As I mentioned before, I took a break from reading books about "mind" and "spirit" and read a science fiction trilogy recommended by a friend. "Read it fast, and don't think about it too much," she said. I liked parts of it, and I'll write about that next, but this post is about the failure of vision in its conception of gender roles that was a big disappointment.
In the three books of the "Neanderthal Parallax," "Hominids," "Humans," and "Hybrids," Robert Sawyer conceives of an alternate earth, where consciousness arose in the Neanderthal -type hominid instead of the homo sapian sapian. He invents all sorts of wonderful aspects of Neanderthal culture, starting from his basic theme that Neanderthals are practical and communal, and although they somehow acquired technology they remained a gathering/hunting culture without agriculture. Neanderthal people don't have "jobs," they have "contributions" to their communities. And they are deeply family-oriented.
And it is their family structure that is ultimately so disappointing because it promised so much. The Neanderthal families are structured in a completely different way than any human family on our earth. Men live together, in homes of two men each. The men are lovers who are expected to be bonded for life, and with the expectation of sexual exclusivity between them (but for one exception, to be explained in a moment.) Women live together in their own homes, in bonded couples, again with the expectation of sexual exclusivity, but for the one exception.
The exception is that each month, during a holiday called "Two Becoming One," the men travel a few miles to the town where the women live, and join their woman-mates for four days of sex with their mates and reunion with their children. The other-sex mates of each same-sex couple do not have much of a relationship to each other; the relationship appeared to be like that of independent "friends of the family" but who don't really know each other.
And this is what was so disappointing. We are introduced a truely egalitarian and non-patriarchal familiy structure, but then the author just can't go far enough. It would be obvious to have large extended families but only bonded pairs exist. No one dates, no one has sex outside the proscribed pairings. When couples break up, in no case did we see them finding someone else.
At one point the Neanderthal protagonist muses on the difference between sex with men and women, and values sex with women higher, as it is somehow more satisfying than sex with his man-mate. Two women never become one; two men never become one. There are no lesbians or gay men in this world. Sawyer has solved the "problem" of gay people by getting rid of them entirely.
At one point in the story the hero's man-mate and woman-mate happen to share a cabin together. He suggests they all three sleep together, platonically, but the two mates won't even consider it. Neanderthal families are as locked into the nuclear option as most of those in our world.
And of course the biggest let-down is the actual sex scenes themselves. The one heterosexual scene is cliche and simply a series of male fantasies (his mouth is big enough to take her whole breast. Sure. He can hold her and they fuck face to face standing up. Of course. ) The one lesbian scene stops with the first kiss. And no men have sex on camera at all. Of course not.
For a work of such imagination, for a book that wins the Hugo, I just expected more.
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