Johanna Sinisalo’s The Core of the Sun is a tale about loss, in the form of a gender-stiffening social experiment wrapped in a family drama murder mystery, suffused with oppressive norms, self-delusional recounting, and fabulist nostalgia for a world that once was that actually never was. It’s the kind of novel that joins the ranks of extreme, performative, sociological SF, in the vein of Brunner, Ballard, and Pohl, and the feminist dystopias of Atwood, Russ, and Tiptree. It’s the kind of book that people will say doesn’t belong because a.) it isn’t needed in this age of post-women’s lib, b.) its agenda involves too much agenda, and c.) it isn’t science-y enough. But, as the list of authors cited above indicates, precedence invalidates these kinds of arguments.
Legislated gender is the core of the tale, where not far in our recent past, Finnish society has perverted its liberal roots, designing a padded cell utopia of well-cared-for and easily-labeled citizens. Termed a eusistocracy, the Latin essence of which basically means ‘it’s all good if you stay in your place,’ it’s a nation where women really do go to college to earn their M.R.S., where gender fraud is a thing, and where the mating market is subsidized, with government-sponsored beauty rituals and body-perfecting salons becoming cultural imperatives for women. In this altered Finland, there are four genders: femiwomen and mascos, and, barely tolerated, neuterwomen and minusmen, while all social, economic, and political efforts are geared toward cultivating the lifestyles, pairings, and reproduction of the former two groups, and suppressing the latter two groups.
(When put like that, defense for The Core of the Sun’s presence on my Shadow Clarke shortlist may be less about its scientific and speculative foundation, and more about whether it even qualifies as fiction.) Continue reading