Tsundoku is a Japanese word for when you keep on bringing in new books but let them pile up without being read. Starting now, I'm posting book reviews or previews on Tuesdays with the end goal of shortening my 'to be read' pile -- but more importantly, offering recommendations which factor in representation. (it still counts as Tuesday because I haven't gone to sleep yet!)
Triad by Sheila Finch: Sci-fi / first contact / language, gender, sentience, colonization. ✰ ✰ ✰ [three stars out of five]
In Earth's future, most people are conceived through artificial means, and the population is sex-selected for females by the computer that has taken over and designed the culture. Main character Gia is a 'lingster' (a trained linguist who uses a neural implant and hallucinogenic drugs to decipher unknown languages), assigned to go to a recently discovered planet to determine if the inhabitants are sentient.
The characters are all fairly alike. The main character is a young white cis woman, with primary supporting character a middle-aged white cis woman. All are average-sized and fit except Lil, who hates her fat. There is a black supporting character, but everyone else is white. All but one character are cis women, all non-disabled and neurotypical. Class is not really addressed. Culture is only referenced in memories and history. The point of view shifts between the characters, but their perceptions are so similar that it is hard to tell whose thoughts you are reading. This detracts from the book and makes it frustrating to read. Dialogue is not interesting, and most of it is internal.
I got this book because I knew it dealt with gender, sentience, and language, and some of the ideas were very interesting, but they felt undeveloped. Despite same-sex relationships being normalized within the culture, the attitudes and behaviors were heterocentrist, and [spoiler]
---[spoiler]--- the female main character who initially didn't like the one male character got 'healed' by having sex with that character.
I felt imagination was sorely lacking. Unfortunately the whole premise of the book is gender-essentialist; rather than actually fixing the problem of patriarchy, a supposedly super-intelligent computer just makes fewer males. The pacing of the plot was a bit slow, and the writing style leaned hard on telling, not showing.
There's also some issues with race and ethnicity: a very linear judgment of culture that elevates modern western culture as the thing that all else should aspire to, and the unmentioned whiteness that is only shown in the one black character's skin and eye color being mentioned repeatedly, and [spoiler]
---[spoiler]--- the black character gets murdered. Could it GET any more racist-trope-y?
The cover of my copy of the book shows the main character with three grey furry aliens, in a grey landscape. The back matter describes the journey of the book as discovering an "ancient truth" through the rituals of the natives, and seems designed to appeal to those who love mystery but doesn't seem to be aiming for a specific audience. Published in 1986, the 'superior' nature of women described in the book would have been controversial.
The author, Sheila Finch, was originally from England but moved to the US as a young adult and lived in California for most of her life. She is a white, cis, straight, non-disabled woman, age 51 at the time of writing this novel, which was her second.