). A stronger romance would have made this novel even better to me; however, the world-building and the questions it raises and good God, the prose! were more than enough to occupy my interest.

There’s so much more here to talk about, I promise, so if any of this has interested you, please go out and read the book immediately, if you haven’t already done. Has anyone read it yet? What did you think if so? Also, how different is this from Beth Revis’s Across the Universe series (which I still haven’t read)? Last – but not least – if you do read this, don’t forget to read the short story at the end. It’s about a Turing Test, and it’s pretty cool, too.

An advance copy was provided by the author for this review.

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47 Responses to “The Body Electric: Review”

  1. Ari

    I liked the turnarounds (there were some things I really didn’t see coming) and the dreams – so vivid and beautiful in a creepy way. I did want a bit more romance too (because I love romantic stories) but for me it worked just fine as it was.

    I can’t wait to see what will come up with next the author – a new standalone would be great (as I hate waiting between books in a series) :p
    Ari recently posted…Review: UnDivided

  2. fishgirl182 @ nite lite

    Thanks for the review. I had not heard much about this book but now I think I want to read it. I enjoy stories that make us think about what it means to be “human.” I haven’t read any of Beth Revis’s other books yet but I am def putting this one on my TBR list.
    fishgirl182 @ nite lite recently posted…Manicure Monday (81): Horns

    • Layla

      It is interesting and does raise a lot of interesting questions! So you might enjoy that part. But fair warning, if you’re not really into sci-fi, there’s certainly a possibility that you might find it difficult to get into. :) Anyway, if you do decide to read it, I hope you like it!
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

    • Layla

      What made you hesitate? (I’m asking because I can let you know how prominent or present those things are in the book, if you want!)

      I think it’s interesting, though, and especially if you enjoyed her other series, you might really enjoy this one.
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

  3. Jasprit

    This is another book which only just hit my radar a few days ago and I have to say I’m thoroughly intrigued! I like how despite some things nit working for like you expected this book was still a winner for you, this gives me high hopes for this book! Lovely review Layla!
    Jasprit recently posted…Review: Talon by Julie Kagawa

    • Layla

      Thanks! I think it’s a really interesting book – which made me care less about the things that didn’t work for me than I might have otherwise done. If you do decide to read it, please let me know what you think!
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

    • Layla

      Yeah, I think it’s an interesting part of the novel – there’s so much that’s going on there with regards to the importance of memory (Ella’s maybe missing part of hers; someone else insists their memories are different; trying to figure out how to discern the truth when there are other complications is interesting). Anyway, give it a read, maybe, and let me know what you think?
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

    • Layla

      I’ll be excited to read your review of it at some point. :) I have never read Across the Universe – maybe I need to?

      What did you like about The Body Electric? I’m … ok with there not being a sequel, although there are some loose ends that I’d like to have tied up. Well, maybe not loose ends, but there are conversations that I’d like to see happen! And obviously, I’d love more in and about this world; the world-building was maybe one of my favorite aspects of the book.
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

      • Carina Olsen

        I just loved everything. <3 The girl. She was all kinds of awesome. And Jack. SO MUCH LOVE. I adored him. And the plot. SO CREEPY. And different. And all kinds of awesome. I loved this future-Malta. So curious to know more about it. Why I need a sequel is because of the romance. I NEED MORE. There was not enough for me, hih. And those memories :( I will not accept that end. I will not. I need those memories back for her, hih. :)

        Across the Universe. <3 Yesss. You must read those books. They are so so good :D
        Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: The Thickety: The Whispering Trees by J. A. White

        • Layla

          Haha! Yeah, it’s hard that the novel ends without Jack and Ella having a sit-down conversation where they talk about stuff. (Sooooooo, like how do we move on from here?) Anyway, you could always write fanfiction or something. ;)

          The plot was pretty creepy! But interesting to think about. The cufflinks reminded me a lot of how different kinds of wearable electronics are starting to take off.

          Duly noted about Across the Universe!
          Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

  4. Nikki

    I’m so all over this!!! Thank you for this btw; “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” While I was reading your review I just kept thinking how much it sounded like Philip K. Dick and your statement there ultimately sold me on this.

