Review: Dryland’s End
Dryland’s End by Felice Picano is the worst science fiction novel I have ever read (so far). The novel was originally published in 1995 and reissued in a new edition in 2004 by Harrington Park Press. Now, Picano is not a science fiction writer. Rather, he is typically a mainstream writer writing novels for a predominantly gay audience. While he may have a love of science fiction, his foray into science fiction does not work.
Dryland’s End is about a small team trying to find a cure to a plague which robs women of their fertility. The plague is created by rebel A.I. seeking a means to defeat their former masters, and the only hope for salvation lies on a primitive world where the land is being slowly submerged. Now, the idea seems like a good one (if others haven’t done similar things first and done it better- Dune for example).
The novel is set five thousand years or so from now. Humans have spread across the galaxy in a human centered (there are several other sentient species and altered human groups, too) Matriarchy. So, while it should be possible to utilize cloning and artificial methods of producing children (especially given how the solution is developed), the main thrust of the A.I. attack is to damage the political and cultural foundations of the Matriarchy (obviously the core idea of motherhood).
But there is a huge problem with that. This “Matriarchy” is a venereal one. The society that is depicted is one of sexual liberalism with hidden normativity. What I mean is that the “Matriarchy” is a false feminism. Instead, it not so subtly panders to a straight male desire, though undercuts it somewhat by placing women as the dominant partner. That is not to say that the women characters manage to escape the male gaze. That men become as objectified by a female/male gaze may or may not balance things out (depending on any given reader’s point of view).
Even the idea of motherhood, of family, is actually a male centered one in the novel. The traditional family depicted is headed by a widowed father (from the traditional/ primitive society). And the only other character I remember having children during the course of the novel is a male genetically altered to be able to bear children. Years ago when I read this novel (I haven’t read it since), I talked to a friend of mine and we both found this idea laughable.
The solution to the mass sterilization of the Matriarchy? The implantation of wombs (and other female reproductive organs) into men. Namely, young men. Without their consent. I hope I’m not the only one who sees a problem with this.
On the primitive planet where the novel takes place, there is a hidden society. A small colony of renegades from the Matriarchy who were exiled because they experimented in altering male genetics to be able to have both active male and female reproductive systems. Obviously in the gendered politics of this future, the threat of men taking over the exclusive rights of women must be stopped. So in exile, the rebel scientists proceed with their work. And eventually begin to kidnap young local teen boys with the intent of transforming them into hermaphroditic gay men.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think any form of coercion is a good thing. That these young men are forced into becoming something they may not want is ethically atrocious. It plays into all of the debunked crap that anti GLBTQ activists have spread (and continue to spread) about the GLBTQ community. Why play into that?
Now, why the hell did I buy this book (and yes, I bought the book)? At the time, I was looking for gay and lesbian science fiction and fantasy. And this is a novel about GLBTQ themes by a gay man. It is just terrible.
In the end, is Dryland’s End meant to be taken as a parody of space opera and the sexy pulp adventure? I don’t know. I doubt it. But either way, this is a bad work of science fiction.