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Many years since I read this book, so the details are vague. One of the characters makes some cash on the side by renting out her body for sex work. I think her day job is as spaceship crew. She's "disconnected" or "hibernating" while renting out, and somebody else is in control. She wakes up supposedly with no memory of what happened while her body was occupied, but occasionally has weird glimpses which might be memory or fantasy. But then one time she wakes up, there has been a murder, and her body probably did the murdering.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. You say this was many years ago, but can you be specific about approximately what year it was?
    – DavidW
    Jun 18 at 10:41
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    Nor very precisely. Maybe twenty years ago.
    – Åsmund
    Jun 18 at 10:47
  • This answer suggests Starters is similar, except the protagonist doesn't work on a spaceship, and the book was only released in 2012, so probably too recent.
    – DavidW
    Jun 18 at 11:08
  • 5
    In Neuromancer a character related her previous experience as a rent-a-body. But in her anecdote, that's her only job at the time; it's not a side hustle. Jun 18 at 15:23
  • 1
    It could well be Neuromancer.
    – Åsmund
    Jun 19 at 9:23

3 Answers 3

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This is a good match for a small fragment of backstory related near the end of Chapter 11 of William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

Molly explains to Case (the protagonist) how she got the money for her implants (inset mirrorshades, and blades that can extend from her fingers): by becoming a ‘meat puppet’, a sex worker with a ‘cut-out chip’ that should prevent any awareness of what happens:

“Wake up sore, sometimes, but that’s it. Renting the goods, is all. You aren’t in, when it’s all happening. House has software for whatever a customer wants to pay for…”

In her case, however, it didn't completely work:

“Trouble was, the cut-out and the circuitry the Chiba clinics put in weren’t compatible. So the work time started bleeding in, and I could remember it… But it was just bad dreams, and not all bad. […] I wasn’t conscious. It’s like cyberspace, but blank. Silver. It smells like rain… […] But I was starting to remember. Like dreams, you know. And they didn’t tell me. They switched the software and started renting to speciality markets.

She said nothing and continued the puppet work, to pay for the remaining operations on her implants:

“And I knew, but I kept quiet about it. I needed the money. The dreams got worse and worse, and I’d tell myself that at least some of them were just dreams, but by then I’d started to figure that the boss had a whole little clientele going for me. Nothing’s too good for Molly, the boss says.

On one particular occasion (after an operation that must have disturbed the cut-out chip), she regained consciousness while with a customer:

“I came up. I was into this routine with a customer… Senator, he was. Knew his fat face right away. We were both covered with blood. We weren’t alone. She was all… Dead. And that fat prick, he was saying, ‘What’s wrong. What’s wrong?’ ’Cause we weren’t finished yet… So I guess I gave the Senator what he really wanted, you know?”

After that, she had to give it up, of course.

There's not much more detail than this. It explains her reaction to another character, and informs other parts of her backstory — but it's still only a few paragraphs within a rich and complex book.


(I wrote this answer before seeing any of the comments mentioning Neuromancer — since I've already found the quotes, I hope it's OK to post this.)

(Incidentally, and probably coincidentally, there are some interesting parallels with a scene from the earlier Godfather Part II…)

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  • Thanks for posting this! your well researched answer is better than I could hope to do! Jun 20 at 2:25
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    Not that this answer needs improving, it’s possible the asker might also be thinking about the staging of the final incident from the holo-show that Rivera puts on. Jun 20 at 4:56
  • I'm sure she also gives more details in later/other books?
    – AncientSwordRage
    Jun 20 at 12:27
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    @RossPresser she does but under different names: williamgibson.fandom.com/wiki/Molly_Millions I've not read Mona Lisa Overdrive but I could swear there was a reference in Count Zero as well.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Jun 20 at 19:23
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    @AncientSwordRage Molly is a major character in Mona Lisa Overdrive, and I think she's mentioned in Count Zero but may not actually appear. (BTW: I loved Mona Lisa Overdrive.) Jun 22 at 21:21
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I think this may be Fools, by Pat Cadigan.

Cover of "Fools" by Pat Cadigan, Spectra Special Editions. The cover shows a woman's face, a flying car above a landing port, and a skull on a colored graph. Cover of "Fools" by Pat Cadigan. The cover shows a woman standing with a VR headset covering her eyes, while brightly colored tropical fish are placed around her on the cover.

One of the characters makes some cash on the side by renting out her body for sex work. ... She's "disconnected" or "hibernating" while renting out, and somebody else is in control. She wakes up supposedly with no memory of what happened while her body was occupied, but occasionally has weird glimpses which might be memory or fantasy.

Now, this plot can be very confusing, and it's hard to say which of the various personalities we encounter inhabiting this body is the "main character". Plus it's been a while since I've read this, so there may be some mistakes in what follows:

Marceline is the second personality we encounter, and she's an "Escort". Which is not the same thing as being a sex worker. We'll come back to her later.

The first personality we meet is Marva, who believes herself to be a Method actor. This goes further than the Method Acting we know about - she believes that she's become Marceline though buying Marceline's personality and at least some of her memories. This may have been intended as research for a similar role, but she believes that she became too immersed and unable to return to her real self.

There are "Famous" people - I understand that they effectively sell their personalities and memories, and people pay to load these into their brains and effectively experience being that person for a short time. These people usually are famous, their services are legal, and a lot more expensive than becoming someone like Marceline. Effectively, you're paying to become your favourite celebrity for brief periods of time.

Marva may not even be the original Marva. She may be someone who has become too immersed in being the original, Famous Marva, and who believes herself (wrongly) to be the real Marva.

