Two of the staple plots of science fiction are that of time travel and that of alternate universes. Traveling in time—analogous to traveling in space—has become such a common peg from which to hang a story that it hardly requires explanation, but the idea of an alternate universe is not so familiar. In a story of alternate universes, and in The Female Man, in particular, the author supposes some different outcome of a historical event: One might imagine, for example, an Earth on which Adolf Hitler died in the 1930’s, one whose history would therefore be much different from that of twentieth century man. Such stories would seem to embrace a “Great Man” theory of history: Hitler dies, and therefore World War II never occurs, and therefore the Great Depression endures into the 1960’s, and therefore. . . . Authors of alternate-universe stories fill the universe with a plentitude of possible worlds, because every action, no matter how minor, produces another continuum of possibility. One might suppose two universes, for example, identical in every respect, except that in one an individual wore brown shoes on a given date and in the other the same individual wore black shoes on that day.

Such prodigality of creation, however, is not often used. The Female Man deals only with a few universes—four, in fact—and with a character who is essentially the same person molded four ways by four different societies.

The first...

(The entire section is 589 words.)


While the parallel-universe narrative is familiar to science fiction readers, there is little else about The Female Man that can be...

(The entire section is 154 words.)