There are three main plot lines in Gray Matters. William Hjortsberg shifts among these plot lines, which at times intersect. Each of the main characters in the story begins as a cerebromorph, a disembodied brain hooked up to an elaborate system of life support and memory banks. Denton “Skeets” Kalbfleischer was a twelve-year-old boy severely injured in an airplane crash. He became the first candidate for a cerebrectomy, a process by which the brain is removed from the body to be placed in a depository. Vera Mitlovic was a famous film actress who murdered her rich, abusive husband with a shotgun. She used her wealth to preserve her youth. Eventually, she had so many artificial body parts that she volunteered to become a cerebromorph. Obu Itubi was an African sculptor. He became a cerebromorph during the Awakening, a time when the World Council voted to control world population growth and pollution by making everyone a cerebromorph.
The cerebromorphs are organized on different levels in a depository, according to their level of consciousness. Skeets, Vera, and Obu are all on the lowest level. Cerebromorphs advance from one level to the next through obedience, concentration, and meditation. Those who achieve the highest level are placed in perfected human bodies grown in the “hatchery” and are free to go into the outside world. The conscious and unconscious thoughts of cerebromorphs are monitored by auditors, who also advance according to...
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