China’s one-child policy, introduced in 1979, was in force until 2016, when the government instituted a two-child policy. The result has been a large imbalance between the numbers of male and female children. As of 2007, according to a BBC report citing the country’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, there were expected to be 30 million more men than women by 2020. In An Excess Male, science fiction author Maggie Shen King writes about a time in the near future when there are 40 million more men. Hence the “excess male” at the center of her tale.
In Shen King’s dystopian future, women typically have two husbands. The law allows them to “go the max” and marry a third, which they are encouraged to do. Matchmakers help excess males compete for the limited marriage opportunities, usually without success. And even though tolerating male homosexuality could reduce the pressure for marriage, the government’s deeply rooted homophobia forces gay men either to marry or to subject themselves to reeducation and branding was Willfully Sterile, essentially as outcasts. This future China has crossed over the line from authoritarianism into totalitarianism. Dissent is simply not tolerated. The penalties for lawbreaking are severe.
An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King ★★★★☆
An Excess Male revolves around two families. Lee Wei-Guo is 44 and desperate to find a wife. He is a bodybuilder who owns and runs a fitness studio. Wei-Guo has two fathers, both around 80, whom he calls Big Dad and Dad. A matchmaker has arranged a lunch for the three of them with Wei-Guo’s prospective bride, Wu May-Ling, and her two husbands.
May-Ling is 22 but married to two brothers who are approaching the age of 60. Wu Hann, a member of a successful accounting firm, is gay. His brother Wu Xiong-Xin (“XX”), is a high-functioning autistic who has barely avoided being branded as an antisocial Lost Boy. XX is a brilliant programmer who holds a senior position at a private firm that provides online security services for China 100 companies and government agencies.
The plot in An Excess Male revolves around Wei-Guo and May-Ling’s increasingly desperate efforts to marry. Wei-Guo’s fathers disapprove because they fear the rick of involvement with a gay man. And the Party secretary at Hann’s firm refuses him permission to marry again. Meanwhile, in a parallel plot, Wei-Guo’s leisure role as a general in a competitive laser-tag army exposes him to abuse from the PLA major who oversees their operations. Shen King adroitly weaves these two tales together, building suspense throughout.
An Excess Male is Maggie Shen King’s debut novel. (Her short stories have appeared in several magazines, including Asimov’s Science Fiction.) The book was one of The Washington Post’s 5 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels of 2017. This is a great science fiction novel.
For further reading
This is one of 20 good nonfiction books about the future (plus lots of science fiction). It’s also one of The 20 best books of 2018 reviewed here.
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- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
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