Venus Plus X, by Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon (1918 – 1985) was an excellent short story writer, but I’m not convinced he was a great novelist (More Than Human is his best novel, and it is really a three-part fix-up, expanded from the novella Baby is Three); he seems to have had issues with sustaining an interesting plot past the novella length (Sturgeon has a large body of short works, but his novel output was quite limited).

Venus Plus X (1960) is half story, half lecture, and there is a dated feel to the novel, which, in part, attempts to illuminate the shifting roles of VenusPlusXcovermen and women, but the book’s message is presented from a society fifty years in our past (the message still has importance, but society has moved forward slightly; err, well, most of us have, I hope). The book may have gathered greater resonance today if it had been written from a woman’s point of view; unfortunately, the book has the distinct feel of having been written by a man writing to other men.  A main message is that, in the grand scheme of things, men and women are much more alike than they are different; sex shouldn’t get in the way of commonality of understanding. Additionally, the novel expounds on the human need to feel superior, which drives the marginalization of women, as well as contributing to other forms of overcompensation and prejudice.  

The protagonist of Venus Plus X is Charlie Johns, a young man from the 20th century (circa 1960) who is apparently, without his knowledge or consent, transferred via a time machine to Ledom (model spelled backwards), a futuristic, utopian society. Ledom is a community of hermaphroditic beings, perhaps the next stage in human evolution. For an unknown reason, Charlie’s opinion of the society is important to the leaders of Ledom. Charlie’s experiences in Ledom are intermingled — as a comparison — with short scenes of two neighboring families living in the 1960s.  

Venus Plus X is a quick read, but I didn’t find it particularly edifying or satisfying; if you haven’t read any of Sturgeon’s works, I would recommend seeking out his short fiction, for example: The Man Who Lost the Sea, Slow Sculpture, Bright Segment, The Other Celia, Baby is Three (which was expanded into the novel, More Than Human), Bianca’s Hands, and Microcosmic God.

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