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Courtship Rite

Courtship Rite - Donald Kingsbury So on the one hand: the writing is turgid, the pacing is bizarre, and the political lecturing interminable. Also there is cannibalism (did I mention the cannibalism?) on almost every page. Spousal abuse and child rape both make appearances and are treated as the unexceptional actions of reasonable people.

And on the other hand: I loved this book.

Partly it's the culture. (Or cultures. Geta is not a monoculture, and its clans' beliefs frequently clash.) Courtship Rite is more "here, let me show you my worldbuilding" than it is a novel, but it rarely falls prey to "As you know, Bob" exposition dumps. It lets its culture reveal itself organically from character interactions. That culture is profoundly weird--quite possibly one of the weirdest I've encountered in science fiction, and that includes non-humanoid ones--and includes a lot of moral and ethical norms that make me cringe, but it's internally consistent enough that I believe the characters think they're doing right even when I think they're committing terrible wrongs.

And despite those terrible wrongs, I love the characters, especially the women. (Teenae! Noe!) I'm not entirely clear what this novel thinks it's doing with gender--it has this weird mix of sexist norms and broad gender equality that I think is one of the least well-thought-out aspects of the culture--but as individuals its female characters are pretty awesome. And I don't mean that in some sort of generic action hero way; each of the women (and men) is in fact a clearly distinct individual, with her own strengths and flaws. (And, in most cases, her own scientific specialty. One is a physicist, one is a biologist, and one is a mathematician.)

More impressively, I don't just buy them as individuals, I buy them as spouses. There's a saying in poly circles that a triad isn't one relationship, it's four--each pair as well as the three together. It follows that a quartet is eleven, a quintet twenty-five, and . . . I'm not going to keep doing the combinations, because I am not Teenae. At its heart, this novel is about the formation of an eight-party relationship, and while it doesn't manage to develop every possible relationship within that marriage it gives it a noble attempt. By the end of the book, I understand how the core five function together (as pairs, as triads, and even as quartets) and even believe the expanded marriage has a shot. That's frankly more than I can say about a lot of books' dyadic relationships.

I'm a little weirded out by the book's relentless heterosexuality--there are no gay people on Geta? At all?--but I do appreciate the lack of performative bisexuality by women, which is a place it would have been easy for it to have gone. And I definitely appreciate that all characters of both genders are equally enthused about sex and their marriage.

In conclusion: if you are interested in poly relationships and not bothered by cannibalism or bad writing, I highly recommend this book. But I suspect I am part of a rather small target audience.