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World Without Men

World Without Men by Charles Eric MaineWorld Without Men
Ace Books, 1958
Price I paid: none

THE SEARCH FOR
THE 47th CHROMOSOME

The world of five thousand years from now was a world of only one sex—women. Love was an unnatural affair, fostered by the inhuman hand of the unseen government. Babies were created by laboratory techniques based on mass-deception.

There was one all-important project that supplied humanity’s only motive for continued existence—the struggle to re-create the male sex. Yet the very act of realizing this dream was to set up a crisis the world of women had never anticipated—and could not control!

Here is a truly unique novel which dares to discuss a scientific subject hitherto untouched by science-fiction. Slanted for the intelligent adult reader, it will be ranked with 1984 and Brave New World.

Okay, folks, we’ve got what might be called an interesting situation. In a good way, though, so don’t panic. Or at least wait until you read this review before you decide to panic or not. Either way is fine by me. First, a little backstory:

So my roommate’s mom took a trip out to San Francisco a month or so ago and, being that she is awesome, checked out a used-book store while she was there. She’s been known to read these reviews, and so was helpful enough to pick me up a huge stack of old science fiction paperbacks. It looks like there are some real doozies in there, among which was this one.

Another such doozy was one called Alph. In looking through the stack, we were at first intrigued at the fact that the two books shared a theme: men have gone extinct. Then we noticed that they shared the element on the back cover of the “47th chromosome.” (More on that a little later.) Finally it dawned on us that the books shared an author, too, so a little digging needed to be done. It seems that Alph is a rewrite of World Without Men. Revision, maybe? Something like that. After reading about a quarter of World Without Men I flipped through Alph just a little bit and noticed that the differences seemed to be pretty substantial, so here’s the deal. This week I’m reviewing 1958’s World Without Men. Next week I’ll review 1972’s Alph. I am very interested in seeing how they stack up to one another.

First off, though, the cover of this book. It’s really just great. What’s best is that it’s really spot-on as regards the text of the book. I don’t know about purple hair, but the weird boob coverings are there. And that weird neck thing she’s wearing, with the pull cord? That’s in the book too. It’s what serves as outside covering in the text. She pulls that cord and the neck thing turns into a cloak. Pull the cord again and it recedes. Groovy!

Oh, and the white spot on the author’s name there is a result of the sticker taking off some of the cover when I was removing it. I take pride in using my own scans when I present you the cover, so I didn’t want to just steal one from the ISFDB or something like I probably should have. Used-book sellers, please keep this kind of thing in mind when you put price stickers on things. Some of us don’t want to mangle our covers when we take them off.

I fully expected this book to be some kind of earlier version of The Feminists, where women rule the world and it’s gone to crap because of that fact. You know, because they can’t control their emotions or something? Well, consider me pleasantly surprised. The book was more about repressive government and inhibitions of freedom than anything, it just happened to take place (predominantly) in a world of only women.

So was it good? Oh no, far from it. It was lazy and trite and founded on some of the stupidest science I’ve dealt with. Not just stupid, but outright wrong. Like, “you could have looked this up or talked to a scientist” wrong. “I learned this crap in high school” wrong.

The first part of the book deals with a woman named Aubretia. She works for whatever passes for the Ministry of Truth in this book. It’s through her eyes that we see what’s going down in this 5000-years-in-the-future world. Men have been gone for a really long time. The species survives via parthenogenic pregnancy. Basically women give birth to clones of themselves via science, although they don’t know that. That’s where the oppressive government comes into play. Society is now stable, but tyrannical. As far as all these women know, parthenogenesis came about due to the fact that men disappeared. It was a natural bit of evolution.

The reason given at this point for the disappearance of men also had to do with evolution. The story goes that sexual reproduction is “for the good of the species.” Mixing up the gene pool and all that. I’ve been reading Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene lately so immediately I’m like NO but whatever. It goes on to say that once humanity got to the point of controlling its environment instead of the other way around, sexual reproduction became too much trouble, so evolution just did away with it. Okay, there’s problems with that, but it’s the story the masses are given by the government, so we can deal with it.

Did I mention that the “government” is a giant computer? Take a shot.

Aubretia starts to learn the truth from a friend of hers, a scientist named Aquilegia. Aquilegia is also an albino, which is apparently a really desired trait in this world of the future, but it’s really neither useful or helpful information, I just wanted to point it out.

