James Alan Gardner
— used only — Book
Fiction, Science Fiction
This book is set on Old Earth, a place where those who did not go to the stars remain. (There is, indeed, a New Earth, built by aliens who 'uplifted' humanity.) It is a mixture of odd societies created when Old Tech failed as those who kept it running left. Stranger still are some of the created societies, changed by who-knows-who for unknown purposes.
Such a society is Tober Cove. Starting at the age of one, each person of Tober Cove spends alternating years as each gender, until his or her twentieth year, when the decision is made to be a man or a woman.
Neuts - as they are called - are exiled from Tober Cove according to the rules laid down by the Patriarch over a century before. In this book - set in a period of just over a day - Fullin's commitment day is marred by the appearance of such a Neut, who quickly gains protection by being the personal assistant of a Spark Lord, one of the planetary rulers who keep command through alien tech. The Neut, Steck, brings up questions about the whole tradition, causing Fullin to question his own decision (one he has yet to fully make) and bringing up uncertainty about why Tober Cove exists as it does.
Aside from the crude speculations of what it is like to become the other gender every year - which Gardner brings up but manages to give the impression that it's juvenile, something to be outgrown - the deeper question remains of what it is to be able to choose who you most feel like you are. And how do gender relations become just.