Katherine V. Forrest
Completed 6/19/2019, Reviewed 6/19/2019
I thought this book was an excellent excursion into old-school lesbian feminist science fiction. First published in 1984, it imagines a world where a group of women have escaped an oppressive sexist government and created their own utopia on a distant planet. Then some men from their old world show up and they somehow have to deal with them. It is really well written and well thought out. Unfortunately, it is dated in that today, we are all about inclusivity, as opposed to separatism. However, I think it is an important novel from an historical perspective, and as we see today how women’s right are slowly eroding, it still has some meaning for us.
The book begins with an Earth man marrying an alien woman. Although this union is illegal, the alien looks so much like an Earth human that she can pass as such. They have nine daughters, all at once. All the daughters are brilliant in some way. As they mature and marry, they have more brilliant daughters. They also live much longer than humans, so soon there are six thousand descendants. The world they live in is very patriarchal and sexist, though these women have made their way to the tops of their fields. At one point, “Mother” calls an enclave of all her descendants. Called the “Unity”, they decide it is time to leave their repressive life on Earth and create a new homeland on another planet. All is peaceful on “Maternas” until a damaged ship from Earth arrives and threatens their very existence.
The story is told from the point of view of several women, the primary two being Minerva, the historian of the Unity, and Megan, the chosen leader of the group. Both are in journal form. Their journal entries go back and forth to create the narrative. Minerva is one of the elders of the group, one of the original nine daughters. Her chapters give the history of the family and recounts the settling of Maternas. Megan’s fills in the blanks, and give an insight into what it’s like to be a leader and a pledged celibate. Minerva is quite likeable as the main voice of the story. Megan’s character is a little dry at times, as she eschews emotional reactions and maintains a professional air. But I began to like her character more as she became vulnerable when one of the women on the planet flirts with her. You get to see some of her shell beginning to crack.
I also really liked Mother. She added humor to everyone’s seriousness. She had an insightful head on her shoulders and called them as she saw them. She’s also the only heterosexual on the planet. All the other women begin to form relationships.
The one thing I seemed to have missed was how the lesbian couples were having children. But they do continue to have progeny, all daughters, and soon the population of the planet goes from four to ten thousand. (Only four thousand of the original six thousand actually leave Earth. The rest stay on Earth and are the subject of the second in this series).
I read quite a few reviews of this book and there are a lot of people who disliked it because of the separatist and men-hating attitude. While I found it a little archaic, I didn’t find it much different from other books of this period, the most popular one being “The Handmaid’s Tale. Being a man, I wasn’t put off or threatened by the book’s themes. Rather, I felt it was an educational experience, getting a feeling for the separatist attitudes which came before our much healthier and contemporary energies of inclusivity and the fight against toxic masculinity.
I give the book four stars out of five. It was very nearly a five-star book, as the prose was beautiful without being overbearing, and the story, though not really original (there have been other lesbian science fiction utopia books before this one), kept my interest keenly. But the emotional impact of the book was not as profound as I’ve usually experienced for a five-star review. However, I look forward to the rest of the series and hope to get them all read successively.