Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Tricia Sullivan


Two stories run parallel in Maul, both of them overloaded with anger and dominated by women. Katz is a shallow teenager, more fond of her gun than any other object. When she and her friends take a trip to the mall, or Maul as it's referred to in this novel, a chance encounter turns their shopping expedition into a bloodbath. Trapped in the mall, Katz and her friends try desperately to escape security guards, rival gang members and police, and to figure out exactly what is going on.

The other story seems at first to have no connection with Katz and the Maul. Meniscus is a rarity, a man in a woman's world. Y-plagues have wiped out most of his sex. The remaining men are mostly confined to castellations, where they are safe but not free, and the sperm of certain men is highly prized.

Meniscus is neither safe nor free. An experimental subject, he is kept in a lab and infected with several viruses which are expected to kill him eventually. He's in agony most of the time, and the bugs are advancing rapidly, turning his skin blue and responding to his emotions. However, when Meniscus gets a new cell-mate his death by viral infection is no longer a safe bet: Starry Eyes, the man he has to share with, might kill him first.

Starry Eyes is everything Meniscus is not, a big, brutish man with an interest in cycles and a healthy interest in women. He bullies Meniscus mercilessly. As a "Y-autistic" male Meniscus is too sickly to defend himself, and is unable to even speak.

Tricia Sullivan paints a picture of a society that's become fiercely matriarchal. Women occupy almost all of the important roles, and men are severely marginalised and treated as objects. They are even referred to as pigs. It's feminism taken too far, as though women would want to take revenge on men for centuries of oppression.

The story of Katz and the Maul increasingly seems to be linked to events in the other narrative, as aspects of the other story echo in it. But its relevance is always dubious, because it seems like some kind of virtual reality simulation, and its value as a metaphor for what is going on with Meniscus is unclear. What the stories do have in common is the way they become increasingly frenetic, violent and sexual as they progress. This is a novel that hits its stride mid-way as the mystery about Starry Eyes intensifies. People seem to want him dead, but there's more to him than his apeman demeanour first indicates.

Maul doesn't quite come together at the end because it seems as though the author is trying to be too clever and work too many strands into the narrative. There's the world of Maul, the society that by an accident of disease has become female-dominated, the technology of that society and the diseases themselves, and put together these ideas offer a lot of possibilities which deserve deeper exploration. Maul speeds by in a blast of action. It's a shock of fresh ideas that give a jolt to the system but flash by too fast to allow for deeper understanding.

Book Details

Year: 2003

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
  Not For The Squeamish  

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Review © Ros Jackson