by Deb Taber
The man slices Jin's shirt open with his pocketknife, then stops, staring at the blank, bare chest.
Jin, the neuter protagonist of Necessary Ill, begins the novel as a designer of plagues intended to set the world back into balance—a balance of population and resources, creation and destruction, choice and certainty—a balance more important to it than any individual life, including its own. Sandy, a young woman thrust violently out of her farm life into the dispassionate science of neuters like Jin, discovers her own need for balance—a balance of safety and adventure, art and science, self-protection and love. But Jin and Sandy find that human life is full of change, and as the world is thrown off balance for all, each questions their ruling assumptions and must learn to see in new ways for the survival of friends and enemies alike.
Suzy McKee Charnas, author of Dorothea Dreams and the Holdfast Chronicles, writes: “Necessary Ill offers hopeful glimpses of alternatives to the current cultural barrage of post-Apocalyptic savagery and regression to warlordism. Along the way, the reader finds an in-depth exploration of what a human society minus sex hormones might be like. It’s also a startlingly inward look at a character that is basically a serial mass murderer and also a hero capable of change. A stimulating read with a refreshing slant on the core problems of the modern world.”
"Taber's debut novel presents an all-too-credible dystopic future world and,
in Jin, a complex character whose mind approaches the world and its
priorities in a very different way. The characterization of truly
genderless individuals—not androgynes or hermaphrodites—and the
portrayal of an approach to the world that is both ruthless and
compassionate make this an excellent candidate for book discussion groups
and provide strong evidence for the availability of significant genre
literature. Highly recommended."
What Taber's surface tale resembles is a blend of James Tiptree's famous
genocidal fable “The Last Flight of Doctor Ain” mashed up with Michel
Faber's novel Under the Skin, in which an alien masquerading as a
human female relentlessly harvest humans for food. And when you factor in
Sandy's grokking-the-Other thread, elements of Le Guin's The Left Hand
of Darkness or Karen Lord's The Best of All Possible Worlds seem
to emerge as well. It all makes for a rich and provocative reading
experience that blends the cerebral with the emotional.
(read the whole review)
"Skillful pacing, unpredictable twists, nail-bitingingly tense moments, and an adroit resolution make this an unusual and engrossing addition to the post-apocalyptic genre."
"The author speculates about how individuals and society might evolve if
sex wasn't such a potent part of the human personality. Some readers may
find the sometimes dispassionate discussion of mass murder a bit
unsettling but no one should find fault with the prose. Not the cheeriest
book I've read this year but one of the more thought provoking."
(read the whole review)
“At its heart, Necessary Ill concerns itself with character and
situation; with the social experience of marked vs. unmarked bodies, and
the ethics of preservation of life. Is it better to kill many in order that
the species might survive? Is it right to permit the human race to drive
itself to extinction, if by one's actions one can prevent it? Is it ever
possible to act ethically in taking choices away from other people?
Necessary Ill doesn't answer the questions it raises, or at least not all
of them. But it asks them thoughtfully, and with an eye for character that
makes for an enjoyable read.”(read the whole