The Cage of Zeus by Sayuri Ueda

About The Cage of Zeus by Sayuri Ueda

It was all about the possibility of bi-gendered people in the future. First off, I really want to get a hold of the Japanese for this book, because the translation must have been fascinating to do – the author distinguishes between hermaphrodite and bigender, intersex and transgender, but in many cases in Japanese those words are either very similar or the same. 

The premise is that, on a space station on one of the moons of Saturn in the future, there is a biological experiment of 150 people (three generations) who have their chromosomes altered so they aren’t XX or XY, but have both functioning organs and can both impregnate others and gestate babies (who will then be bigendered babies).  But they’re not allowed off the space station at all because that was a condition of the interest groups back on Earth and Mars colony who agreed to help fund the project. Sadly a terrorist organization that believes their existence is destabilizing the rest of the universe has hired some people to wipe them out, and the story follows some of the defense forces who are sent to the base in order to protect against the attack. 

It’s a terrible book. I can see it being *slightly* better in Japanese, possibly, but only slightly.  There is no actual character development, simply wooden figures who have absolutely no individualized voices.  Some fall in love because they’re sort of hanging around and you need some love, but … really there is no good reason.  Some get in fights, but you’re not really sure why since they’re only allowed to have the most obvious of emotions. Even the bigender “Rounds” (yes, that’s what they’re called) seem to be around just to confuse the other characters. 

This was obviously a thought experiment by an author who was more interested in having a bunch of thoughts about gender than she was about making them work in a cohesive world.  There are absolutely absurd info dumps where we find out the gender relations of the rest of the colonies, how the Rounds came into being and structure their society, and even the discussions of gender in general.

Additionally, this is one of the clearest cases of ‘its not about the future but about the present’ kinds of writing I’ve read in forever.  The main ‘bad guys’ of the books are terrorists, particularly religious extremist terrorists who threaten another extremist into helping them destroy this colony. (as if these are the *only* possible types of bad guys in the universe).  Even though the author says that Earth (and subsequent colonies) have changed the way gender is thought about (so ostensibly a fluid notion of gender is accepted, legal, and people who want gender reassignment can have it with working parts), the way sexuality is thought about, and sexual desire is thought about, so it’s all egalitarian, EVERY one of her police force characters is freaked out/fascinated by/disgusted with the bigender people, and they *all* go through this thing where they say something like, “well, I don’t mind if they’re that way, but not around me” … which is very much a reflection of current liberal Japanese thinking about queerness, I think. 

That being said, it’s still a book I can write a paper on, so it’s staying in the repertoire and was not a waste of time to read.  Just, I don’t know if I’ll be able to reread it when it comes time to write about it again.

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About kathrynpagel

Working on my PhD in Japanese literature, visual studies, and new media.
This entry was posted in japanese fiction, sci fi and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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