The Universe of Discourse

Tue, 09 Nov 2021

Not the expected examples of nonbinary characters in fiction

A member of the Recurse Center community recently asked for recommendations of fiction that set in a place where gender is not generally undersood as binary. It's easy to come up with recent examples, especially in SF, but a surprising older example occurred to me. Isaac Asimov, not usually remembered for his nuanced treatment of gender, wrote a novel whose three-sexed alien society is not merely set dressing, but a major plot and character point.

The Gods Themselves is closely concerned with the three-sexed aliens in a parallel universe. Each of three sexes has a very strictly prescribed gender role. It's important to the outcome of the story that the three main characters each have difficulty conforming to their prescribed role, precisely because they're exceptionally gifted individuals. Their difficulty in performing the roles is presented as growing out of their extraordinary personalities and also as a source of those exceptional abilities.

I think there are parts of the book the deal with humans also, perhaps exclusively male humans. (I read it only once, decades ago.) I don't remember those parts as clearly.

Anyway, three-sexed gender-nonconformant aliens. By Isaac Asimov, of all people. 1972.

It won the Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards. Check it out.

[ Addendum 20211110: A reader informs me that there is a significant female human character that I had forgotten. Sorry, Ike! ]

[Other articles in category /book] permanent link