Caro Soles

Untreed Reads Publishing / 218 pages / (September 12, 2012)


The people of Merculian are not like most of us. In Caro Soles new novel, readers are introduced to the concept of a planet where the dominant sentient species is comprised entirely of hermaphrodites — true hermaphrodites, capable of impregnating any other Merculian. If this concept is a bit difficult to wrap your mind around, imagine the reactions of the other races they meet throughout the galaxy.

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Perhaps these encounters would be slightly easier if the group the aliens were facing was not the extremely emotional, often histrionic members of the Merculian National Dance Company. Ambassador Benvolini, the official representative of their culture mission to Abulon, is a sensible sort, but that hardly balances out the behaviour of the dance company.

The trouble and danger that beset them almost from the moment their ship lands seem inevitable. Some people are just distress magnets. Trust this hapless bunch to stumble into the middle of a civil war among a people who must struggle to understand them; those who care enough to try. And their discovery of a zealously guarded secret places all of their lives in danger.

Soles has set up some interesting characters — both Merculians and Abulonians — and the landscapes of both planets are exotic and intriguing. Strange though they may be, these places seem quite possible, somewhere out there.

Although there is a range of personalities among the dancing Merculians, there is also a perplexing “sameness” about them. Blessed (or cursed, depending on your viewpoint) with the sex organs of male and female beings, they display little or no characteristics of women. Instead, they resemble more a society of highly effeminate men. Most are shriek at-the-sight-of-a-spider kind of people. None is tough. None is womanly. No Merculian is shown during pregnancy, so perhaps they behave more female at that time, but it isn’t apparent here.

Would creatures with a full measure of both sexes, raised among only other people like them, appear as an entirely different gender? It would be engaging to think so. How difficult to imagine a person who is neither male nor female, but something utterly apart. But what a challenge, too.

The Abulon Dance is an entertaining romp, with sassy lead dancers and civilised savages. There is enough pageantry and politics to keep the action moving and the characters dancing to their own tune. And any author brave enough to take on the test of this almost impossible task deserves some attention.