Hypatia's Hoard: Sex and Gender in Sci-Fi
Recommended Reading List on Sex & Gender for "Gender Is a Lie!" Panel at WisCon 26, by Elizabeth Barrette.
Barrette, Elizabeth. The short story "Did You Get Your Answers Questioned?" in GenderFlex (edited by Cecilia Tan, Circlet Press, 1996) introduces Waterjewel, a tribe composed of elves and humans, which recognizes five distinct genders: hrish (masculine), hrin (feminine), hirshn (androgynous), nrish (neuter), and shrin (unspecified). Of biological sexes, there are at least four: male, female, neuter, and hermaphrodite. The last includes various possible combinations of sexual characteristics.
Bishop, Anne. In her "Black Jewels" trilogy, the various races of the Blood are able to use potent magic—but it has somewhat different effects on males and females. Although different races vary the gender roles, certain inherent dynamics of sex and gender are broadly spread because of how they relate to that magic. These dynamics form a central theme of all stories in this setting; they're ubiquitous and inescapable.
Blank, Hanne and Raven Kaldera. Together they bring us an anthology of Best Transgender Erotica courtesy of Circlet Press. Some of these stories are speculative fiction, others closer to "mundane" reality.
Bradley, Marion Zimmer. She is famous as the creator of the Renunciates or Free Amazons, who could be argued as a gender on Darkover, an alternative for women who don't want to be wives. The Shattered Chain (DAW, 1976) takes a look at various gender roles in Darkovan society. Also worth noting in the Darkover series is the existence of emmasca (neuters, who may be born neuter or made that way) and of chieri (an alien but humanoid race of shifting sex and gender).
Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Warrior's Apprentice (Baen, 1986) features a Betan hermaphrodite named Bel Thorne. Bel usually presents itself with an androgynous gender—but gets a crush on the (male, masculine) Miles Vorkosigan. As the series develops, Bel sometimes takes on a more feminine aspect in hopes of seducing the "hopelessly monosexual" Miles.
Butler, Octavia. The omnibus Lilith's Brood (Warner Aspect, 1989) introduces the Oankali, who have three sexes: male, female, and ooloi. The ooloi enable the others to reproduce by blending components of their genetic makeup. And they proceed to do the same thing with humans, which definitely challenges human gender-identity and arguably alters the biological sex roles as well.
Carter, Raphael. "Androgyny RAQ (Rarely Asked Questions)" [link no longer active] contains extensive information on alternative sexes and genders.
Chalker, Jack L. The Cybernetic Walrus (Del Rey, 1995) begins the "Wonderland Gambit" series, a virtual reality head-trip that carries a bunch of characters through more gender roles and sexes than you can keep track of. Is it still a "sex" if it's only virtual reality, albeit subjectively indistinguishable from material reality?
Crispin, A.C. Her "Starbridge" series focuses on communication between humans and aliens. The first novel, Starbridge (Ace, 1989) features multiple first contact sequences, including the snakelike Mizari whose language includes a pronoun for asexual sentients, seloz. This comes in handy because one of the characters is a fungus.
Duncan, Dave. After contracting the "star sickness," characters in The Cursed (Del Rey, 1995) may develop any of several bizarre traits. An Awailscath changes form every few days: sex, size, body type, even intelligence vary radically over time. There is a splendid scene with a new Awailscath freaking out over having a female body—with "her" original masculine gender-identity still intact, at least for the time being.
Elgin, Suzette Haden. A professional linguist as well as an author, Elgin has written a number of relevant books including the novel Native Tongue (DAW Books, 1984) which features a culture of linguists and a language designed by and for women, and the nonfiction book A First Dictionary and Grammar of Láadan: Second Edition (SF3, 1988) which features one of the most complete SF languages in existence.
Farrell, Matthew. Thunder Rift (Eos, 2001) presents a fascinating alien race, called the Blues, who speak different languages for different purposes, and who have several sexes so diverse as to seem different species. Both of these elements become crucial to the plot as humans try to understand the aliens.
