The Girl Who Was Plugged In

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"The Girl Who Was Plugged In"
Author James Tiptree, Jr.
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science Fiction Novella
Published in New Dimensions 3
Publication type Anthology
Publisher Doubleday
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Publication date October 1973

"The Girl Who Was Plugged In" is a science fiction novella by James Tiptree, Jr., a pen name used by writer Alice Sheldon. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 1974.

Plot summary[edit]

The story takes place in the future, where almost everything is controlled by corporate interests. Despite advertising being illegal ("ad" is, in fact, a dirty word), corporations control consumers through the celebrities they set up, and product placement. The protagonist, seventeen-year-old Philadelphia Burke (known as P. Burke throughout the story), is enlisted to become one of these celebrities. She is a cruelly deformed victim of pituitary dystrophy. A suicide attempt lands her in a hospital where she comes to the attention of corporate scouts and is chosen to become a "Remote". A series of modifications and electronic implants allow her to use a sophisticated computer to control another body by remote control. This beautiful female body, known as Delphi, was grown without a functioning brain from a modified embryo in an artificial womb. It appears to be (and is) a physically perfect fifteen-year-old girl. It is controlled through a satellite link by P. Burke's brain, which is still physically located in her original body.

After months of training, Delphi is strategically placed on the location of a minor documentary film, and becomes a media sensation overnight. Nominally an actress in a soap opera, her real job is to be a celebrity, seen traveling all over the world buying and using products, making sure they are seen by the masses. Remote people are used for these promotional jobs because ordinary media stars are too unpredictable and may make their own choices of what to buy that can ruin a company, while a Remote can be controlled -- a Remote's speech circuits are monitored and she can be censored or even punished if she doesn't follow orders.

P. Burke loves being Delphi, and her starry-eyed personality makes Delphi a sensation. Paul Isham, the rich, rebel son of a network executive, notices Delphi and falls in love with her. P. Burke falls in love with him too, but of course can't tell him the truth about Delphi. Paul finds out that Delphi is being remotely controlled by electronic implants, and is shocked and incensed. But he misunderstands, believing that Delphi is a normal girl who is being enslaved by pain implants, not realizing that "Delphi" has no mind of her own. He uses his contacts with the network to break into their laboratories, and storms into the control room where P. Burke is, ordering the techs to take their implants out of Delphi. Here he finds a flabby, ugly, deformed woman wired to a console, apparently exerting some kind of coercion over his girlfriend. As P. Burke cries out, "Paul, I love you!" he rips the wires out of her, killing her. Delphi, the body, without the complex computer links which keep it functioning, dies too.

The story is told by Weasel Face (character in the story who convinces P. Burke to be transformed) in future tense, speaking to a modern person. The narrator cynically addresses the reader as "zombie" and "dead daddy", presuming that the reader does not know what's going on behind the scenes and accepts everything at face value. The book ends with "better believe it zombie, it's a great future out there".

Significance[edit]

Commonly cited as an example of proto-cyberpunk. As P. Burke starts on Delphi's first assignment, Tiptree explains the global satellite computer system and how it operates, so that P. Burke can operate Delphi when she's on the other side of the world.

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