The real story is that reproduction is induced by government agents. There’s nothing natural about it at all. Also, a man has been discovered lately. He’s frozen in an ice cap, long since dead, but perhaps his DNA can be used to recreate the long lost 47th chromosome.

WHAT

Okay, this is where the book just goes completely bonkers in regards to science. The tale we’re given is that reproduction happens like this:

Women contribute 24 chromosomes to a fetus. Men can contribute either 23 or 24. If he gives 23, the baby is a boy. Otherwise, it’s a girl. Parthenogenisis can only produce a 24/24 fetus, so that’s why all babies are girls.

NONE OF THAT MAKES SENSE

Okay, in case you don’t know, here’s how this really works: everybody has 23 pairs of chromosomes. A sex cell (gamete) only has half of them. The egg always contributes an X chromosome. A sperm can contribute an X or a Y. If the resultant zygote gets an X, it becomes a female. If it gets a Y, it becomes a male. Various disorders can result if, say, the zygote turns out XXY or XYY or some combination (in effect having 47 chromosomes, like this book seems to think all men have). Still, in most cases, a human being has 46 total chromosomes, regardless of sex.

I thought maybe this book could have been written before we knew that, but I looked it up, and no, humanity has known about sex chromosomes since the early 20th century. The Y chromosome was discovered in 1905, the X earlier than that. This author has no excuse, and he hinges this entire book around not knowing really basic stuff.

You know, in some weird way this whole thing echoes an argument in favor of Creationism that I heard touted around when I was in my rural upbringing. Multiple people told me that men have one fewer rib than women, since Adam’s rib was taken to create Eve. So men have matched pairs of ribs, all but that last one which is all by its lonesome. The reason this apparently supports Creationism is because you can just look and see that this is the case, which is so completely BUGSHIT STUPID that it explains SO MUCH about the Creationist outlook. Never mind that if you do look you see that we all have the same number of ribs, not to mention the fact that if all men since Adam have his reduced rib count that it would be some kind of support for Lamarckian evolution.

Still, the rib/chromosome thing is a little too close to analogous that I’m wondering if it were an intentional thing. Hmm.

(Side note: I once read speculation that the original text of Genesis had God using Adam’s penis bone to make Eve, thus explaining why human males don’t have penis bones the way all the other mammals do. I don’t know if there’s any evidence in favor of that scriptural interpretation, but it’s neat to think about.)

So the frozen guy is kept hush-hush by the government, who doesn’t want people to know that such a thing is in the works. For some reason. I don’t know. Repressive governments don’t have to make sense, I guess.

Aubretia, having learned all this, feels like she needs to tell everybody the truth, but she gets caught by the government and brainwiped so she doesn’t remember any of it.

And then the story gets even lazier.

We time jump back about 5000 years. There’s no narrative indication that this is going to happen, not even a “And now the real story” header at the start of a chapter. We know something is up because there are men in the narrative, so it’s confusing in a sort of interesting way, but this kind of storytelling is just so hacky. Show, don’t tell, right? I think a fundamental part of that rule should be “If you have backstory, have our characters learn about it along with the audience instead of just breaking the narrative to tell us the backstory too.”

There are actually three separate sections of backstory, and all they really do is reinforce everything Aubretia learned in the first section of the book. We get a bit more detail, but that’s it. Nothing is really all that surprising, with one exception perhaps.

See, the thing that apparently kicked off the death of malekind was THE PILL.

I kid you not! This book was written not very long before The Pill was made available publicly, but research in its direction had been going on since about the thirties. In the book, scientists make a breakthrough and develop a pill that can prevent pregnancy called, and this is funny because the name was chosen to be consumer friendly, Sterilin. Unlike our actual contraceptive pill, Sterilin only needs to be taken every six months, which is neat but not especially good for profits. Once Sterilin is released, the world goes nuts.

It’s a complete breakdown of morals! People are just doin’ it everywhere, whenever they can! Outside of marriage! Dear Holy Merciful God it’s the degradation of society!

A lot of the middle part of the book does seem to have a bit of a regressive tone to it. Women are now free to explore their sexuality without fear of unwanted pregnancy, and that’s apparently a bad thing. It’s so bad that it destroys men, but that comes later. First, it’s bad that women are discovering things like orgasms instead of preparing the evening meal for their husbands.

The three middle sections of the book explore, over time, the results of all this. After the introduction of the pill we get a story from a few hundred years in the future. Some of the things we remember from the very first part of the book, like a computer-run society, are already coming together. It’s also apparent that men are beginning to go extinct. The reason for this is yet another really stupid misapplication of science.

