Halfway Human by Carolyn Ives Gilman
By Natasja Hellenthal
Tedla is a ‘bland,’ an asexual class of people that exist only to serve their fellow beings. Val is an expert on alien cultures but has never seen a bland before.
They come together after Tedla is found light-years away from its home planet—alone, isolated and suicidal. Val’s mission is to help Tedla recover. But the more she learns about the beautiful alien being, the more she discovers about the torment Tedla and its kind suffer on their planet.
Little does the rest of the universe know of the hidden world of the blands, a world that hides shocking secrets and unspeakable crimes.
“Now I know, as I didn’t then, that emotion is itself a kind of talent not everyone has. A form of intelligence, perhaps – though not much valued by any culture I know of.”
‘Halfway Human’ is a powerful, compelling, and important book. It’s a book that doesn’t let go of you long after you’ve put it down. It makes you think and question humanity and our society and those are the books I like best. I have read it a while ago and it still resonates within me, so I am rereading it! It has many important themes relevant and it cannot be labelled as science fiction only as its themes such as slavery, stereotypes, gender, sexuality, capitalism, and the commodification of everything as if it’s normal and how we sexualise everything, and much more are those of our own world.
Therefore, I would highly recommend it to those who are interested in the subjects mentioned. Especially now that the LGBTQI+ Pride month has started I will read and review books in this genre. This wasn’t really an intersex read which stands for the ‘I’ in LGBTQI+ as much as it was a gender-neutral or asexual book which can be confused, but often still is ignored and not recognised!
At its heart, it’s a civil rights story as told through another futuristic alien race which was really well done. Yes, the world-building is excellent and to the detail of both alien worlds, but it’s the characters and plot that drive the story. The narrative is a combination of two first-person stories and one third person, it switches and flows well.
The story takes mainly place on the complex planet Gammadis where a third gender known as Blands are slaves to the males and females and are treated as things rather than as human beings. All children born on Gammadis are essentially neuter as gender doesn’t manifest itself until puberty. Tedla, a Bland genderless refugee arrives at another world, Capella II, to be taken in and treated by its sympathetic social worker and xenologist, Val, who needs to decide what to do with it/they/them.
Above all, this is a gripping drama filled with political intrigue and filled by a fascinating group of characters. I really felt for Tedla and how they were being tossed around by the people who were supposed to care. All it wanted was to be loved, but not in a sexual way.
Often, while reading, the author had me thinking, “yes, we are like this, but I wish we weren’t.” This story doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of humanity, nor does it ignore the beauty and good humanity is capable of.
It’s a heartwrenching story at times, graphic in some respects though not vulgar as those scenes are necessary for the reader to understand what Tedla has gone through.
The read is an insight into how easy it is to regard those that are different from us as lesser, and how random that decision really is, as well as the consequences of what happens when those decided to be less human than the rest of us organise and attempt to rise up.
It was a very good satisfying read and would make a great book for a study group or book club to discuss.
“You can never really know a culture until you know its’ shame.”
“My body’s all I’ve got,” it said, speaking fast. “It’s all I’ve ever had, the only thing you humans want. You can’t imagine what it feels like to have no power, no power at all. I have no way to get anything but through humans. You are the ones who cause all things to happen. All the rest of us—plants, animals, whole planets—we are just objects you humans batter around like some cosmic sport, using us in your competition to get ahead. We have no choice about where you’re going to hit us, which direction our lives will ricochet—unless somehow we learn a way into your hearts. It’s not a game for us, it’s survival. It’s how we must evolve. You are our natural selection.”
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