When I teach my course on science fiction at SUNY Oswego, I concentrate on classic texts of the highest literary merit – those by Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, and Ray Bradbury. When I pursue my lifelong hobby I am less selective. When I discover an unknown paperback title in a second hand bookshop, I frankly judge the item by its cover while where content is concerned I hope for the best. Most of the moldering paperbacks fall short of memorability. Occasionally, however, a jewel appears among the rubble, a short story or novel more or less forgotten that, for one reason or another, merits contemporary re-visitation. One such, which I encountered again three or four years ago after a lapse of decades, is Charles Eric Maine’s World Without Men (1958), a novel about the long-term implications of birth control, abortion, and the so-called sexual revolution that treats these matters in a bold and prescient way.
It is safe to say that World without Men could not be published or even republished today. Editors, evaluating it in manuscript, would deem it absolutely politically incorrect; they would act to prevent Maine from perpetrating the “offense” inherent in a story that unstintingly defends the idea of a natural order of human existence and which, describing homosexuality without embarrassment as “perversion,” argues that feminism (inherently homosexual in Maine’s view) is a totalitarian ideology. Better to suppress such a thing.
In World without Men, Maine tells a story in five quasi-independent but serially related episodes, unfolding a chronology that begins late in his own Twentieth Century and culminates five thousand years from now in the year 7000 AD. The first and fifth stories take place in 7000 AD; the setting and a recurrent point-of-view character unify them. The second, third, and fourth stories fill in the chronological gaps, the second taking place (as one might suppose) before the advent of the Second Millennium, the third taking place fifty or seventy-five years after the second, and the fourth taking place perhaps two millennia before the first and the fifth (around 3000 AD). The five episodes are (1) “The Man,” (2) “The Monkey,” (3) “The Girl,” (4) “The Patriarch,” and (5) “The Child.” It seems logical to discuss “The Monkey” first, since this story represents the cause in response to which the other stories represent the consequences.
World without Men is a novel about the liquidation of the male sex.
“The Monkey,” whose title has various social-Darwinian connotations, concerns the invention of a birth-control drug called Sterilin. Maine’s perspective-character is Phil Gorste, a research chemist employed by Biochemix Incorporated; this is a large industrial-pharmaceutical concern presided over proprietorially by one E. J. Wasserman, the fifty-something widow of the company’s founder, who is many years deceased. By the time they reach the end of “The Monkey,” readers have reason to suspect that all spousal deaths are the result of foul play although Maine never explicitly says that Wasserman killed her husband. Gorste discovers, however, that his wife, Anne, killed her previous husband, Gorste’s co-worker Drewin. Gorste and Anne had together betrayed Drewin, who sought revenge on Gorste by exposing him in the laboratory to a concealed source of raw radiation. Drewin supposedly committed suicide. Gorste for his part believes, erroneously as it turns out, that gamma-ray exposure has rendered him sterile; he worries how Anne, who wants a child, will react to the news. Maine offers this tangle of wretched lives and spiritless existences as the context of his central storyline, the production of the drug.
The frigidly pragmatic atmosphere of the business setting thus reflects the degeneracy of the people who supply the human resources of the enterprise. The scientists are utterly compartmentalized, specialists in the narrowest sense. Wasserman and her executive board members are bullying money-grubbers, who demand a marketable product.
The heart of “The Monkey” consists in the discussions about how to present Sterilin to its intended market of young fertile women. One executive person says, “birth control is only half of the sales story”; he adds that, “Sterilin has a more positive selling angle,” namely “uninhibited enjoyment of the pleasures of life.” Wasserman wants Gorste to perfect the drug in the form of “tablets… pleasant to the taste… invigorating… with fizz, perhaps.” For a slogan, a marketer suggests, “Sterilin – For Modern Feminine Hygiene.” The pills will be packaged in a pink, heart-shaped compact. In private conversation, when Gorste timidly expresses misgivings of “conscience” to Wasserman, she dismisses his qualms: “Conscience… is a simple matter of conditioning.” With sophistic relativism as her premise, Wasserman claims that, “moral conscience is largely a matter of geography.” Coming to her point she affirms that, “Sterilin… is going to accelerate the process of moral emancipation”; it will, she says, lead to “profound changes in morality… changes for the better.”
