True or False? Although women comprise more than 50% of America’s work force, only 12 of those women are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (as of 2009).
That’s an easy question to answer—for both us in anno domini 2012, and the denizens of David Boultbee’s world in The Gender Divide, where a pharmaceutical quirk has led to women living roughly four times as long as men. In this America (or should I say Noram—a conglomerate of the United States, Canada, and Mexico), it’s women dominating politics and business, and men relegated to “beefcake” roles in Hollywood.
Of course, everyone knows that women tend to have longer life spans than the less-fair sex, and that an adolescent girl is already about a decade older than an adolescent boy in mental age—but compound that by 400 years and this is a different world.
Turnaround’s fair play, bitches.
Here’s how it happens: someone in research and development at a SoCal pharmaceutical company called Delphi, Inc. takes a hint from those obnoxious YAZ commercials and gets the idea that women might pay to get rid of that pesky “monthly curse.” The solution is the aptly named Menssation, the drug that stops menstrual cycles once and for all. Which is all good and well until, a couple decades later, Beverly Hills plastic surgeons start to go out of business because women just aren’t aging like they used to.
(All right, so maybe I’m taking liberties with the history—but logically, I’m sure this is how it happened.)
As it turns out, women aren’t dying either. Who knew the toll Mother Nature was taking with that PMS? With longer lifespans comes greater life and job experience, longer resumes, and overall skyrocketing qualifications for all those positions of power denied in the past. Goodbye, glass ceiling. And the resistance? Wait a generation, and they’ll all be dead.
Yet at the same time a nation of female executives, presidents, senators, and supervisors may seem strange to us, there’s no stopping the status quo. Or, as put so elegantly into verse by The Who: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Ryan Peters isn’t having it. An ex-military man with more than a couple secrets, Ryan is one of the few males with a similarly-enhanced lifespan—and he’s using it to fire the opening salvo in a gender war unlike any the suffragists or feminists of American history every imagined. Unwilling to tip his hat to the new constitution, Ryan sacrifices forty years of his life to the sole purpose of being groomed for an executive position as Delphi’s Vice President of Security. The goal? Steal the DNA polymerase that would make it possible for men to increase their own allotment of years and take back control of their lives, careers, and futures.
Things haven’t changed so much, though, that his revolution might not be halted by that age-old derailer of plans—attraction.
The result is a novel with the appeal of both a unique concept and a cast of characters embroiled in the classic drama of a love triangle. David Boultbee’s The Gender Divide is, first and foremost, an engaging story, but does an excellent job as well in following in the tradition of science fiction as a mirror—not for the future—but for the present.
On his website, Boultbee describes his influences as a writer thusly:
I’ve always loved to read. I can’t recall precisely when Science Fiction and Fantasy became my favorite genres. I’ve always read so much that I think it happened gradually.
Most of my favorite authors today are current authors but I can’t discount the influence that Robert Heinlein had on me. I fondly remember books like The Door Into Summer, Starship Troopers, Citizen of the Galaxy, Space Cadet, Starman Jones, Double Star, and Between Planets. These books shaped me as a person and as a writer. The following excerpt from Wikipedia accurately describes the significance of Heinlein’s work.
“Within the framework of his science fiction stories Heinlein repeatedly integrated recognizable social themes: The importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation individuals owe to their societies, the influence of organized religion on culture and government, and the tendency of society to repress non-conformist thought.”
Most modern authors incorporate many or all of these themes into their work as a matter of course. It is Heinlein’s legacy to the writers who follow him.
Boultbee’s social topic of choice is the gender divide of our own twenty-first century—by turning the tables on men and women, he forces readers to see the world they take for granted as the far-less-than-egalitarian place that it is. In some cases this message was a little blatant and could have been woven in a bit less obviously, but overall the novel keeps from becoming overly-pedantic.