|Art by Reiko Murakami|
“Phantom Limb” by Reiko Scott (4658 words)
No Spoilers: Naomi works for the Department of Health, tracking suppliers of illegal cybernetics. As someone who’s been heavily modified herself, it’s something she has a rather unique perspective on. More importantly, perhaps, is that it’s never been her choice to have her body modified. To get a cybernetic arm. Or nervous system. Or face and throat and chest and second arm. Each time, the decision is made for her, and she finds herself feeling like a Ship of Theseus. As she tries to do her job, and navigate her family life, it certainly takes a toll. The story splits its time between the investigative work that Naomi does and her relationship with her family. It’s a story full of trauma and questions about identity, about worth, and about control.
Keywords: Cybernetics, Prostheses. Law Enforcement, Family, Change, CW- Suicide(?)
Review: So this is such a layered story and I love it. On the surface, it’s about Naomi’s body. About the way that she’s being made into something that she doesn’t know she wants. Into the vision of perfection that is being forced on her. White skin that can’t be broken and a body that is strong, tireless, and aesthetically pleasing. It’s something that Naomi both tries to embrace and reject, to use and to escape. Because she at the same time that this is a wrong that has been done to her, everyone treats it as a favor. As a good. And in order to move through this world, Naomi must try to accept what has been done and keep going. Which she does, pushing herself harder and harder because otherwise she’d have to face what’s been done to her, what her body has become.
On another layer, though, the story also seems to me to be about culture and identity. Naomi is the child of immigrants, and faces losing a lot of what she might have had in Japan. There she was normal as she was, but in America she’s seen as lacking, as needing to change. And that it’s her parents that set her on this path, who both criticize her and allow her to be “improved,” is really fucked up. And it informs so much of how I read her relationship with them, seeing how they value their own imperfections but wouldn’t allow them in her. And so she pushes herself as well to avoid dealing with that, to run from the anger and the hurt she feels because of what she’s lost, because of what’s been taken from her.
And the pressure on her to succeed, to be as perfect as she tries to seem, is intense. Any mistake is always followed by other people telling her how she could be better, should be better. She’s never able to hear that it’s okay, that she did her best. Because she’s supposed to be better. Smarter. Faster. Stronger. Because everyone thinks she’s been given so much, when what she wanted was just to be, to be accepted and valued. And instead she is pushed to the brink and jumps. And glob, for me that moment is all about annihilation, the symbolic death that allows for the “perfect” Naomi to emerge. The robot, fully. And it’s such a heartbreaking moment, unsettling and intense and tragic all at once. And the story is gorgeous, a mystery that’s really a personal journey through identity, expectations, and violation. A wonderful read!