Foreign Bodies - Stephen Dedman
Tor, December 1999, HC, 288pp, $US23.95.
Reviewed by Jonathan Strahan

Stephen Dedman's debut fantasy novel, The Art of Arrow Cutting, took its action from Hong Kong cinema and its pacing from Hollywood. Dedman brings that same no-nonsense style of writing to his sophomore effort, science fiction novel Foreign Bodies.

The early 21st Century is not a good place to be: the economy is depressed, social stratification has been amplified, and extremists of every kind seem to have a determining voice in the world's affairs. Mike Galloway is hiding out from that world, running his own small travel agency and keeping his nose clean in his favourite city in the world, San Fransisco. Dissatisfied with the lack of empathy endemic in society, Galloway occasionally offers shelter to the homeless. However, his generosity goes astray when he helps a homeless woman named Swifty, who he allows to sleep on his balcony. Swifty is a time traveller who is able to travel back through time by taking over bodies of the recently dead. Through the use of brain taping technology, Swifty swaps bodies with Galloway, leaving him stranded, homeless, broke and suddenly female.

Dedman has shown an ongoing interest in sexuality and gender issues in his short fiction, and that interest pervades Foreign Bodies. By taking a character who is a white anglo-saxon male, and turning him into a homeless, homosexual woman Dedman can look at he kinds of injustices that the disenfranchised are routinely exposed to. It also allows him to show us the homeless and the insane through the eyes of a character who is becoming increasingly sensitised to the issues confronting these people, and who is learning to set aside his prejudices.

While Foreign Bodies is an entertaining and provocative novel, I do have one or two quibbles. Dedman spends the first half of the novel developing the character of Galloway, and showing us the streets of San Fransisco through the eyes of Swifty, then, as though he suddenly became aware of the need to the end the novel, he switches to a plot reminiscent of the Hollywood action thrillers like The Rock. While he does it well, it's hard not to wonder where the novel might have gone had Dedman chosen another more consistent path. I also felt that Dedman struggled to create a sense of place in his story, something that seemed important given that he makes so much of Galloway's love of San Fransisco.

However, such things are easy to forgive. As a sophomore effort, Foreign Bodies is a good novel, and is never less than entertaining. It shows that Dedman is a writer to watch especially if he can bring the kind of gravitas that characterises his short fiction to his novels.

©1999 Jonathan Strahan.
This review originally appeared in Locus.