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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Commitment Hour

Copyright 1998 by James Alan Gardner

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this on the 23rd January 2003.

By the twenty-fifth century, humanity will have spread in a vast diaspora out among the stars.

On the largely-depopulated Earth live only the descendents of those who chose not to go. They shun the old high technology. Now they lack even the technology to follow their ancestors.

In Tober cove, Fullin is twenty-years old. It is Commitment Eve and he is contemplating Commitment. This is the ritual that every adolescent must go through to become an adult. Commitment is when a person decides on their permanent sex. Until this time they change sex annually, flipping between male and female, taking on the full range of physical and personality attributes with the changeover.

Fullin however is still having some difficulty deciding whether to be a man or a woman.

He doesn't know it yet, but before the night is out the gender issue is going to be the least of his problems. There'll be terrible violence and slaughter. Those that survive are going to have their beliefs, their religion tested to breaking point.

I expected this to be a standard coming-of-age SF novel, but I was surprised to find that it was somewhat more than that. There are unexpected depths in the plot. Gardner's sleight of hand skilfully conceals the core of this plot and frequently encourages the reader to make the obvious but wrong assumptions. As the plot unfolds, it is a pleasure to have one's assumptions overturned.

I enjoyed Fullin's pragmatic religious belief that overcomes all evidential objections. Thoroughly refreshing.

However, this novel doesn't succeed as well as Gardner's Expendable series. Those books are deliberately lightweight, and very enjoyable. This novel is intended to be more worthy but struggles hard to meet that objective.

Loaded on the 28th February 2003.
Cover of Commitment Hour

Reviews of other works by James Alan Gardner: