Quite often I’m asked questions about my satirical erotic SF novel Orgasmachine,
so here is the afterword written specially for the Japanese translation which the Core Magazine Company of Tokyo published in a beautiful, sensuously illustrated hardback edition in 2001. It was something of a best-seller and became a finalist for the Seiun Award, “the Japanese Hugo.”
This book has quite a strange history. From 1967 to 1970 I lived in Tokyo, where I was teaching English Literature in several universities, Keio Dai, Nihon Joshi Dai (for one year), and Tokyo Kyoiku Dai. Tokyo Kyoiku Dai was my main employer, but its students went on strike for two and a half years to protest about the upcoming renewal of the Japanese-American Security Treaty due in 1970 – “Ampo Funsai!” was the cry – so I had plenty of time to visit places, and one place I visited was Mr. Mikimoto’s Pearl Island where the Ama women used to dive for pearls and where nowadays artificial pearls are made. I had begun to write science fiction in Japan, and it occured to me to wonder what if, on a similar island, artificial women were made.
At the same time my wife Judy — who was principally a painter and cartoonist — wrote some short pieces of fiction which I rewrote and expanded, one of these about a woman locked in a sex machine who becomes confused about her identity – is she a woman or a machine?
Near the Imperial Place in Tokyo was a toyshop called Kiddieland, which catered largely to the American armed forces. While Moms and kids were occupied with the toys, Dads headed for the basement which stocked comics and pornography books. Down there I found copies of highly innovative, deconstructive, radical hardcore pornography novels containing a lot of dystopian science-fictional and fantasy elements written by American poets such as David Melzer and Michael Perkins, published for a year or so by Essex House. (When the parent company realized what was going on, Essex House ceased to exist.) Reading those Essex House novels inspired me to write an erotic satirical novel, a subversive hardcore female liberation novel, with a sort of Japanese mood to it. When I returned to England in 1970 I immediately began this novel about a number of naïve, innocent custom-built girls, produced on an island like Pearl Island, and the shocks they encounter when they meet their buyers.
I called the novel The Woman Factory, and sent it to an agent in London, sugggesting to him that a publisher such as Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press might be suitable. The agent totally ignored my suggestion and sent my manuscript to very unsuitable publishers, who all said no. After a while I discovered that the London office of Olympia Press actually shared the same very building as my daft agent. I retrieved my manuscript and sent it directly to Olympia Press. The people in its London office became excited and immediately sent my manuscript to the New York headquarters of Olympia Press. One week later I was sitting in a train when I saw a headline in somebody’s newspaper: GIRODIAS BANKRUPT. Doom!
I sighed, and presently I wrote another novel, called The Embedding, which became my first published novel in 1973. The Embedding won prizes including, in French translation, the Prix Apollo, the main annual science fiction award in France at the time. I was invited to France to a science fiction convention. I began to know members of the science fiction community in England and France. I became friendly with bilingual anthologist and author Maxim Jakubowski. Through him, The Woman Factory was bought by Paris publisher Editions Champ Libre and appeared in French under the title Orgasmachine in 1976. This version of the novel ends with the trial of Jade and her condemnation to relive her life.
In the early 1980s I sent the English manuscript to Playboy Paperbacks to see whether they might be interested in publishing a revised version. By now, being more experienced as a writer, I had decided that the text could benefit by quite a lot of stylistic improvement. Their editor, the excellent Sharon Jarvis, signed a contract. As well as polishing the style I introduced a completely new strand of story, where the computer which manages my future world (its hardware is the organic brains of three girls) has become self-aware and rebellious. In this new version Jade’s punishment leads to the overthrow of the male-dominated world order. I delivered my manuscript, by now retitled The Woman Plant. I had changed the title to reflect three things. A “plant” is a factory, but it also means someone who is infiltrated into an organisation so as to spy and undermine (in the same as Jade is used by the world-computer, though Jade does not know this) – and finally “plant” suggests growth and change. Playboy Paperbacks accepted the book and paid me. All was set for publication.
Whoops! Suddenly the Playboy empire lost its license to run a casino in London. Playboy magazine was losing sales and the earnings from the casino were vital. To make up for this loss of revenue, Playboy Paperbacks must be sold. The buyer was the American publisher Berkley. Berkley refused to produce The Woman Plant. It would be too controversial a book. Sharon Jarvis had by now set up her own agency and she had such faith in the book that she volunteered to act as agent for it. Alas, she had no luck at all. One editor told her that he would love to publish the book, but if he did so he would “have his lungs torn out” by the National Association of Women. Another editor confided that he also would love to publish the novel, but his wife (a well-known science fiction writer) would not allow him to. Political correctness had arrived. Even though the novel was a satire about the exploitation of women it was being viewed as exploitative simply because it pictured exploitation colourfully and vividly. I put the manuscript away.
In 1996 part of the book appeared as a self-contained story called “Custom-Built Girl” in the British anthology Cybersex with a foreword by the very trendy British journalist and novelist Will Self who wrote “Watson’s word-painting may be of a distant future, when humans are `grown’ to certain sexual specifications, but the eerily empathetic personality of his heroine plugs us back into a grand tradition of literature that pits the naïve against the decadent. In her benighted progress, Jade seems to reprise… Pauline Réage’s anonymous love-object in The Story of O. And in creating a setting for his characters, Watson borrows the furniture of Surrealism… to create a picture of a future that I feel would not have seemed anomalous or unbelievable to Kafka.”
Now at last my novel is to appear in Japanese, in the country of its birth, merely thirty years late. There is still no English language edition of the whole novel. The French version was totally superceded by the unpublished revision I wrote for Playboy Paperbacks, although we are keeping the French title, and in revising the English text yet again for translation into Japanese I have introduced many more small improvements in story and style. To my (even more mature) eye there were still things wrong with the text, little contradictions and confusions. Here, then, is the definitive text of the book – except that for now at least only the Japanese will be able to read it! Apprpriately it appears on the same day as the first showing in Japan of the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence, on which I worked with Stanley Kubrick for a year and which has finally been filmed by Steven Spielberg, his screenplay based on my screen story – a movie about artificial persons and their uses and misuses, and about programmed love, themes that have been in my mind for a very long time, ever since I visited Pearl Island.
Ian Watson, 21 May 2001.