Unmusic Books, $6.29, ISBN 978-0-9560813-4-6
The Sexual Compass is marketed as a “social issues/science fiction” book, and I am going with that labeling here, but I personally feel that it is more of a contemporary fiction story. The focus is more on relationships, which probably means that this book would be booed out of the room during the Sad Puppies Awards presentation gala, with Michael Reed fleeing the room as Larry Correia’s sneaker flies right after him. In fact, you may be cringing and thinking right now, “Tumblr wrote a book! No!” Don’t worry, though, this is not that kind of book.
What if homosexuality can be cured? All of Great Britain are agog when reports emerge that studies on rats strongly suggest that the level of insulin in one’s body plays a significant role in determining which side one bats for. Therefore, adjusting one’s insulin level is going to be a way to “de-gay” someone. So… yay?
For Susan, a young single mother whose dependency on her brother and her parents leaves her isolated from most people, it causes friction between her and her gay brother as well as the man’s friends, as those men, all of them who call themselves LGBT activists, begin to experience some kind of identity crisis upon the emergence of the news. As the mainstream media comes alive with debates from both ends of the political spectrum, these men begin to feel… threatened. Susan supposes that these men have built their identities around their sexuality for so long that, faced with the possibility of their snowflake status may be coming to an end, they lash out. It makes sense, and the whole situation can be an eerie yet accurate take on the current state of new generation social activism.
This also raises some interesting questions. For example, are you betraying your fellow LGBT people if you opt to become straight?
The reverse of that question is explored in the story of John, the brother of Susan’s ex-boyfriend. John is overweight and tries very hard to endear himself to the opposite sex, and as you can probably guess, he’s so far doing pretty badly in that department. He is still a virgin while his younger brother lives an irresponsible life, doing drugs and what not, while bagging women left and right without much effort. John is the responsible one, the sane one… and the one whose loneliness is only fueling his frustration. Now that there is a chance that he can turn into a gay man, would he have a better chance in finding some kind of bliss with another human being?
As I’ve mentioned, I don’t feel that The Sexual Compass is that much of a sci-fi story, especially when the end basically nullifies any chance of otherworldly stuff happening in this story. Still, I find this story a fascinating read, as Mr Reed manages to give his characters a kind of complexity that feels real in many ways. In some ways, I feel that Susan should have been a lesbian or bisexual, as her story takes on a completely different – probably even patronizing – feel when it is narrated through the point of a view of a biological straight woman, and this undermines the fact that Michael Reed has plenty of things worth noting in Susan’s story.
John’s story isn’t as much about gender as it is about the desperation borne of loneliness in someone who just happens to be really bad at interacting with other people. His story can be darkly comedic and heartbreaking at the same time, especially since the author gives John a strong narrative voice that makes me feel like I can relate to his every frustration and resentment.
Unfortunately, the length of this short book works greatly against it. By the time the happy for now ending rolls in – yes, there is one – I can’t help thinking that the ending comes at a rather abrupt and accelerated manner. This can be frustrating, as I feel that the story would have been so much better if the author had spent more time to let the characters in this story work out their issues. What happens to Susan and that guy who loves her and did that… thing to be with her? I want to know more about how John finally manages to get a date. As it is, the curtain falls when I’m not ready to leave the theater yet, so to speak, and a part of me feels that I’ve been cheated of a really great story.
Still, The Sexual Compass is worth a look, both for its ambitions and its frequent critical jabs at the more self-absorbed and vitriolic aspects of the current state of social activism, as well as for the fact that the author nearly succeeds in doing something grand here. It’s the length, or the lack of it – that’s the biggest problem with this story.