Wasserman seduces Gorste, knowing that guilt will silence him. Later that evening Anne startles Gorste by announcing her pregnancy. Believing that, because he is sterile, she must have betrayed him (just as she had betrayed Drewin), he kills her. As Anne lies dead, Gorste answers the telephone to receive the news from his doctor that he is not, in fact, sterile. He telephones for the police, arranging to be arrested. So ends the story.
“The Girl” narrates the social and political consequences of what Wasserman cynically calls “the process of moral emancipation.” The mass of women in developed societies respond to the allure of their supposed liberation by embracing Sterilin almost universally. Birth rates fall, but even more alarmingly the proportion of male births declines asymptotically. Governments respond by covert totalitarian measures. Thus: “All the radio and television services are controlled by the government,” the better to conceal the crisis, as Brad Somer tells his interlocutor. Somer, a journalist, thinks that Rona, his contact, is a government official willing to help him in publicizing the real story.
Female dedication to Sterilin forces the nations to adopt a uniform scheme: “Laws must be created and enforced to compel every woman of mature age to spend a period in what might be termed a fertility center, where she would be impregnated and made to bear a child; the number of children each woman would be required to bear during her lifetime would depend on the existing birth rate statistic.” At first, women were permitted to choose from a pool of genetically selected men, but as the number of men began to dwindle, the practice shifted to “artificial insemination.
While such measures secured a replacement birth rate, they did nothing to stimulate male births, which had reached zero. “It was sterility in reverse, a vicious and uncontrolled reaction aroused by the indiscriminate use of Sterilin on a world-wide scale.” The best that science could by then devise was a method for inducing artificial pregnancy. “Women had chosen sterility in the interests of sexual freedom; nature had responded with a fine sense of irony by eliminating the male sex.” “The Girl” ends with Rona revealing herself as a covert agent who arranges for Somer’s arrest and execution. The truth must not be told.
“The Man,” the novel’s first episode, specifies the ultimate consequence of the catastrophe, as it manifests itself some five thousand years in the future: The consolidation of a global, totalitarian lesbiocracy. Maine settles his point of view on a character named Aubretia Two Seventeen, a middle level functionary in the Department of Press Policy and Information; Aubretia is essentially a censor and propagandist, vetting information in order to protect the state from any revelation of its true nature. Aubretia is a typical denizen of the “Lon” (London) of her day, or of anywhere else in her world. Aubretia is an oddly de-sexed female, girlish in appearance, and dressing her “atrophied breasts” with “silver lacquer” and paints her lips “snow white.” Yet while de-sexed, she is also weirdly eroticized, thinking of Aquilegia, her albino lover, while she accouters herself in a provocative, semi-nude outfit.
When Aubretia arrives at her place of work and begins scanning the daily news, Maine takes the opportunity to give the reader glimpses into the cultural jejuneness of the all-female utopia. The infrastructure in formation in “The Girl” has become fixed; all entertainments are erotic; everything operates according to strict, statistically determined routines.
Summoned to confer with a higher official, Aubretia learns of the discovery, at the North Pole, of a male cadaver preserved by the cold in a crashed spaceship that became embedded in the ice. When a scientist shows her the corpse, she feels queasy and alienated. These feelings are signs of a rupture in her conditioning, her internalization of the “parthenogenetic adaptation syndrome.” All members of the lesbian society are conditioned, as they must be. So unnatural and fragile is the “syndrome” that the mere sight of a male can undo it. The vision of the Arctic male deeply disturbs Aubretia. Her lover Aquilegia notices the disequilibrium, solicits the story; whereupon, seeing an opportunity, she reveals that she is actually a member of the dissident underground.
Aquilegia discloses to her shocked partner that the supposedly utopian order is based on lies. Men did not, as the state claims, disappear naturally, but died out as the result of tampering with procreation (Sterilin); women do not presently conceive by natural parthenogenesis, as propaganda insists, but by induced parthenogenesis.
Most importantly, the lesbian orientation is not natural; but rather, it is part of the forced conditioning that all children undergo while being raised from infancy to young adulthood apart from their birth mothers in the state crèches. (Maternity is necessary, but the social arrangement prevents it from interfering with the hedonistic lifestyle.)
