Xen is a book from a future world of humanity. It is a highly revered text, that explains how the new Utopia of Earth came into being. Xen is actually written in a language called Eartherian, the universal tongue spoken and written by all of mankind’s descendants who survived an apocalypse that wiped out about half the population. After that point, none of the ancient languages still existed except as areas of scholarly study. Naturally, there had been translations of Xen before, just as scholars now may be inclined to do further translations of ancient works. The “translator,” a person enjoying this future world, having a penchant for Ancient English, among his many other interests, decided to do just that. Hence, this “translation” into Ancient English. During his Translator’s Note, he comments on his decision, references the other English translations already available, and even discusses his future plans.
Xen consists of several layers of stories, interwoven in 10 Books rather than chapters. It is presented, after the Translator’s Note, as a myth, just as mythology has always been used to explain legends. Thus the allegory begins with the origins of Wind, Water, Fire, and life itself on Earth. Wind and Water bicker over the depravity of mankind and Wind worries that mankind will destroy himself and possibly the Earth as well. Water bets against Wind that this will be the outcome, in this first Book, the Bet. Wind and Water return in the Book of History and to settle the bet in the end of the last Book.
The remainder of the novel is a stream of consciousness, from the perspective of several characters, each written in the second person:
- The Scientist who lives during man‘s years of decadence and immorality (the present), who can’t help having startling racist and sexist thoughts, despite realizing that he is not in any way a racist or sexist. He also considers the power of illegal drugs.
- The Mother, who is reading the Story to her very young son.
- The Minister (of Earth) in the future Utopian world, who is ultimately responsible for the writing of Xen.
- The Adolescent, a contemporary of the Minister‘s, who reflects on her Utopia, and actually describes it.
There are three Books of Scientist, three books of Minister, one book of Adolescent, and one book of Mother and Child.
The future utopia is a visionary world, entirely egalitarian in every way. There is no gender bias or racism, no exploitation of anyone or anything. There is no war, either off world or on, a critical departure from many other science fiction novels. A major point in Xen is that any race capable of interstellar travel, is a peaceful one. Health is excellent and life very long, although there are exceptions. Machines do much work, but people remain very active at all levels of society, in all manners of work. Government continues in a limited fashion, mostly for organizational purposes. Minister Esse is at the head of this government. Arbitration stands as a means for solving otherwise irreconcilable controversies between individuals, a rarity. With increased longevity, the birth rate is very low. Children remain the most precious resources and given only to those couples most capable of raising the next generation. The chronology of sex in science fiction novels is a spiral toward the ever more outlandish. In the world of Xen, love and sex are present but sexual relations of any type can only occur in the presence of ongoing love and marriage. Consummation of the relationship is not even physically possible until many months after the vows of marriage. Heterosexuality predominates relationships, but other sexuality (e.g. gay and lesbian) still exists. Fire has been banned. The weather has been mastered. Most everyone has pets of one type or another, but not insects or vermin or other species that are biologically mandated to remain a certain distance from mankind. Microbes are handled separately. Food is entirely vegetarian. Consumption is up to individual tastes and resources are plentiful. Even those that are limited, for research purposes, are reasonably shared. Recycling into basic components is utilized, but not required for this world to work. Truly exceptional articles, artifacts and art, for example, are shared in a unique system. There is no need for currency and gold has no value other than as a commodity. Religion also continues for most everyone, but there is no proselytizing. There is not anarchy, paternalism, or socialism, idealistic or not. Individualism is stressed. Emotions remain otherwise unchecked and diversions of all types are available, as desired. Personal responsibility and mutual respect become the hallmarks of interpersonal relationships.
Xen is not for the faint of heart. The wonders of this new Utopia are only presented, and hence appreciated, as a contrast to the horrors of life on Earth prior to the apocalypse. The Scientist delineates these early on, as he considers his world and the humor is very bitter sweet, mostly because (probably) everyone has had these same thoughts in one fashion or another. The racism is singeing and the objectification of women contemptible. Worse yet, Wind and Water graphically debate, later in the Book of History, the origins of Mankind’s failings, the origin of his xenophobia, why he is a war monger, greedy, a sexual predator, a follower. In these pages alone, Xen succeeds as a social satire and critique, addressing the issues of bias, propaganda, politics, the media, money, illegal drugs, religion, consumerism. The peaceful world of the new Utopia is singular. And the transition, the apocalypse, entirely fresh. Furthermore, the reason for this transition, which underpins the Minister’s direction for the writing of Xen, is entirely unexpected. In what other context, than a translation, could a modern novel have the conceit to begin with the first line, “It was a dark and stormy night?”
Xen contains a coded message, or word puzzle in Scientist III.
This novel is dense and empowered by a rich vocabulary, sprinkled with strong language. Hence, the Complete & Unexpurgated Edition. This also allows for eroticism and the droll rendering of the present. Still, there are certain words that are particularly difficult to clarify from Eartherian into English, particularly in the context of Xen. These are defined in a special Lexicon, housed at the end of the book.
The utopia is entirely egalitarian, except in one way, which is also a pivotal factor for why the new Utopia thrives. In fact, mankind, as he existed during the time of the Scientist, is no longer present. A new species has taken his place, forcing a bias toward matriarchy, making Xen a highly feminist science fiction work, although this is otherwise not a predominant theme. In this evolution, males and females appear unchanged from their ancestors, but women are now physically stronger than men, which is not a problem in this enlightened society.