Cover image of "Imago," a science fiction novel that's all about sex.

Yes, this is a novel that’s all about sex. Did I get your attention with that statement? Good. Now, what if I explain further that this is not simple one-on-one sex but three-way and five-way sex? Intrigued? Well, I hate to tell you this, but it’s not so exciting.

For starters, this novel, the concluding entry in Octavia Butler‘s Xenogenesis Trilogy (also packaged as Lilith’s Brood), follows the misadventures of one of Lilith’s innumerable offspring. It — because you can’t call it he, she, or he/she, since it’s a third, distinctive gender — is named Jodahs, a sibling of Akin, who was the protagonist in Adulthood Rites, the preceding novel in the trilogy. It is the product of a Human female (Lilith), a Human male (Lilith’s long-dead lover Joseph), and three Oankali, a male, a female, and an ooloi. (Don’t ask. Just know that the ooloi is the key to making the whole thing work.)

Only by collaborating in a five-way reproductive process that is nowhere described, presumably out of a sense of delicacy, could Jodahs come into being. However, to the great surprise of its four living parents, Jodahs has not emerged as either a future male or a future female but as something entirely new: a “construct” — the product of Human and Oankali parentage — who grows into an ooloi-like being, though featuring both Human and Oankali characteristics.

Imago (Xenogenesis Trilogy #3) by Octavia E. Butler (1989) 230 pages ★★★☆☆

Confused? I understand. I was, too. Unfortunately, Imago is full of explanations like this — tediously so. After the startling strangeness of Dawn, the first novel in the trilogy, and the competent follow-up in Adulthood Rites, Imago is a disappointment. It’s practically all about sex — I kid you not! I yearned for more action and less talk about sex.

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