The prologue of this book is a third person telling of Rat Korga's life. Beginning at age 19 when he arrives as an illiterate delinquent for "Radical Anxiety Treatment", basically a sort of lobotomy that turns him into a docile zombie, with full mental capacity, but only able to do exactly as he's told. Perfect for slave labour. Korga has a temporary escape from servitude when a woman buys him as a sex slave, but gives him technology enabling him to read books. He returns to slavery however and not long after that, his planet (Rhyonon) is destroyed.
The rest of the novel is 1st person narrative from Marq Dyeth, who comes from an entirely different planet (Velm) and culture. Marq is an international diplomat, and lives a fairly priveledged life of space travel to exoctic cultures. And comes from a very liberal background, every generation of his family practice adoption rather than procreation, as such he has many sisters and many parents, of both human and evelmi (evelmi being a sentient, 6 limbed, multi-tongued, lizard-like race). The notable thing about Marq's world, (and apparently everyone elses world EXCEPT Korga's), is that although they make distinction between male and female (and neuter aswell for evelmi), everyone is termed 'woman' and refered to as 'she' regardless of sex. The exception being that the pronoun 'he' is used when the speaker has a sexual attraction to the referred person.
There is a tenuous connection to be seen between Marq and Korga, in the fact that many of the books Korga read were by, or relating to Marq's 7 times great grandmother Gylda Dyeth, or the Dictator she worked for - Vondramach Okk. But the greater connection between them isn't announced until at least a third of the way through the book, when one of Marq's aquaintence's happens to be working on the rescue mission for Rhyonon, contacts him to say that Korga has been calculated to be Marq's perfect erotic companion and that they are sending him to Velm.
I found the novel escpecially hard to get into. I began to be interested in the prologue after a while, Rat Korga's story was beginning to be very interesting, although I thought it was a little rushed. I suppose I would have preferred a novel that was entirely about him, the premise of rediscovering everything through technology, despite his altering brain surgery, was really fascinating. Would have certainly made a great story on it's own. But it was rushed through, and then the rest of the novel, I could never really enjoy.
I understand that the 'twist' of referring to all people as 'woman' and 'she' was probably supposed to be quite innovative and eye-opening, but really it just didn't have any impact on me. They clearly did still make distinctions between sexes, as people were termed male and female and neuter, and Marq has a clear expressed preference for males, so it wasn't about a real blurring of gender lines or anything like that. And it just made the language clumsy and awkward. So the society was also completely unbothered by peoples sexual tastes for males/females/aliens etc, but I found this not at all innovative either, it sounds like any other book I might usually read.. But it's more than likely that I simply came to this novel about 3 decades too late.
The only impact that the culture had on me, was probably in regards to their diet. And this isn't just because I'm vegetarian, because in Marq's culture they actually ate cloned human meat, which I found completely hideously wrong and repulsive, but I guess that was the intent? But what is the use of putting that into a novel, without injecting any commentary on it? And that's what the book really lacks, it lacks discussion, and feeling and depth. These strange things just happen, but Marq never really pays much attention to them, it's just things that happen in his every day life. It would have been much better to have Rat Korga's view on everything aswell, but we never do, because he's now in the third person, and doesn't have anything to say for himself.
One of the main difficulties in reading this book was that it dumped you righ in the middle of a foreign technologically advanced culture, and didn't bother to explain terms and concepts until much later. And it's very hard to keep reading when you don't know yet, what you're reading about. Very difficult, very awkward.
There was one grand speech from Marq at the end of the book about the mysteries of sexual attraction, about the unlikelyhood of meeting your perfect mate, and about how the concept of your world is not about the place that you live, but about the way you view things. I think this was the highlight of the entire novel. And yet it didn't have the impact it could have.. because I was never connected to the character.
On the whole, I found the novel mostly disappointing. I waited such a long time for this novel to go somewhere, and by the time I got to the end, I finally figured out this train was never leaving the station. Even if you'd never read a novel about these themes before, I wouldn't even recommend it, because there are better things out there now.