Sunday, August 25, 2013

Crygender (e-book) by Thomas T. Thomas

Crygender is science fiction with some mystery elements. It's published by Baen Books. The cover had intrigued me for some time (the hair! the pink!), but it wasn't until I heard that Baen and Amazon made a deal that I bought it. I was afraid the price would shoot up. That didn't happen, although some of the other books I bought during that shopping spree went up a few dollars.


This book's present takes place sometime in the 2020s. Alcatraz Island is now a place called Babylon, a brothel that caters to nearly every desire its visitors might have. Babylon's owner and most famous personality is Crygender, aka Cryptic Gender. Crygender is a surgical hermaphrodite, such a skillful blend of both sexes that it's impossible to tell what sex Cry started out as.

Unfortunately, the clock is ticking. The surgeries that resulted in Crygender couldn't stay perfect forever. Cry is getting older, and the signs of past surgeries are beginning to show. The chemical cocktails Cry has been taking for years have also begun taking a noticeable toll. As if Cry's personal issues weren't enough, Babylon has attracted some new and potentially dangerous guests and employees: Jean Metis, an elderly World Cop with a spine prosthesis; Austin Tinker, a lawyer; Gloria de Groot, a mysterious woman on a mission; and Sylvie Wetzen, a 17-year-old runaway.


None of the reviews I read prior to buying this were very detailed, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Strike that, I did have some expectations based on Baen's description, but Crygender didn't exactly come through.

I bought this expecting an interesting exploration of gender-related issues and, in that respect, the book failed pretty badly. Readers were repeatedly told that Crygender, although initially shocking to see, was a work of art. However, I could never picture Cry in a way that wasn't freakish. Book Cover Cry looks somewhat androgynous. The Cry of the actual text, on the other hand, was an asymmetrical combination of stereotypes. One half of Cry's body was stereotypically female. The other half was stereotypically male. Cry even accentuated this through exercise, making sure the male half was well-muscled while the female half was slender. Cry took a chemical cocktail that not only helped to maintain this asymmetrical look, but also allowed Cry to behave in “male” and “female” ways (again, stereotypes).

The supposed result of all of this was a brand new gender, Crygender. While it was interesting reading about Cry's first weeks/months after recovering from the surgeries and going public and all the thought Cry put into the “Crygender” persona, Cry seemed more like a confirmation of gender stereotypes rather than some new and different third gender. Also, while Cry thought about whether all the surgeries were worth it, the answer(s) were never explored in much depth. I was left feeling like I had only a very surface-level understanding of Cry.

Only a very small amount of the book was devoted to exploring gender issues. Most of it was focused on the overall mystery: what do all these disparate people have in common? What does Lady Death, an assassin, have to do with Gloria de Groot? Why do the paths of Gloria, Jean Metis, Austin Tinker, and Sylvie cross? As some questions were answered, others rose to the surface. Although I was initially confused by all the seemingly unrelated characters, I enjoyed getting to find out how all the pieces fit together.

While I enjoyed the bulk of the book because the mystery aspects were so intriguing, I disliked the epilogue. No mention was made of Sylvie and her ultimate fate. It was pretty obvious, but still – I'd have at least liked a mention of her in passing. As it was, by the end she seemed less like a person and more like a plot device designed solely to bring Metis and Tinker to Babylon. The thing that really got me, though was Gloria and Tinker's “happy ending.”

I did not want those two to be a couple. At all. I liked Gloria. While it maybe wasn't smart going to Babylon with no back-up plan, I respected her determination to achieve her goal. She did what she had to do and didn't flinch when things got tough. Tinker was another matter. He fell instantly in lust with Gloria. Because he was a guest at Babylon and Gloria was an employee, he was able to ask for her to spend time with him, and she had to do it. He was interested in doing more than just talking to her, but he held back, disliking the idea that she might have sex with him simply because her job at Babylon required her to. Even when he held back, however, I always got the impression that sex was something he expected her to one day freely give him. There was never much evidence that Gloria was an interested in Tinker as he was in her, and I held on to the hope that she would leave him in the end and never turn back. Alas, things did not go my way.

To be frank, I'd rather have had Gloria end up with Metis if she had to be paired off with someone. Metis, like Gloria, was pretty awesome. He was clever and could think on his feet. He didn't bat an eye at Babylon's goings on, and Crygender only flustered him a little. His damaged spine was his weakness, but his prosthesis made him deadly in a fight. He was often referred to as being either insect- or lizard-like, which I can't disagree with, but he still appealed to me more than Tinker did. Something about him reminded me a little of Sherlock Holmes.

Although this book failed badly for me in some ways, I still really enjoyed it overall. I wish the gender-related aspects had been better, and I could have done without the attempt at romance, but the mystery aspects kept me hooked. If Thomas had another book starring Metis, I'd snatch it up.

Additional Comments:
  • There were a few strange typos – I'm guessing OCR errors. I didn't really keep count, but maybe something like 10 instances total. I didn't find it too bothersome.
  • This was written back in 1992 and makes use of lots of exact dates...many of which are now either our near past or present. To try to make it less jarring, I told myself that everything was taking place in an alternate universe. However, even if the book hadn't included so many exact dates, I think parts of it would still have felt a bit dated.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie); Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (anime movie); Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (anime TV series); Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig (anime TV series) - The original movie is a classic, but my favorites are the newer movies and the TV show - I'm shallow and like the newer animation and sound effects. Those who enjoyed Metis and the bit about his prosthetic spine might want to give this series, in which almost everyone has some form of enhancement, a try. Action, philosophical conversations, and mystery are all mixed in with the cyberpunk stuff.
  • The Affinity Bridge (book) by George Mann - I haven't read this and don't know what it's like, but I added it to this list because it came up during one of my searches for Holmesian science fiction. It's a steampunk mystery, and one review said that one of the investigators was like a combination of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes while the other investigator was a bit like Emma Peel. Fans of Jean Metis and Crygender's mystery elements may want to give this one a try.
  • Amaranth & Ash (e-book) by Jessica Freely - I suppose this would be called erotic science fiction - the sex scenes are very steamy but the story and world-building still play a big part. Those who picked up Crygender hoping for interesting gender-related aspects might want to give this a try. The world of this book includes several castes, one of which has members who are intersex. I have written about this.
  • The Bacchi (e-book) by Belinda McBride - I haven't read this, but I'm guessing it contains steamy sex scenes. I added it to this list because it looks to be science fiction (possibly erotic science fiction, at the very least sci fi romance) that includes hermaphrodites (in this case, a whole species of aliens, one of which is a main character). Plus, the main couple is a detective and prostitute - reminds me a little of Metis and Cry.

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