    • Layla

      Haha, I think the book is influenced by Philip K. Dick (this is, in part, the “guess that literary allusion” thing that I was talking about). An electric sheep is featured briefly in the book, hee. So, if that is a thing you are interested in, then you should check this book out!
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

    • Layla

      What was the romance in Across the Universe like? I haven’t read that series, so I really can’t compare. The reason it didn’t work for me in this novel is because the love interest, Jack, is kind of a blank slate – I never felt like he was well-developed as a character (but the reasons for this make sense in the novel? and also, like, there’s so much action in the book that there’s not really any time to develop him further. Which is ok. I didn’t really need it in this book).
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

  5. Ellen B

    Great review! Count me as intrigued. I love when YA books engage big questions and themes while still keeping ahold of their YA attributes — quick pacing, young characters, etc. And I’m really curious to see what this bee motif is all about.
    Ellen B recently posted…Reading With An Attention Disorder

    • Layla

      Yeah, the novel poses so many interesting questions (& ones I think are great for a YA readership, too). I don’t think I’ve even covered a quarter of the things we could talk about with regards to The Body Electric. I think it’s an incredibly rich text.

      And yes! Quick pacing, young characters, lots of questions around identity – all of which seem to be perfectly in keeping with the genre, but are given an extra twist here.

      The bee motif. You’ll see. It just gets used in lots of different ways, and while I can come up with different readings for it, there isn’t really a dominant reading of the bee motif in the novel. (Which bothered me.)
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

  6. Nick @ Nick's Book Blog

    I’ve been really into YA sci-fi books lately and this sounds perfect for that. Not only is the cover pretty but the writing is gorgeous and the world building is interesting? I’m in! I’m a little worried about the romance, but if the world is interesting, I should be able to ignore that part.
    Lovely review, Layla! :)
    Nick @ Nick’s Book Blog recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday (91) : Of Dreams and Rust by Sarah Fine & Siren’s Fury by Mary Weber

    • Layla

      Go read it and let me know what you think? The cover is really gorgeous – I forgot to mention that in my review, but really, it’s one of the prettiest books I’ve held in my hands all year. And the writing and world-building are both fantastic.

      I wasn’t really into the romance, but I don’t think you need to be to enjoy the book. I thought the love interest, Jack, wasn’t super well-developed as a character (but there are … ok reasons for this in the story; it did, however, make him a bit of a cipher).

      & thanks! Have you read any YA sci-fi as of late that you’d rec?
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

  7. Peyton

    Why did I think this was somehow connected to the Across the Universe trilogy? My brain comes up with weird things. Anyway, this book sounds awesome and all the things I look for in sic-fi! I definitely want to read this one soon. And, that title! I love the title. :)
    Peyton recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

      • Layla

        I think that’s right – at least, I’ve read that, too. I haven’t read Across the Universe, though, so I’m not really sure what that means for the book? Maybe I just need to go read Across the Universe.
        Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

    • Layla

      Eeeee. Let me know what you think if so? I don’t think you need to have read Across the Universe to read this, but I think Revis has said that like … there are some treats for you if you had in the book.

      I ALSO LOVE THE TITLE. I LOVE WHITMAN. (There’s also a Bradbury short story entitled, “I Sing the Body Electric.”) It’s a really interesting book to read alongside Whitman’s poem at least. If I ever get the opportunity to design my own classes again, and I hope I do! I’d love to read these two texts together, along with Donna Haraway’s work on cyborgs.
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review

  8. Cait @ Notebook Sisters

    I reeeally want to read Across The Universe! I only just found out there was this book too, though, so squee!! (I love that cover, yup, awfully cover-love-addicted like that. xD) I think the premise sounds awesome, and fairly unique too, though pity the romance doesn’t cut it. Meh. I’m still planning on reading it eventually though!!
    Cait @ Notebook Sisters recently posted…10 Series I Wish To Eat But Haven’t Because I Have Not (Yet) Cloned Myself

    • Layla

      No, I totally hear you. This book is so, so pretty. ::pets it:: I love the cover design!

      Eh, I tend to also be kind of picky about my romances; it’s not bad, I just didn’t care about it. There are lots of things going on that seemed much more important to me than MC’s love connection, and Jack as a character is rather … flat. There are good reasons for this, though? Anyway. I bet other people will be onboard with it.

      The premise is great and the writing is really, really good.
      Layla recently posted…The Body Electric: Review