by David Hulett Wilson
What would it be like to live part of your life in a body of the opposite sex? How would you cope with the little everyday details of being a woman, or a man, as the case may be? Not only would the anatomy be strange but you would have to deal psychologically with society’s mores and attitudes.
Female 22 is an intriguing science fiction novel that explores this very theme. In a futuristic galactic union, humans have gone a step further than faster-than-light travel. The Union has invented a technology which enables the almost instantaneous transfer of consciousness across hundred of light years. Would-be travellers in a hurry can hire a host on the destination planet whose body and mindset is a close fit for their own and, using the services of Tranzcon, transfer their life-force to that body for the duration of the trip.
‘Jon saw the mischievous smile that came to Amey’s face. She giggled. “On no account can your host body be used for sexual relations …” He gave her an indignant look. “The thought never crossed my mind.” ‘
Jon Chandler is a middle-aged, high-ranking government official on Vissan, with ambition to become first minister. When the current first minister demands he attend an important conference at Celebration, capital city of the planet Phoenix, he is persuaded to use Tranzcon for the first time. Unfortunately, the only host available is a young woman called Jana Kell. Jana, the Female 22 of the story, has a twin sister, Jasmine, and already one can imagine the extra complications which might arise from that fact.
‘Maybe Jana herself might have taken delight in the admiring glances that . . . swept over her female form, but for Jon the feeling was scary.’
On the point of returning home to Vissan, it is Chandler’s misfortune – good fortune some readers might argue – to find himself trapped in Jana’s body due to a failure of the Gbeam, the interplanetary communication network. Without funds and with no means of communicating his predicament to his colleagues, Chandler attempts to access both Jana’s bank account and his own. His limited success brings him into conflict with the law and he is arrested. No one believes his story except Jasmine and his lawyer, Kamar, and he has to resort to desperate measures to get ‘himself’ home. But being home might not be where he wants to be! One dilemma after another faces Chandler as he endeavours to extricate himself from the frying pan only to find himself in the fire.
Female 22 has an intelligent and well thought out, if complex, plot-line. David Hulett Wilson’s imagining of his character’s situation is well-written. There is the ‘anatomy question’, and that is one thing. However, he also makes the reader – the male reader – consider what being the prey of predatory attention (rather than being the predator) might be like. Jon Chandler is not an especially ‘nice’ character; he is a ruthless, self-made man and (as we discover early on) a murderer too. Yet, as the novel progresses, he is softened by his experience and begins to catch a glimpse of the female point of view.
I was enjoying the story and eagerly turned the pages to discover whether Chandler reached home and was truly reformed by his journey. However, I discovered at the end that Female 22 is the only first book of a series. As I’m not very fond of series, ** that rather spoils the book for me. I also think that the author gives us too much detail, especially in the explanations of his ‘science’. There are one or two passages where nothing very much happens. These negatives slow the pace of the novel and make it over-long for a work of science fiction. The ‘murder’, which is so crucial to the resolution (or otherwise) of the protagonist’s mounting list of problems, is, I feel, not integrated as well as it might be into the storyline.
These criticisms aside, Female 22 is an imaginative piece of writing about a future that, while fantastical, may well be closer to being realised than we think.
[I received a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review]
** I have given up on, for example, ‘Game of Thrones‘!