All the Time in the World

My taste in reading material is wide and varied: SF/fantasy/"speculative fiction", mysteries (police procedurals, mostly), history, fanfic, straight fiction, smutty vampire books, biographies, poetry, cereal boxes, assembly instructions, the fine print, and your mind.

Sheltered Lives

Sheltered Lives - Charles Oberndorf I know I read this book back in the early '90s, but not much of it stuck with me, so thought I'd give it another try.

In this story set in a not-too-distant future United States, Rod Lawrence is a hired companion (read: escort/sexual partner) who works for Leisure Services, part of a government agency that oversees all forms of prostitution. A sexually transmitted virus called "hives" has prompted this development, and both employees and their clients receive blood tests prior to their encounters to protect them from exposure. (Of course, the lower on the hierarchy one works - the equivalent of a streetwalker - the less reliable the testing is, and there's always the possibility of becoming infected by a previously-unknown mutation that would get past the test.) "Companions" are trained to interact with the upper classes, and receive extensive advance information on their clients, largely through documentation by cameras that monitor nearly every public space, and many private homes as well. The paramount rule under which such companions operate is to maintain a professional distance with the client - that is, don't fall in love.

Two weeks after the suicide of her lover, a would-be poet and possible political dissident, Rod is hired for an open-ended contract by Anna Baxter, wealthy daughter of the man whose company is responsible for building the concentration camps in which "hivers" are confined after diagnosis. Anna's political leanings are suspect, as are those of her friends, and Rod is quickly targeted by a powerful official, who pressures Rod to report on any behavior that would indicate involvement in anti-government groups. His involvement with Anna also brings him in contact with dissidents who would like to use Anna's connections for their own purposes.

Rod and Anna's complicated relationship rapidly moves beyond the regulations imposed by his employment. As his feelings for her grow deeper than he ever intended, the agendas imposed on him by both outside agencies make it impossible for him to commit fully to her, not to mention his uncertainty about Anna's own loyalties and intentions.

My main frustration with this story is that I never believed that either Rod or Anna was truly in love with the other - rather, that they both approached their deepening affections as simply a different role to be played in front of others: Anna's disapproving family, Rod's co-workers, employer and friends. Even by the book's end, I didn't see that, whether or not the obstacles to their continued relationship were resolved, they had any real shot at remaining together - nor did I feel that either of them was sure they *wanted* to stay together. And to be honest, I didn't really care whether or not they succeeded.

The most interesting aspects were the details of the impact of all that governmental oversight on daily life - sort of an expansion of the paranoia felt in totalitarian states, where anything you say to anyone might be reported to the authorities.