Fesmire, Jonathan. His first novel, Children of Rhatlan (Crystal Dreams Publications, 1999), tells of the "duals"—twins who share the same body. When Garum controls the body, it is male; but when his sister Vayin takes over, the body shifts to female form. So they are two spirits, one masculine and one feminine, sharing a body which is an arenotelicon.
Friedman, C.S. In This Alien Shore (DAW, 1998) Jamisia has a female body, and her dominant personality has a female gender-identity. But inside her seriously tormented mind, there exist a multitude of other personalities—some of whom have a masculine gender-identity and "appear" in her mind as males.
Gilman, Carolyn Ives. Halfway Human (Avon Books, 1998) features one society of humans who have figured out how to manipulate sex; children are born sexless, then at puberty are (secretly) assigned as males, females, or neuter "blands." This causes substantial friction with the more standard kind of humans.
Griffith, Nicola. In Ammonite (Dely Rey, 1992), "Jeep" is both a planet and a virus. The virus kills all human men, and some women; but women who survive are changed so that, with the virus' help, they can breed with each other. The cultures of Jeep have only one sex and one gender, but they deal with it in different ways. Humans from other worlds have a very hard time dealing with this at all, which leads to some appalling results. Griffith also co-edited the anthology series "Bending the Landscape" which uses homosexuality in speculative fiction to explore sex and gender issues.
Hanky, Richard. His nonfiction book Is Data Human? The Metaphysics of Star Trek (Basic Books, 1998) discusses this character in depth. Although an android is "biologically" neuter, Data chooses to present a masculine gender. Also, in the Next Generation episode "The Offspring," Data created a new android based on his own pattern, to whom he offered a variety of different bodies including a Klingon male and a human female. Lal chose the latter, thus becoming Data's daughter.
Hardman, M.J. "Linguistics and Science Fiction: A Language and Gender Short Bibliography" in Women and Language 22:1, Spring 1999. For more resources on language, gender, and speculative fiction see: http://grove.ufl.edu/~hardman/
Hogarth, M.C.A. Her short story "Freedom, Spiced and Drunk" appeared in the June '02 issue of Strange Horizons. The Jokka have three sexes and can change sex at either of two puberties. Kediil, born anadi (female, fragile) gladly accepts the Turning to eperu (neuter, sturdy) but not the Turning back to anadi. Her gender goes from feminine to neuter and stays neuter. Check out the gender terms in Hogarth's Jokku vocabulary on her website. Hogarth's collection Alysha's Fall (Cornwuff Press, 2000) features an amazing diversity of human and Pelted (anthropomorphic) characters, all with their own ways of speaking and interacting. The various races have some very different gender roles, and some of them have more than the standard two sexes.
Kolodny, Debra R. She edited the excellent anthology Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith which takes spirituality outside a monosexual context.
Lackey, Mercedes. Many of her stories feature colorful tidbits of fantasy languages. Her novel The Oathbound: Vows and Honor (DAW, 1988) includes the character Warrl, a kyree neuter in both sex and gender. Also worth noting is that Tarma shena Tale'sedrin spent her early life female in sex and gender, then became a Kal'enedral which entailed changing to neuter gender.
Leigh, Stephen. In Dark Water's Embrace (Eos, 1998) he introduces the Miccail, a race of aliens with three sexes: male, female, and sa. The sa accept semen from males, purify it to combat the planet's mutagenic forces, and deliver it to females. Furthermore, humans living on the planet begin to develop sa as well, with Anaïs Koda-Levin as the first. The assorted gender and sexual dynamics within and between the respective cultures drive a lot of the plot.
Marks, Laurie J. Her novel Delan the Mislaid (DAW, 1989) involves several races, each with different gender roles and sexual features. Delan, an Aerie, gets "mislaid" among the Digan-lai. They first assume Delan to be female, but Delan does not develop female genitals when expected, and concludes herself to be neuter (and a freak). The truth is that the Aerie are hermaphrodites with more discrete sexual organs that don't develop until later anyhow. This does very weird things to Delan's gender-identity.
