A PARADIGM OF EARTH
Candas Jane Dorsey
Tor Books / 368 pages / (October 2001)
The market is filled with “first contact” stories and the best of these have one important thing in common: they teach us more about ourselves than any other type of fiction can. Of the aliens outside Earth’s atmosphere, all any of us can do is guess. Of the aliens among us, we can do far more than we have to understand and accept. Authors have made an attempt at bridging that gap; few have done it as perceptively and deftly as Candas Jane Dorsey has in this ground-breaking novel.
Imagine if the first aliens to walk among us didn’t come in conveniently labelled packages, the kind of clear-cut models our more narrow-minded citizens can handle comfortably. What if, instead, they were as maddeningly non-partisan and as sexually ambiguous as some of our own “troublemakers” here on Earth? Even worse, what if these rare and precious aliens were introduced to humanity by some of the least mainstream of our people? There would be no way to control the aliens or their hosts. Horrors!
In A Paradigm Of Earth North America’s alien visitor chooses to remain with the one human it feels close to. This puts the alien snugly into a nest of sexually and politically “free thinkers” — people who tread the thin line between undesirable and outlaw in an increasingly conservative society. In such an atmosphere, the visitor is being exposed to the very segment of the populace that those in power want to crush. A being with no discernible biological sex is bound to get in trouble amongst such dissidents. Maybe that is why it’s the perfect place for the alien to come of age.
The question of an adult’s sexual preference has always been an uncomfortable topic for many people. There are always individuals and groups ready to impose their belief system on those they disapprove of. It isn’t difficult or reassuring to envision a future where anything other than heterosexuality would be censured to the point of being illegal — not that some areas of the world aren’t there already, but we like to think of ourselves as modern, enlightened people.
A Paradigm Of Earth brings light to perhaps the least understood and explored position on the sexuality scale: the reality of the bisexual. As the alien and a household of rule-breakers work through the questions posed by this unique situation and the uncertain territory of their every day lives, readers will get the best portrayal of bisexuals ever to come to print. Certainly, it is a landmark in the literary treatment of this group. Chances are good that you will gain a little more comprehension, and — if it isn’t too much to hope for — a touch of empathy by the end of A Paradigm Of Earth.
A fresh look at the nature of what may be out there and those that are already among us? It’s a huge task to ask of a novel or novelist, but A Paradigm Of Earth pulls it off in a dazzling, entrancing fashion. And, somehow, Dorsey gives off the impression that it is all so easy. Isn’t that a definition of genius?