Friday, December 11, 2009
REVIEW: The Worth of a Shell
Title: The Worth of a Shell
Author: M. C. A. Hogarth
Genre: science fiction
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed by: Chris Gerrib
M. C. A. Hogarth’s first novel, The Worth of a Shell, is a story of the Jokka, a bipedal horse-like race with three sexes: male, female and neuter. This species appeared in a short story published in Strange Horizons, and met with some critical acclaim. The story is narrated by Thenet, a neuter exiled from his house for a lousy reason. Thenet meets up with and has his life saved by a female, Dlane, who is also a fugitive.
The Jokka as a race have several issues, key of which is that the stresses of childbirth invariably afflict the females with the equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. Dlane, a very intelligent female, fears this fate and wishes to travel to the Birthwell, a place from which the Jokka race supposedly came from. Although the Jokka currently are at a medieval level of technology, as the story progresses we get indications that they were once a more advanced race.
At times The Worth of a Shell feels like a romance novel, as Thenet, who starts as the voice of conservativism, discovers his love of Dlane. It’s not, and certainly does not have a conventional romantic end. Jokka society has very rigid sexual roles, and neuters are “forbidden” from being attracted to females. They are not forbidden from attraction to males, however. Hogarth’s book is full of these explorations of sexual roles, both allowed and forbidden. Structurally, the book is divided into four parts, corresponding to the parts of the journey of Dlane and Thenet.
I suspect that I am not quite the target audience for Hogarth’s work, but I did enjoy it nonetheless. Part of any good science fiction story is deciphering the mystery of the world, and in Worth of a Shell that’s a worthwhile undertaking. At over four hundred pages, the book is not a quick read, but it didn’t feel padded or plodding. Also, this is the sort of book one needs to pay attention to – characters met in earlier scenes will come back.
Although Hogarth is not explicitly claiming it, her work is an entrant in the feminist science fiction genre, and frankly one I found more enjoyable than Alanya to Alanya. Hogarth’s feminism is apparent without being preachy, and the anti-feminists have their reasons, which are presented fairly. Hogarth also avoided the obvious, “magic bullet” ending, which I’m sure took some fortitude on her part.
Overall, I found The Worth of a Shell a very enjoyable and readable novel. It would be enjoyed by anybody who likes a good story.
Note – I received an electronic copy of the book reviewed, which remains my property.