Morehouse, Lyda. Archangel Protocol (Roc, 2001) offers multiple motifs relevant to gender and sex. The angels are not sexual beings in the same sense that humans are, but they are capable of taking on sex and gender. Some become male, some become female, one is a complete mishmash of sex and gender ... and one manages to knock up his human girlfriend by the end of the book. Then there are the artificial intelligences: Page, created by the human (male) Mouse, who like his "father" tends to identify himself as male and masculine; and the Dragon of the East, created by multiple programmers but mainly by (female) Mai, who like her "mother" tends to identify herself as female and feminine, although instead of Page's human form she does appear as a cybernetic dragon.
Parlier, Cap. The Phoenix Seduction (Commonwealth Publications, 1995) features Anod, a woman of the Kartog Guards who grew up in a culture that had two sexes but no sexuality, and thus arguably only one gender. They realized the sexual differences but imparted no significance to them, reproducing otherwise. But Anod gets stranded in a much more typical human culture—and suddenly has to confront both sexuality and gender-identity in ways she never anticipated.
Richardson, Laurel. The Dynamics of Sex and Gender: A Sociobiological Perspective (HarperCollins, 1988) defines and contrasts sex and gender, then examines their effects in many contexts.
Scarborough, Elizabeth Ann (editor). Past Lives, Present Tense is an amazing anthology of stories about an innovative technology that allows people to share their body, or even blend, with the spirit of a dead person. While the body's sex remains stable, the gender can shift as the incoming spirit influences the resident one—and there's no bar to a spirit who was masculine or feminine, male or female in life hooking up with a host who is something different.
Singer, June. Androgyny: Toward a New Theory of Sexuality (Anchor Books, 1977) focuses mainly on sexuality, but has some interesting material on unusual sex and gender aspects.
Slonczewski, Joan. In A Door into Ocean (Avon, 1986) the Sharers are an all-female humanoid race, capable of reproducing amongst themselves, in a society with only one sex and one gender. The addition of human males creates a lot of tension.
Stirling, S.M. Together with Shirley Meier and Karen Wehrstein, he developed the "Fifth Millennium" series. Saber and Shadow (with Shirley Meier; Baen, 1992) relates the meeting of Megan Whitlock and Shkai'ra Mek Kermak's-kin. This world displays an extraordinary range of gender roles from one culture to another.
Tepper, Sheri S. The Fresco (Eos, 2002) features both the perspective of Benita Alvarez-Shipton and that of Chiddy and Vess, two aliens of the athyco gender and sex. A number of other aliens of assorted gender roles and sexes also appear.
Turtledove, Harry. His "WorldWar" series and its sequel "Colonization" chronicle the relations of the human nations circa 1945 and later with an invading race, called the Lizards. The Lizards are baffled by human sexual behavior, because in their natural state they live an asexual lifestyle except during the brief mating season. Essentially, they are usually neuter in gender, then transit to male or female for breeding. Alas, the addictive herb ginger brings the females into heat—and forces the males to live in a constant state of low stimulation, like humans. This really, really screws with their gender, self-identity, and society.
Weber, David. The first of the "Honor Harrington" novels to introduce the Grayson culture is The Honor of the Queen (Baen, 1993) which reveals a planet whose gender roles differ greatly from the Manticoran ones that Honor grew up with. The conflict continues to develop throughout the series with surprising and charming results.
Wells, Catherine. In Beyond the Gates (Roc, 1999) we see the complex gender roles of Dray's Planet including that chosen by Marta, a woman with interesting nuptial arrangements, and the very different roles of some other societies, especially the Nechtanites as represented by Soln Shipner.
Williams, John. "Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ" lists and discusses many examples.
Wood, Julia T. Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994) examines many aspects of sex and gender, especially relating to language.
© Elizabeth Barrette | GLBT Fantasy Fiction Resources | 2003