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March 2001
 
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Passing for Human by Jody Scott (1977)

A ploy older than Gulliver although Swift made the approach an adjective: protagonist comes to alien world whose natives and absurdities are of course not at all "alien" but refractive of the human condition. The tilt of alien perspective however enables the insanity, of that condition, perceived by a faux-naif to be the more clearly perceived.

Scott's Benaroya, researching, takes on the body of an attractive Terran female---wildly attractive, I should say, much of the plot keys on responses to "her" breasts---and explores 1970's California. Aren't these humans quaint! They actually believe that accumulation of these silly goods differentiates them! They want to hurt one another! They are obsessed by procreation, so cunningly objectified in their vehicles of transport!

Benaroya, expanding her mission, experiments with time travel and finds Lincoln, Woolf, Heidi, to be no less insance. Mixture of fictional and "real" characters? Humans, those pitiful creatures, get all hung up on the need to compartmentalize.

This is the greatest employment of science fiction in the service of satire; we've had notable satirists---but Scott alone refuses to sentimentalize.

Scott published a severely cut version of her first novel Down Will Come Baby (never appeared in book form) in the 7/68 Escapade, a third novel, I, Vampire, appeared in 1980. A scattering of short stories in the science fiction magazines, "The Two-D Problem" and "Go for Baroque" were in here in the mid-sixties.

The best unknown sf writer.

—Barry N. Malzberg

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