The Future, Perfect
By Dan Rubinstein
At the outset of the science fiction novel Astropolis: Saturn Returns, set in the far future, the main character, a mercenary named Imre, is having a peculiar day: he awakens to realize not only that he's a partial-amnesiac, but he's been resurrected in the body of a woman. Imre (who retains the masculine pronoun throughout the book) then struggles to find out who killed him and why. A finalist for this year's prestigious Philip K. Dick award and written by best-selling Australian author Sean Williams, the novel poses questions of sexuality and gender that only a futurist could devise. �Changing gender in this world is no longer a political statement or a declaration of identity,� explains Williams. �Imre's former companions -- including a lover -- treat him no differently.�
What exactly possesses a straight -- and married -- author to explore such a character? Williams cites everything from gothic lit to the music of technopop maestro Gary Numan, but ultimately admits to finding Imre's gender-bending voice within: �As with most of my characters, Imre has my voice. He shares many of my anxieties and curiosities about gender and sex. He comes from a place in me that rarely gets to show itself.� He points to an early scene in the book, where Imre takes his new bod for a test drive and masturbates. �To me, that seemed an obvious move and it's one I discovered that most of my male friends would also try,� jokes Williams. �I grew up in the '80s, in the era of bad gender-swap movies, and it was an immense relief to explore an issue that I had always wondered about as a teenager.�
Ultimately, the author admits that in trying to be non-political, he's potentially being anything but, and prays he's not trivializing anyone's situation. �I hope I've added something new to the debate, in a small way,� he says, �that a future might exist in which we're liberated from present-day anxieties so people can be who they want to be, how they want to be, and will be judged for the former, not the latter.� Indeed, that day can't come fast enough.