Basically, our hero of part three of this book thinks that women are giving birth to more baby girls because nature wants it that way. Because of Sterilin. Nature, being a thinking and active participant in the everyday lives of human beings, is saying, “Whoa! Hold up! There are very few fertile females in this species’s population! I need to swing the sex ratio in their favor!”

That is seriously the reasoning.

By part four of the book, there is only one man left. He is 75 and has been used his whole life for breeding purposes. It’s not all that bad of a life, really. All of his many, many children have been female. His caregiver reveals to him that he’s not needed anymore, though, because scientists have found a way to allow women to have babies without the need for a male. He’s not needed anymore. He breaks free from his cell, rapes the first woman he sees for no reason that I could discern, and then gets outside and freezes to death.

And then we’re back to the present. Aubretia has no recollection of her attempt at treason. Somewhere else, a viable male baby has been created in a lab thanks to the DNA of the frozen guy from the beginning of the book. Things are going really well, but then some high-level government official tells the scientists to kill the baby because introducing a male to this stable society would completely wreck it. One of the scientists steals the baby and runs off. This scientist tries to enlist Aubretia’s help by talking about another man who was parthenogenically produced 7000 years ago named “Christ”, gets refused, and then runs away again. News of the baby has started to circulate, though, and the world is falling apart right outside of Aubretia’s window as the book reaches a thoroughly unsatisfying ending.

I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to take away from this book. Is it that The Pill is evil and will destroy the world? That it will lead to screwin’ in the streets and the collapse of society?

Or is this more a book about government control and seeming Utopia, a sort of Brave New World where all the characters are women? The book did have a lot of similarities to Huxley’s.

And what’s that deal with Jesus all about? There was some kind of message about this baby being a sort of new messiah, but it was almost a hindsight sort of thing.

In its favor, though, the book didn’t have all that much to say about women. Sure, the world was run by them, but really it was run by a computer and the women were just following it in a way that you could expect any society to do in a dystopic science fiction novel. About the only criticism, and I use that word really loosely, comes up when the book discusses the differences between the man’s world and the present one. Men, we’re told, were the reason there were wars and stuff. Men were naturally aggressive, expansionist. They wanted to instill their will on everything, everywhere. They were the explorers and the conquerors. Women didn’t want any part of that. After the men were out of the way, women were able to take care of the homefront and create a happy, stable society without any of that kind of stuff.

Okay so that does bely a certain 50s mentality toward women that is pretty sexist. But at least it’s not outright hostile like The Feminists was. There is that.

One other thing was that while men were gone, that did not rid the species of impulses like love or sexuality. So the whole world is now lesbian. The book states that explicitly. On one hand, it also dismisses it as a perversion, yet another example of the downfall of humanity. It’s unnatural and sick, we’re told. I am, like many people I’m sure, not thrilled with the author’s take on that aspect of the book.

But still, for a book from 1958 to even use the word lesbian is pretty, if you’ll pardon the expression, ballsy. Maybe even a bit progressive, in a weird and backward way. Something else to think about.

Anyway, stay tuned next week when we see if the author’s views or ability to understand basic writing and science skills improved over the next 14 years. I can’t wait!

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3 Comments

  1. Joseph Nebus says:

    For what it’s worth, there was a slightly embarrassing bit of confusion until the mid-50s where humans were thought to have 24 pairs of chromosomes, for 48 altogether. In defense of science of the first half of the 20th century, chromosomes are really hard to count. It’d take a fairly plugged-in science fiction writer to know that it had dropped from 24 to 23 pairs of chromosomes as early as 1958.

    The discovery of the correct count fatally wounded the science behind James Blish’s Titan’s Daughter (about human giants, a couple feet taller than normal folks but not obviously impossibly so).

    I have no hypothesis about the 48-versus-47 thing unless maybe the writer misunderstood “pair of X chromosomes for women, only a single X chromosome for men” thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s fascinating! Thank you so much!

      I wonder how long the idea that there are 23 pairs took to become common knowledge. The 1972 rewrite of this book seems to hinge on the same 47/48 chromosome paradigm.

      Like

      • Joseph Nebus says:

        That’s a good question and I don’t know how long it took to become common knowledge. Scanning a couple pop-biology books might help, although I’d expect it really took until the old generation of writers died off and a new set got into place.

        Like

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