Melissa Scott – Shadow Man

This was a welcome refresher after Three Body Problem, being people focused not science focused.

In an unspecified future, drugs for coping with FTL travel have caused mutations resulting in 5 stable, recognized genders. But on planetary backwater Hara, society recognizes only two and frowns on the wrangwys (those with sexual attributes not belonging to their claimed gender) and wry-abed (typically wrangwys who don't mind taking advantage of all their sexual attributes for pleasure and/or prostitution). Recent commerce with other human worlds has thrown the problem into sharp relief. Scott focuses on the political and commercial wrangling as the wrangwys struggle to gain a voice and demand recognition as gendered humans in their own right.

Scott is a mistress of almost incidental world-building and I liked that she was unafraid to take her time here, layering detail as she focused on character history and development rather than Basil Exposition. The politics and prejudices too are exposed slowly, and in much the same way that real-world politicians put a pleasant face on unpleasant policies and deny double-speak or dangerous implications. I also appreciated the nuances of gender and sexuality (although I would have liked more detail / clarity around the transitional genders). I like that Scott is unafraid to allow every day life to intrude on great events – the storyline around Tatian's implants provided context on technology and expertise, but beyond providing some heightened tension in a key scene, was ultimately peripheral.

This is great stuff, tightly focused on the interpersonal to explain the gender situation and the surrounding issues, and to explore the unpleasant implications and prejudices as expressed at an individual level. It's not hard to spot the parallels, but there's no preaching – just an examination of what prejudice means for those it affects.

NB Worth reading in paperback as the genders rely on unique pronouns using non-standard characters – my Kindle couldn't cope with the encoding, resulting in unreadable 3im and %ers.