Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: 'Solution Three' by Naomi Mitchison

 1 / 5 Stars

‘Solution Three’ (Warner paperbacks, 1975, 142 pp., cover art by Vincent di Fate) was one of a number of novels and short stories produced by Mitchison during the late 60s and 70s, her novel ‘Memoirs of A Spacewoman’ perhaps being the best-known of these.

‘Solution Three’ is, unfortunately, a chore to read. The author uses an oblique prose style, inserts too many unhelpful euphemisms (food riots are labeled ‘The Aggressions’),  and has too many sentences displaying awkward syntax. It’s unclear if this is an affectation designed to give the book a ‘futuristic’ tenor, or just....poor writing.  

The story is set in the near future, after overpopulation has caused the collapse of society. In North America and Western Europe civilization has reconstituted itself within a number of crowded, but technologically advanced, mega-cities, with most of the territory around these city-states devoted to food production. These city-states are governed by cabals of technocrats, who have implemented the ‘third solution’ of the book’s title: conditioning people to embrace same-sex relationships, and thus limit procreation. 

Breeding is limited to the production of clones, derived from the germplasm of a mythical ‘He’ and ‘She’, Adam-and-Eve figures from the pre-collapse period. Motherhood essentially consists of serving as surrogates for implanted zygotes; at age nine or ten, the progeny of these pregnancies are taken off for ‘strengthening’, a closely managed program of schooling and psychological testing designed to make the adult clones a super-race of problem solvers. This approach to replenishing the population represents Solution Four, in the jargon of the technocrats.

There are several threads to the narrative, the main one involving a bi-racial couple, Miryam and Carlo, who have refused to adopt homosex and instead live as ‘deviants’, i.e., a heterosexual couple who reproduce the old-fashioned way. The ruling Council, handicapped in large part by the desire to be politically correct in all aspects of social policy, tolerates their deviancy, but makes clear that any bestowing of economic and professional perks will be limited. When the vast monocultures of cereals that feed the megacities start to show signs of infection with plant pathogens, Miryam and Carlo must investigate the causes of the outbreaks; their research may have unexpected implications for the Council, and indeed the entirety of post-collapse civilization.

‘Solution Three’ is not a 'feminist' novel, but it does focus on female characters and their relationships rather than the usual tropes of eco-catastrophe SF. Perhaps as a consequence, this is not the most exciting of novels. What little conflict or tension that makes an appearance is muted, and mainly serves to elicit some musings about the personal interactions of the characters. 

‘Solution Three’ doesn’t stand the test of time as one of the more engrossing examples of 70s SF.

1 comment:

daniel said...

hi there. great blog! i like a lot your scifi book reviews! cheers from mexico.