Marceline is the second personality we encounter, and she's an "Escort". Which is not the same thing as being a sex worker. Her job appears to involve helping people commit suicide, although I'm not sure whether that's in the real world, or whether the death of someone's mindscape perception of themself kills the real body from shock. Or whether someone experiences something which they believe would kill them, and this kills the personality regardless of what happens to the body.

If a character can believe she's alive, then she must believe she can die.

I think that what she does is to kill the personalities people have uploaded into their bodies, so that the real people can then take over. Morally, this is pretty dubious to say the least, and I don't think it's legal. It may be that an Escort carries out assisted suicide, but someone who kills an unwilling personality is called a Bouncer.

There's a character called Bateau, whose relationship with her is analogous to that of a pimp to a sex worker - in fact, people like Bateau are referred to as "pimps" in the story.

She wakes up supposedly with no memory of what happened while her body was occupied

She is ordered to go to a "memory lane", to overcome the amnesia by having some sort of booster treatment that will bring her memories to the fore, I think so that Bateau can then extract those memories and confirm that she did the killing. Or it may be that Bateau needs to extract the memories of the personality she killed, not hers.

A side effect of this treatment is that the Marva personality becomes the dominant one again. This wasn't expected, but is known to happen sometimes, so the woman who runs the "memory lane" is not surprised.

My heart sinks. With the picture of that cliff in my head, this can only mean I'm a known killer now. "Maybe I can plead amnesia," I say. "Or being fugued out. They give you a break for that, don't they?"

Later on in the book, we encounter a third personality - Mersine, an officer in the Brain Police. She believes that she is the "real" person, and that her personality has been artifically set to lie dormant in the brain during a deep cover mission as Marva, who she will believe herself to be. Marva has apparently discovered the hidden personality in her unconscious, and rather than let herself die or be killed, has tried to use Marceline to Escort Mersine over an imaginary cliff to her death. Because her personality was dormant, Mersine could not wake up and do anything about this.

She shouldn't have been able to initiate a split but, as I say, she was too good. She had already achieved escape velocity, she was Marva and she lived it. She wanted to go on being Marva, not some nobody Brain Police officer

So she split off her new, more aware self from the old Marva character and if she hadn't, I'd be dead now, long gone over the border that divides life from death. Courtesy of the Escort she hired to do exactly that, take me over the border.

But just because she had achieved escape velocity didn't make her the original. That was still me, always me, and I wanted to live a lot more than she wanted me to die.

Marceline also remembers this:

Yah, but what I do is send them over and keep the memories. She wanted me to send her over memories and all.

"Because if you don't, she'll grow back."

She believes at first that Marva has hired her to kill a "fake" personality, but later isn't sure if Marva or Mersine is real. After she has pushed Mersine over the cliff in mindspace, she's witnessed Mersine actually managing to fly and so avoid death - something which apparently has never happened before.

It could even be that Marva had a copy of herself loaded into Marceline's body, and moved Mersine into Marceline's brain. If so, the Marva we meet in the book thinks she's the "original" Marva, but isn't.

There are several more plot twists, and I no longer remember what was "real" and what wasn't. But I hope this is enough for you to know if this was the book you read or not.

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    Jeez .. I need to draw that out on a wall with photos and strings connecting each person
    – Peter M
    Jun 18 at 16:01
  • @PeterM I had to reread through the first half of the book to get that all worked out - I don't remember well enough what happened in the second half, and I'm still not confident that I've got it all down correctly! Jun 18 at 16:08
  • Though I do strongly recommend reading the book. I remember enjoying it a lot, and it may be the only way to make sense of what's happening! Jun 18 at 16:09
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Although I think the other answer I've posted is more likely, you could also be remembering a brief excerpt from the second Red Dwarf novel, Better than Life (Wikipedia, Goodreads), by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor (referred to together as Grant Naylor).

Cover of "Better Than Life" by Grant Naylor. The cover shows a green insect-like spaceship, breaking through a space-like background. The tagline is "Lost in space, they played a game that was better than reality—and the only drawback was that this game could REALLY kill them!"

In this, the Dwarfers are trapped in a form of consensual hallucination, generated by computer devices which are wired into their brains. This is supposed to immerse you in a world that satisfies your subconscious and unconscious desires, allowing you to believe that you are living out your ideal life even though your body is wasting away in the real world.

Rimmer, for instance, has become the ultra-rich inventor of the "Solidgram", a hard-light hologram body. In this world, he is one of the most famous and respected people alive, with a Beatlemania-like fandom who gather in crowds to scream when he gets off a plane.

Unfortunately, his deep-seated self-loathing has reacted against this, and by the time we reach the scene in question, Rimmer's personality is in a form of jail. His hard-light body has been confiscated, and he and several other accused/convicted hologram felons exist only in a soundwave-like form, bouncing around a soundproofed cell.

One of these is Trixie LaBouche, a sex worker who:

transcription below

had literally sold her body for a weekend of lust to a Dutch astro[naut] called "Dutch." The weekend didn't go exactly as promised. While her essence stayed with friends, Dutch had used her body to

... commit various crimes, possibly including murder. She had no memory of these when she returned to her body, since she hadn't been in it at the time. Dutch had committed the crimes, left her to "take the rap", and as she had no memory of committing them, she hadn't been able to go on the run before the police came to her door.

And the witnesses would certainly have thought it was her committing the crimes.

According to the book, renting out your body in this way was considered to be something you'd only do if you'd sunk really low and were desperate. Trixie was normally a "conventional" sex worker, and this may have been the first time she'd actually allowed someone to be the personality occupying her body like this.

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