Friday, February 26, 2010

13. Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon

Venus Plus X reminded me of my mixed feelings for science fiction. As a geek in most cultural areas, I should like it more, but I never really could dive into it the way I can with mysteries and action novels. I think the problem for me is that a lot of sci fi is too close to non-fiction. The story is often secondary to the author's big ideas and ideas just aren't as interesting to me as narrative. This book is an excellent example of that and it kind of blindsided me, because the other Sturgeon book that I read was a great story. Here, he wants to share his idea of a future, evolved species that takes over earth after humans wipe themselves out. What is special about them is that they only have a single gender.

The book is told from the perspective of a human from the '50s, Charlie Johns, who was pulled from his time to the future to give the Ledoms an objective look on their society (they are all about constantly questioning themselves). Instead of actually looking at their smug uni-gender society objectively, Sturgeon really seems to want to tell us what is wrong with our bi-gendered society. He does so by interspersing the Ledom explaining to Charlie Johns how their society works, with brief snippets from the lives of some "normal" middle-class Americans from the late '50s. Each snippet demonstrates some powerful gender coding or how the people of that time dealt with the growing independence of the American woman. I've read many books from this period and there is an annoying tendency to talk in this weird, extra-clever slang. You see it a lot with John D. Macdonald. But in Venus Plus X it is way over the top, so much that it was intensely annoying. The characters all worked in advertising and PR, so I guess the inability to speak plainly is especially pronounced.

In the end, there is an interesting twist that possibly undermines all the arguments set up in the rest of the book and if I gave a shit about gender studies, his arguments are probably worth taking into consideration, but I really don't, so it was kind of a slog for me. It did make me think about nerds and how they are able to conceive of all these idealized social states, and think beyond the rigid sexual mores of our society, but at the same time they really struggled to even get laid. Perhaps you should at least master the basic concepts of the given situation before trying to create theories critical of it and positing superior situations.

Also, I swear I remember in some underground comic an explicit discussion of Theodore Sturgeon. I feel like it may even have been Gilbert Shelton. Anybody remember where I may have seen this?


Redwing said...

Good for you for finishing it. I would have stopped after the "pulled from back in time" card got played. I'm getting sick of the "let me show you around" plot device as a means of satirical comparison.

WalkerP said...

Ha ha. That's a great way to phrase it and exactly what was going on. They take him to the nursery, and to a workshop and he oohs and aahs at all the different changes and begins to realize that they may be right.

The twist in the end, which I'll give away here, is that they actually aren't in the future, but hidden away in the mountains in the contemporary time. Charlie Johns is a pilot who crashed right on the edge of their hidden land and they take advantage of his presence to see if the world is ready to see them yet.