Necessary Ill by Deb Taber

Aqueduct Press, 2013, 350 p.

 Necessary Ill cover

The book features the presence of a large number of human neuters, whose personal pronoun is “it” and whose chests are free of nipples. It is implied that they are also without genitalia (but they do have a urethra for urination.) They speak to each other in stripped-down phraseology and call sexed humans “gens”. Another way in which they are different from “normal” humans is that they have heightened senses. This allows them to interpret human behaviour readily but they lack empathy. They of course have to disguise themselves as “normal.”

Chapters narrated in the present tense focus on the neuter Jin. The other main character’s viewpoint chapters are in the past tense. These feature the gen, Sandy, who when we first meet her is rescued by a neut from rape at the hands of the gang who have just raped and killed her mother and so becomes closely associated with neuters.

For some not very clearly articulated reason (gens are overburdening the planet? Really?) there is an organisation of neuters dedicated to spreading plagues designed to reduce gens’ numbers. Jin is such a spreader. In that light any animosity shown by gens towards neuters – which would have been in evidence in any case due to the common human failure to accommodate difference – is hardly surprising and therefore given a justification by the narrative. It seems an odd undertaking for a reviled/misunderstood minority to initiate and carry through, even if, “Genders fear what they don’t understand, and the way they choose to understand neuters is to turn them into something they don’t fear. Women. As if carving a slit through the tiny neut urethra would suddenly give it estrogen* and ovaries and an acceptable biological flow.”

The plagues start as biologically based but one predicated on soundwaves embedded in music, effective in inducing heart attacks in gens who show aggressive tendencies, has the most success.

To mitigate the effects of the inevitable anti-neut campaign a group of neuts in the film industry make a film of Jin’s life-story to try to make him, and by extension all neuts, more relatable to gens. (Like that would work.)

Necessary Ill is well enough written but I’m afraid the story it tells never quite convinced me.

Pedant’s corner:- *aka oestrogen, “wash away the mucous and grime” (mucous is an adjective; the noun required here is mucus,) gasses (gases,) Blue-eyes’ (Blue-eyes’s.) “Its zooms in on” (It zooms in on,) “the powder seemed to absorb the chemicals odours” (chemicals’.) “The cavern system stretches far beneath the surface the Guadeloupe Mountains into the Cornudas” (beneath the surface of the Guadeloupe Mountains,) a total figure for plague deaths was first given as ending at the date 10.06 but later 36% of the deaths were said to be from 10.1-10.6, “still she felt she needed speak the words” (needed to speak the words,) a missing comma before a direct speech quote (x 2,) “‘Well if the benefit of my feminine charms mean that much to you’” (if the benefit of… means that much,) “Jin thoughts fall into dreams” (Jin’s thoughts.)

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