One of the undercurrents of science fiction is a concern for the relationship between biotechnical advances and wealth. Immortality available only to the rich an oft used premise, there is an awareness among sci-fi writers that the evolution of technology may not be applied democratically given the economic system we currently exist within. Locating one such rich boy in a post-human context, James Patrick Kelly’s 1990 novella Mr. Boy examines the possibilities in highly imaginative fashion, the boy eventually falling on one side of the title coin.
Mr. Boy is the story of Peter Cage, legally known as Mr. Boy. Though twenty-five years old, his ultra-rich mother has paid for stunting surgery twice, and at the start of the story Mr. Boy is emerging from a third, his twelve year old body fresh and ready. But what makes him truly happy is that his sidekick, a ‘jailbroken’ assistant called Comrade, has just stolen for him a nice piece of death porn. The autopsy photo of a murdered CEO, Mr. Boy delights in the image on his way to a party. Meeting a hippi-fied girl there, getting to know her proves a game-changer in his life. But it’s the photo which comes back to haunt him.
A story for which the journey is just as important as the destination, Mr. Boy does a wonderful job of mixing imagery, emotion, and post-humanism into a surreal story of a young man finding something important in life. His Statue of Liberty mother (literally), the zip-in, zip-out attitude toward cash, the lifestyle of the girl’s family, Stennie the dinosaur friend, the smash party—all are engaging building blocks of story. For sheer concept visuals, the novella is a winner.
But that likewise something human is invested in the novella makes Mr. Boy transcend simply winning. Commentary on the manner in which modern society loses awareness of materialism as more and more commodities are available at cheaper and cheaper qualities and costs, particularly from the point of view of the wealthy, Kelly posits a society only more immature in its use of resources than the already irresponsible society we live in today. The story not entirely nihilist, the resolution of Mr. Boy’s story is one that, while leaving a nasty sight in the mirror, does look beyond toward something better.
In the end, Mr. Boy is the visual and personal story of a young man finding something for himself he can believe in. Money no object, his real world is often just as virtual as being logged on to the web to party in bizarre avatars with his capricious friends. Starting out a polar version of Gattaca, (for those who haven’t seen the film, run, run, run), the two nevertheless end up moving (swimming?) in the same direction.