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Venus Plus X stresses its themes to such an extent that it seems more a social and philosophical treatise than a novel. Ideas predominate over plot. In its themes, the novel is culturally notable for two reasons. It was written by a man, and it preceded the flowering of women’s science-fictional critiques of sexism by approximately a decade. Theodore Sturgeon addresses issues of sex and gender by presenting contrast through a sort of experimental “control group,” a world in which these factors are not present. His method reminds readers of the definitive force of sex and gender in the present. Technically, his idealized world is not feminist but rather hybrid and one-gendered, in this approach paralleling Ursula K. Le Guin’s well-known The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) and contrasting with more partisan utopias by and about women such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1914; book form, 1979) and Joanna Russ’s angrier The Female Man (1975). Variations on these themes also figure significantly in fiction by Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Marge Piercy, among others. Modern science fiction has become a major vehicle for social and cultural commentary, and Sturgeon’s book stands early in one thematic strand of this commentary.

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Throughout his long career, Sturgeon was intrigued with the theme of human limitations, limitations on individual thought and emotion as well as constricting social conventions. This concern typically takes two sometimes intertwined science-fictional directions in his work: a negative and satirical view of society’s thwarting of free thought and...

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