Aubretia, outraged, attempts to broadcast the story of the Arctic cadaver. Police monitors suppress the broadcast, arrest Aubretia, and send her away to be psychologically re-conditioned. In the second part of the story, Aubretia has been re-settled in “Birm” (Birmingham), with great gaps in her memory. Aubretia’s new lover, readers guess, is a police minder, in one of whose rare absences another member of the dissident underground pays Aubretia a visit, looking for help in flight from police apprehension. Her name, revealed in “The Child,” is Deurina.
Deurina tells Aubretia: “It’s all a lie… We are creatures of sex living by force and unnaturally in a sexless society… The government tries to tell us it’s normal, but in fact it’s abnormal. We’ve become a race of lesbians.” Deurina divulges that the state rests on a dual basis of enforced parthenogenesis and “mandatory euthanasia,” the latter applied to anyone whose level of productivity falls below a statistically determined minimum or whom the authorities deem a dissident. Deurina frankly calls the status quo a “perversion”; it is based, she says, on “statistical birth and murder and on a homosexual morality… corrupt throughout.” Aubretia cannot overcome her conditioning. While Deurina sleeps, Aubretia summons the police.
“The Patriarch” tells the grim and wretched story of the last man alive, a degenerate prisoner kept for scientific purposes in an Antarctic laboratory; he escapes confinement only to die in the frigid night of a polar winter.
“The Child” revisits the milieu of “The Man” and reintroduces Aubretia in its concluding section. In “The Child,” centuries of cytoplasmic experimentation have produced, at last, an artificial male gamete, and by means thereof, a unique male child. A supervisor warns personnel that the infant in the incubator amounts to no more than “the result of a successful experiment in micro-cytology” in respect of which “there is no question of human status.” Indeed, the lesbian state so fears the implications of a male child in its plain existence that it has invoked a death sentence. Koralin, a laboratory assistant who feigns willingness, accepts the detail only boldly to convey the child off the premises. Already a dissident, Koralin experiences a surge of maternal feelings on coming in contact with the infant. Such instincts are precisely what officialdom wants to prevent because they threaten the “parthenogenetic adaptation syndrome.” Fleeing, Koralin seeks out Aubretia on the slim chance that she can recruit her for an ally.
Koralin tells the frightened Aubretia, “This baby… could be the savior of womankind.” Maine selects the term “savior” carefully, pointing back by means of it to Gospel references in “The Man.” (Deurina corrects Aubretia when Aubretia recalls vaguely and erroneously that Christ was a woman.) Koralin likens the lesbiocracy to something inhuman and moribund – “laboratories, experiments in human embryology, fertility centers, induced parthenogenesis, cultivated lesbianism” – that sacrificially seeks the destruction of a mere baby. “There was another parthenogenetic male,” she tells Aubretia, “a miracle child that was referred to as the savior of mankind,” whom “the state set out systematically to destroy.” Sharpening the parallelism, Koralin says: “For thousands of years the world has awaited a second Messiah. And now he has arrived… authority will attempt to destroy him before he destroys it.” Maine has carefully not attributed divine status to the child; he has only characterized the child as supremely sacred, to be guarded from ideological predators at any cost.
There is, incidentally, another novel entitled World without Men, adding only the indefinite article as its first element, by a writer unknown to me named Valerie Taylor. Judging by the cover, it would be more or less contemporary with the second edition of Maine’s novel, published under the revised title of Alph by Ballantine Books in the mid-1960s. I have never read Taylor’s World, but in conjunction with Maine’s World, judging again by the cover, it might make for an interesting comparative study.
I would underline that Maine’s narrative, which first saw print fifty-two years ago, links symptoms of cultural decadence like mainstreamed pornography and socially licensed promiscuity to the ideology of feminism. Maine’s narrative seeks to illustrate the logical outcome of the feminist claim of male toxicity. World without Men implicates one contemporary headline after another: Gay marriage, artificially inseminated single mothers, and death-panels in connection with so-called healthcare. Advertisers nowadays market contraception on television in exactly the gauzy manner that World without Men predicted. Maine was an unabashed apologist for what normal people used unhesitatingly to advocate as, yes, normal, but which left-liberal elites nowadays routinely revile as a legacy of prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry to be absolutely and finally eradicated.