An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King

4.5 stars

It feels a bit mean to criticize such a thoughtful book, but I did have very long stretches of not understanding how Wei Guo could possibly be as awesome as he is given his surroundings and upbringing. Then I remind myself that he’s 44 years old and has spent that time learning how to manage people well in both personal and group settings, and it makes a lot more sense. Wei Guo is such a terrific guy, and you can see why every member of May Ling’s family (herself, her two husbands who happen to be brothers, and their son) falls in love with him. They all live in a future China where the One Child policy has led to a huge imbalance in the gender ratio. The Chinese government, instead of realizing that they should probably stop legislating families, doubles down and applies social management techniques that are a far, far cry from Wei Guo’s. Women are allowed to marry more than one man, often being sold by their parents to the highest bidder, but each man is allowed only one child. Women are almost entirely out of the workforce, as their primary role is to bear children and keep house for their husbands. Men with homosexual tendencies are labelled Willfully Sterile and denied basic human rights, as are men on the autism spectrum, here labelled Lost Boys. The rich and powerful, of course, get away with anything. It is a supremely messed up world with deeply unhappy people, drawn in such a way as to feel both realistic and perfectly plausible.

Maggie Shen King has written a tour de force of speculative fiction, extrapolating much like Margaret Atwood did with The Handmaid’s Tale, to deliver a book that is both exceedingly humane and subversive. She writes with deepest sympathy for her main characters, and it’s refreshing to read of heroes who include a gay man, an autistic man (who was easily my favorite viewpoint character, as annoying as the others might have found him in their own chapters,) and a frazzled mom. Above all, An Excess Male is a scathing critique of authoritarianism and government overreach in the lives of its citizens. I’m hoping Ms King writes a sequel or two to further explore this future world, and because I want a happy ending for *name redacted but you’ll know who I mean when you read it*, damn it!

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