Love it or hate it, feminists just can’t resist this temptation – that is to imagine a world free of men. So, when we see titles like ‘The End of Men‘ we don’t get surprised. This debut science fiction novelist would have thought of getting the Goodreads Choice Awards 2021 based on feminist votes, but a male physicist ruined her dreams by giving a very well-scripted review –
Nic commented on Goodreads –
“I was really intrigued by the premise of this book: what would happen if there was a virus that wiped out much of the male population? The author makes it clear that the book was drafted before the outbreak of Covid-19 however many readers will find it hard not to draw parallels when the real virus has a higher rate of severe illness and mortality in the male population than females. In a way, I think it is unfortunate for the author that the global pandemic hit as she was writing this book as the general population will be more aware of the science of virology and genetics than previously.
My background is in physics so my biology knowledge is not the strongest however I found myself puzzling over one character’s explanation of why it appeared to take 135 days (p160) for scientists to be able to explain that the vulnerability of males to the virus was related to the fact that they only had one X chromosome. The character then went on to use male twins to explain why only 10% of the male population is immune and claiming it was “Basic genetic logic.” (p162) I hold my hands up to not being a geneticist but if “the Plague requires the absence of a specific gene sequence…present in the X chromosome” and only “9 percent of men” have the necessary protection, this implies that each X chromosome has a 9% chance of creating immunity. For women, this probability does not increase to 100% because they have two X chromosomes. If the above 9% is true then I would assume that the immunity rate for women is double (as you only need one correct copy). As all women were immune it would have made more sense for the vulnerability to have been coded into the Y chromosome with only 9% of Y chromosomes conferring resistance. This theory is undermined by the explanation of finding that “identical twins were both immune but their father was not [and a] set of male fraternal twins has an immune father but only one of the twins was immune”.
This, unfortunately, wasn’t the least of my science-based confusion. I could perhaps go along with the A&E doctor who was ignored (presumably for being a hysterical woman) at the beginning of the pandemic but much of the early part of the book implied that despite the fact men were dying in ever-increasing numbers, the pandemic wasn’t taken seriously. There are numerous papers etc that discuss the fact that historically the medical community has focussed predominantly on health concerns that disproportionately affect men. For a modern-day comparison, one could point to the immediate interest in treating ‘Long Covid’ compared to the response to the arguably similar conditions ME/CFS which predominantly affect women. Towards the end of the book, there is a brief reference to advances in the treatment of endometriosis etc however this seems poorly extrapolated to the global response throughout the novel.
I was also surprised that the author thought it likely that the source of the pandemic would have been sought out by the same A&E doctor a long while later. Here again, the author is likely to be scuppered by the public’s unprecedented access to information on a global pandemic. Genetic sequencing of the virus usually gives researchers an idea of what species the virus mutated from even if Patient Zero is never identified and it is one of the first things that researchers will look at.
The final section imagines how the world would be once a vaccine was created and I found this equally bemusing. Perhaps I am alone here but if only 10% of the male population was left, I find it hard to believe that there would just be a “lottery” or another system for women to have a form of IVF without some form of compulsory sperm donation program? Maybe I missed that part but I would have thought a priority would have been acquiring adequate sperm to repopulate which may have lead to potential human rights infringement protests from males who wanted to retain choice. It was unclear to me why only China would have split into 12 independent states and the Moldovan women would have chosen to imprison all the remaining males for participating in sex trafficking (this seemed particularly broad sweeping). Instead, those with traditional families and immune husbands seemed to carry on as though nothing had changed whilst the risk of population collapse lingered. It also came across that many women were happy to switch to single-sex relationships, as though sexual preference/orientation is purely a product of your environment. If this plotline had been switched to imply the remaining gay men became heterosexual, would there possibly be more raised eyebrows?
Ignoring these scientific logic flaws, my biggest gripe with the novel is probably that even though the author attempted to tell the story of the pandemic from a large cast of characters’ perspectives, they all ended up sounding very similar. This meant that I was constantly having to try to remind myself which character was which even though the names and cities were listed at the beginning of each chapter. As far as I remember, there was one male character perspective and the rest were females that seemed to be from very similar socioeconomic backgrounds. I felt as though the women were also of similar ages with a heavy emphasis on how desperate these women are to have children. There lacked the nuance of the perspectives of straight women who chose not to have children for example.
I did read to the end but I think this novel can be summed up as “not for me””.
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