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Retro Rerun: SF and Fantasy Books Reviewed

| Apr 4, 2022
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Book Chat

By Elizabeth Parker

As last month’s column made manifest, transgender-related books are becoming much more common, sometimes almost commonplace. I think that’s a good sign. For years, we mostly got our kicks from Science-Fiction and Fantasy books, as these authors seemed the most open-minded, or at least the most likely to try new ideas. Now we’re seeing more in the mystery and thriller ranks. But this month, let’s look at two books. One Science Fiction and the other Fantasy. Both explore more gender ideas. Are they new ideas? I don’t think so, but they are enjoyable just the same.

Commitment Hour

The first book is Commitment Hour, by James Alan Gardner. It contains a concept explored by others, but this time with a cross-sex twist. It is the twenty-fifth century, and Earth is largely unpopulated. It has become a low-tech paradise, free from the industry which threatened the world centuries before. The town of Tober Cove exemplifies all that is great about the Earth. However the inhabitants of this town are unique in a special way; they switch sex each year, until they come of age at twenty-one. Then they must lock in their sex forever, at their “commitment hour”.

Not a bad idea. I think I’d like a chance to decide, not have the decision made for me. This book explores that concept lightly, yet entertainingly.

The book’s hero, Fullin, is a talented musician who faces this decision. As he prepares for his commitment, events happen which threaten Tober Cove’s idyllic existence, but help Fullin cast light on the mystery of this transformation.

This book is one for light thinking, and enjoyment of the plot, not for the thrill of the transformation. I enjoyed it, but found some parts incredibly naive, as if it was written for young adults.

Merlin’s Gift

Merlin’s Gift, by Ian McDowell, falls into the Fantasy category. It takes place in the time of King Arthur, but these are not the tales of Sir Thomas Mallory. McDowell’s Arthurian times are much darker, with black, erotic humor scattered throughout. In this revisionist tale, Mordred, King Arthur’s bastard son, has reconciled with his father and become a trusted and valuable aide. However this Mordred, though friend to his father, is the one having an affair with Queen Guinevere, who is lonely while Arthur attends to his affairs of state.

Mordred tries to keep everything afloat, but it is all threatened when the Queen’s sister, Nimue, develops an embarrassing problem. It seems that she is a victim of the syndrome which causes a male baby to be born with female-looking genitalia, and consequently to be raised as a girl. But when Nimue hits puberty, she blossoms in unexpected places!

Mordred frantically attempts to solve the problem in various ways, only to fall back on Arthur’s nemesis, Merlin. This Merlin is a kinky androgynous wizard, bitter at his banishment from court. Merlin makes all pay of course, as Mordred tries to get Nimue “cured”, without paying too high a price.

This is one of those books where getting there is all the fun. The humor, the eroticism, with our childhood heroes, all make for a very entertaining romp. In the middle of all this, McDowell manages to educate us as well.

Gardner, James Alan, Commitment Hour, Avon, 1998, ISBN: 0-380-79827-1 (Paperback)
McDowell, Ian, Merlin’s Gift, Avon, 1997, ISBN: 0-380-78197-2 (Paperback)

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