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Venus Plus X Paperback – October 5, 1999

3.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Venus Plus X, Charlie Johns, a 20th-century man, awakes in a future in which hunger, overpopulation, bigotry, and war have been eliminated--and gender has vanished. Everything humanity knows about its divided nature is no longer true--and perhaps never was.

Theodore Sturgeon and Philip Jose Farmer were among the first SF writers to deal with sexuality in an open, adult manner. Sturgeon's approach was further distinguished by his uncommon awareness of sexual diversity and his passionate belief in the healing power of love. His story, "The World Well Lost" (1953), was the first SF work to present homosexuality sympathetically, and Venus Plus X (1960) was among the earliest SF works to explore and challenge gender-role stereotypes, and surely the first to do so with a vision of a single-sex, androgynous human race. --Cynthia Ward

From Library Journal

Sturgeon's 1960 stranger-in-a-strange-land story follows Charlie, a regular guy from the 20th century, who is whisked into the future and plunked down into a community called Ledom, where men and women are equal on all planes; the preoccupation with sex is nonexistent; and society in general has apparently found the answers for which humankind has long searched. Still, there seems to be something rotten in Ledom.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books ed edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703748
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703744
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on June 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
My copy of "Venus Plus X" is old: priced on its cover at 40 cents, if not a first edition then close to it, a paperback whose brittle pages have all separated from the spine and cover and had to be turned with the greatest care lest some unwary movement reduce the entire book to a handful of leaf litter. But I love the book - I have read it three times and every time enjoyed it, from the fantastic world of the Ledom with its bright overcast sky and its buildings like architecture by Dali, to characters like the enigmatic Philos or bewildered Charlie Johns himself, to Sturgeon's conversational-poetic language . . . for that matter, almost everything about the book! So I am incredibly happy to see it back in print: I can now read "Venus Plus X" without fear of accidental destruction!
Also I can now recommend it to all my friends and know that they'll read the book - as they should. Because although Ursula Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" may be the most famous work of science-fiction dealing with an androgynous society, as well as contemporary gender issues, "Venus Plus X" is every bit as good and occasionally a great deal weirder. Part of this is the style. The perspective, when it deals with Charlie Johns in the world of the Ledom, is outsider-only: the reader knows only what Charlie Johns knows and must believe only what Charlie Johns believes. When Charlie Johns' world is turned inside-out and upside-down, so is every single (pre)conception that the reader has held about the Ledom since the book's opening. It's wonderful.
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Format: Paperback
The most important thing about good speculative fiction is that it can push the boundaries of common preconception; it can cause a reader to really examine their thoughts and values and think 'what if?' Venus Plus X was probably more significant in its message 40 years ago when it was written, but taking its premise in context of it being written in 1960 makes reading it extremely worthwhile today.
This book is most often compared to The Left Hand of Darkness (another fine book!). This is a fair comparison - both novels deal with an intense examination of gender roles. However, The Left Hand of Darkness was written nearly 10 years later. A lot happened in the intervening time. Venus Plus X was even more stand-apart in its theme for its time.
Today's reader will probably not feel the message as strongly as an original reader. BUT! we have an advantage. We are able to read this magnificent book AND see 40 years into the future at the same time. We can see that we have not progressed as far as we probably should have - this book is not insignificant in its message even today.
Recommended.
PS - Thanks to Vintage for rereleasing classic scifi works by such greats as Sturgeon and PKD!
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Format: Paperback
Charlie Johns wakes up after a plane crash only to find himself in a strange new world of advanced technology, unique social forms, and a conspicuous absence of gender. That's right, folks, all the citizens of the land of Ledom are functionally both male and female and consequently there are no longer two different sexes. Charlie's (and our) guide is a man/woman named Philos, a historian who wants Charlie's unbiased opinion about their utopia. At Charlie's side, we learn about Ledom's architecture, its clothing styles, its scientific achievements, its educational system, its worship of children, and of course, its total lack of sexually-derived problems, a theme that is driven home again and again.
For contrast, there are brief interludes that provide snapshots of life in 1950's-era America. These scenes invariably point out the failings in 20th Century society that the Ledom have ostensibly solved by abandoning two separate sexes. Many involve the subtle and almost harmless-seeming ways in which women are subjugated to men. Of course in today's climate of political correctness, many of these practices are dying out, but when this book was written in 1960, Sturgeon was expressing some pretty radical notions, (i.e. that financial competition between men was fundamentally sexual, or that it was not necessarily "natural" that a woman's place was in the home). There isn't much shock value in this book today, but it was the general availability of ideas like these that led to the massive social changes of the '60's and early '70's.
As the story is told from Charlie's point of view, we readily sympathize with his confusion, his loneliness, and his fear in this radically alien environment. Where is he? When is he? What happened to the world that he spent his life in?
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Format: Paperback
Sturgeon's gifts largely desert him when he turns from fantasy with a subversive subtext to an openly preachy, didactic tract, reminiscent of Bellamy's "Looking Backward". In his earlier days, he did not dare reveal his criticisms of contemporary society in quite so overt a manner, and was forced to adopt the more interesting subterfuges of metaphor and allegory - transparent enough, but making the message both acceptable and (more importantly) interesting. To find the ideas of this book as such truly provocative, I think it would be necessary to have read very little.
The story is not so much slow as nonexistent. The purely Utopian sections are interleaved with a more interesting treatment of contemporary (late 1950's) American life, in which the underlying message is presented in Sturgeon's normal ironical manner. This is quite good, but there is too little of it. The Utopian sections begin to come alive around page 188, with just twenty more pages to go, at which point some plot twists enliven matters, finally. It's a pretty rough slog to get that far.
This has, by and large, no more literary value than a religious tract. If one wants to see some provocative ideas about sex, religion, and so on, there is much more entertainment to be found in the philosophical writings of Bertrand Russell, which are lively and unfettered by the Utopian format. Or for imaginative fiction, one will have more luck with dystopias - Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451 - than with Utopias, which are almost inevitably dull, preachy, didactic affairs.
Sturgeon first tried to write for "the slicks", then found a bit more space for his kind of writing in the F&SF genre.
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