Jane Hibernia Smith lives in Toledo, Ohio, sometime around the 26th century where far too many suffer from FSP, i.e. Fundamental SocioPsychic breakdown, an attitude that spawns the attitude “Some messes are too big to clean up.” Earth is but one of many worlds in the Orion Spur and not that much different from the 21st Century world we live in, making it easy to relate to Jane and her funk. For a variety of reasons she’s bummed out, including health issues combined with the fact she’s a “casual,” i.e. a genetic “mongrel,” born without the benefit of genetic engineering.
Thus, she decides to take a break. Her plan is to visit Wonder World, but her trip reservations are messed up (showing some things never change) and she misses the shuttle taking her to the next leg of her journey. She winds up in a space taxi to deliver her to a rendezvous point, but the vehicle malfunctions, Jane passes out as environmental systems fail, and the next thing she knows she waking up in the presence of two magnificent beings. And this is where the reader is escorted from a world that may be a bit too familiar into the essence of true science fiction.
Jane, who has decided to go with her Hibernia persona, has encountered two genetically engineered wonders known as Janaforma. . Both are beautiful as well as handsome, possessing an intriguing albeit confusing combination of masculine and feminine traits. As it turns out, their sexuality is entirely different than that of humans, requiring three to achieve reproduction as opposed to the usual duo. There are lifebearers, lifegivers and consorts. In human terms, lifebearers would be those who give birth while a lifegiver’s sperm only works in the presence of a consort. Needless to say this makes for an interesting concept of a genetically orchestrated ménage à trois. On the literary side alone it necessitates the use of an entirely new set of pronouns as opposed to the he/she, his/her with which humans are familiar. While lifebearers retain the feminine side, lifegivers are referred to as le or lis while consorts are ce or cis.
Hibernia becomes part of this triad and is thus absorbed into an alien world of intrigue. In spite of the near perfection of Janaforma, they nonetheless must interact with lesser cultures and humanoids which comprise an intergalactic society. One of these is the superstitious and small-minded Tyrowsians, who deny the existence of the past, and represent a brutal, unevolved species. The plot is saturated with a variety of moral dilemmas and culture clashes as the community-minded Janaforma are subjected to the narrow-minded and unyielding opinions of those incapable of understanding a more advanced view of life.
The beauty of this story lies not only in its incredible originality but in its rich, descriptive prose. Martha Fawcett’s literary style and plot complexity is nothing short of delicious. I was effortlessly sucked into the story and characters then absorbed into the drama inherent to this mixture of worldviews and beings besides the Janaforma. The author has not only created vivid and credible intelligent alien species but enriched it further with other languages (such as the new pronouns noted earlier) and cultural details which bring everything further to life.
Nonetheless, while definitely alien, there is rich symbolism operating as well. It was easy to see how the vast philosophies present on Earth today could compare to a human caught between the diverse cultures of the Janaforma and Tyrowsians.
The story’s intensity reaches a nail-biting peak making it all the more interesting to see how it’s resolved in Book III of this trilogy (entitled simply “One” while the title of its predecessor is “Alone.”)
This book is not for the faint-hearted or closed-minded. The multitude of metaphors often reflect elements of today’s culture we choose to ignore, whether it pertains to sexuality, cultural bias, or religious intolerance, all of which prevent us from reaching a higher plane of existence. As Albert Einstein is credited with saying, no problem can be solved from the same level at which it was created. If you allow it to, this book will open your mind to new vistas of possibility and bring you to a close examination of your own beliefs, which is what landmark science fiction is all about.