I picked up this 1972 paperback because, from the back cover, it purported to be an early feminist SF novel, with comparisons made to Delaney and Zelazny. Sounded interesting.
However, as far as the feminism went I had a hard time believing that this book was even written by a woman. I looked up Elgin online, and yes, she is a real woman, and known as a feminist. She wrote this book as one of several to make money to put herself through grad school as a linguist. Not only has she published quite a few science-fiction novels, shes invented an artificial feminist womens language and written many self-help type books on communication. Huh.
I can only guess (and hope) that Elgin became more proficient at communicating her ideas herself as time went on, because this short book (only 142 pages) has a surprising number of problems crammed into its brief length.
First, if youre going to call yourself a feminist, how about having at least one strong female character? The women we meet are: an intelligent woman (with my name!) who submits herself fully to her husbands will (we never see her again). A woman who aspired to be a Poet, and for failing, was condemned to permanent solitary confinement, who went crazy (we never see her again). A woman who aspired to be a Poet, succeeded brilliantly, and then, because there was no place for her in society, went crazy. (Later, she begs the off-worlder man to deflower her as she has no hope of love and therefore fulfillment with men of her planet. Of course he accedes. Sigh.) Two submissive sex slaves/servants who are content and have no desire to change their society (otherwise, how would anyone know what to do!?). Not to mention an offhand comment that men of the more enlightened Federation of planets (where women are not subjugated) no longer have balls. Everything remains in stasis for the whole book.
OK, so a book doesnt have to be feminist. Im OK with that.
The main problem with the book is that it jumps around, never finishing ideas, leaving loose ends everywhere.
Theres an elderly female poet who is Jacinth (the main character)s inspiration. But, after a brief appearance. we never find out anything more about her. Did she die? We dont know. We spend some time with the interpersonal relations of Jacinths family. Then she leaves, and we never see them again. Then, big time jump, and the story switches totally to the point of view of the interplanetary agent who is summoned to deal with the problem of Jacinth being the victim of a mysterious attack. He falls victim to attack himself, and that whole part of the book is about the registered criminal underworld and his troubles with them. Then, we forget about all that, and in the last DOZEN (literally) pages of the book, we suddenly find out about a huge food crisis and a difficulty of communication with aliens that is inhibiting trade for food. Can we solve this in 12 pages? Yes!
I really wonder who thought that publishing this was a good idea.