In the hilariously over-pedantic penultimate chapter of _Ulysses_, Joyce describes human copulation as the "energetic piston and cylinder movement necessary for the complete satisfaction of a constant but not acute concupiscence resident in a bodily and mental female organism." Everyone is interested in sex, but only some concentrate on the pistons, and by pistons here, I am not being metaphorical, but literal. The inventors depicted in _Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews_ (Process / Daniel 13) by Timothy Archibald are almost all piston men. Archibald stumbled upon their works when doing research on independent inventors in general, and found that though the community of sex-machine inventors may be small, it has some cohesion. There are sex machines for sale on eBay, for instance, and web circles of specialists who invent, sell, and collect the machines. The invention of such things has gone on for centuries, as Archibald discovered in browsing Patent Office files, but current technology within the machines as well as within communication between the inventors has brought this particular endeavor out into the open. The result here is a funny book of pictures and interviews that is a small celebration of a peculiar American endeavor.
The photographs, color and full-page in a large format book, do not show any of the machines in action; there is a little tasteful above-the-waist nudity in the pictures, but most concentrate on the machines and the inventors. The pictures often have the machines in just the right environment, the garage or workshop where they were born. Many sit on workbenches as if awaiting the next tweak that will bring the device closer to perfection. Some are on beds. One is on the living room rug, with sawdust and power tools around it, as if we can just anticipate the (one hopes) mixed reaction of the woman of the house when she gets back. The inventors are there, each welding on his machine, or adjusting it, or leaning against the wall with an "Aw, shucks" modesty. Even if you have never seen machines like this, it will be quite obvious what each one does. Every one of them has at its action end some sort of phallus, and perhaps because men are the ones tinkering with them, the phalluses are substantial in length and girth. Some are obviously powered by motors from household appliances, and one uses the motor of a KitchenAid mixer. This has the advantage that you can detach the sexual attachment, put the mixing blade back on, and make cookies. The Cadillac of such machines is the Orgasmo, selling for $6969. The inventor is proud of his work: "I've heard the other guys bragging. I'd be glad to take on their machines anywhere." He describes a highly successful product: "It does everything you want it to: it angles, it raises, it lowers, it vibrates, it thrusts, it's fast, it's slow... it does everything but snuggle with you."
Which, of course, is the ambiguity of success with machine sex. In this book, few women are quoted as reflecting negatively on the devices; one says dismissively, "Here you can just get yourself off, you don't need anyone else... Working through problems helps us grow as a species." None of the women seem disposed to give up men, men who might be too tired, out of Viagra, or otherwise indisposed, for a machine that never tires out. Machines featured on films on the websites often look intimidating, as if they are just one more power thrust (sorry) by males over females, but most of the women quoted in the book are appreciative of gadgets that are meant to deliver nothing but fun, and the inventors seem intent on making gadgets that deliver fun reliably and efficiently, Plenty of the men seem devoted to their own marriages and to marriage as an institution. If the machines are bizarre, that just shows in contrast that the inventors are, as good tinkerers in garages ought to be, optimistic. Let the world beat a path to their doors.