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The Unraveling

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In the distant future somewhere in the galaxy, a society has emerged where everyone has multiple bodies, cybernetics has abolished privacy, and individual and family success within the rigid social system is reliant upon instantaneous social approbation. Young Fift is an only child of the staid gender, struggling to maintain their position in the system while developing an In the distant future somewhere in the galaxy, a society has emerged where everyone has multiple bodies, cybernetics has abolished privacy, and individual and family success within the rigid social system is reliant upon instantaneous social approbation. Young Fift is an only child of the staid gender, struggling to maintain their position in the system while developing an intriguing friendship with the poorly-publicized bioengineer Shria–somewhat controversial, since Shria is bail-gendered. In time, Fift and Shria unintentionally wind up at the center of a scandalous art spectacle which turns into the early stages of a multi-layered revolution against their strict societal system. Suddenly they become celebrities and involuntary standard-bearers for the upheaval. Fift is torn between the survival of Shria and the success of their family cohort; staying true to their feelings and caving under societal pressure. Whatever Fift decides will make a disproportionately huge impact on the future of the world. What’s a young staid to do when the whole world is watching?


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In the distant future somewhere in the galaxy, a society has emerged where everyone has multiple bodies, cybernetics has abolished privacy, and individual and family success within the rigid social system is reliant upon instantaneous social approbation. Young Fift is an only child of the staid gender, struggling to maintain their position in the system while developing an In the distant future somewhere in the galaxy, a society has emerged where everyone has multiple bodies, cybernetics has abolished privacy, and individual and family success within the rigid social system is reliant upon instantaneous social approbation. Young Fift is an only child of the staid gender, struggling to maintain their position in the system while developing an intriguing friendship with the poorly-publicized bioengineer Shria–somewhat controversial, since Shria is bail-gendered. In time, Fift and Shria unintentionally wind up at the center of a scandalous art spectacle which turns into the early stages of a multi-layered revolution against their strict societal system. Suddenly they become celebrities and involuntary standard-bearers for the upheaval. Fift is torn between the survival of Shria and the success of their family cohort; staying true to their feelings and caving under societal pressure. Whatever Fift decides will make a disproportionately huge impact on the future of the world. What’s a young staid to do when the whole world is watching?

54 review for The Unraveling

  1. 4 out of 5

    Siavahda

    HIGHLIGHTS ~leave all your notions about gender at the door ~ever wanted to be in two places at once? HOW ABOUT SIX??? ~would you like a tail??? you can have a tail ~‘I don’t want to lead a revolution I just want to maybe kiss my friend’ ~the Clowns are Up To Something ~spoons Oh, how I adore this strange, wonderful phantasmagora of a book. …And I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen for minutes upon minutes, wondering how on earth to describe it. Well, let’s start with that, I guess: Fift’s world HIGHLIGHTS ~leave all your notions about gender at the door ~ever wanted to be in two places at once? HOW ABOUT SIX??? ~would you like a tail??? you can have a tail ~‘I don’t want to lead a revolution I just want to maybe kiss my friend’ ~the Clowns are Up To Something ~spoons Oh, how I adore this strange, wonderful phantasmagora of a book. …And I’ve been sitting here staring at the screen for minutes upon minutes, wondering how on earth to describe it. Well, let’s start with that, I guess: Fift’s world is not ours. The story takes place far, far in humanity’s future, and on another, apparently long-since-terraformed, planet. Here, everyone has multiple bodies, which they inhabit and direct simultaneously; everything everyone does is visible to anyone who looks them up in the Feed; and the concept of ‘men’ and ‘women’ is nowhere to be found. Instead Fift’s society is divided up into Staids and Vails, which have nothing whatsoever to do with a person’s (extremely customisable) biology; instead, gender is assigned to newborns by the nearly-all-powerful Midwives. Violence and crime are so rare as to be the stuff of legend, food and clothing are created and available at the push of a button, and humanity has conquered disease: Fift and the others of zir generation are expected to live to be 900 years old. It’s a utopia. A very odd-looking, but apparently genuine, utopia. Except, obviously, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Read the rest at Every Book a Doorway!

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Moles

    (Full disclosure: I’ve known Ben for years and have been waiting impatiently for this novel ever since reading the first drafts of pieces of it that never made it past the cutting-room floor. It was worth the wait.) The Unraveling is a lot. It’s a timeless forbidden romance, a gonzo queer space opera in the tradition of Samuel R. Delany, Geoff Ryman, and Gwyneth Jones, a moving coming-of-age story about going against the expectations of family and society to be true to yourself in troubled times. I (Full disclosure: I’ve known Ben for years and have been waiting impatiently for this novel ever since reading the first drafts of pieces of it that never made it past the cutting-room floor. It was worth the wait.) The Unraveling is a lot. It’s a timeless forbidden romance, a gonzo queer space opera in the tradition of Samuel R. Delany, Geoff Ryman, and Gwyneth Jones, a moving coming-of-age story about going against the expectations of family and society to be true to yourself in troubled times. It’s an incisive dissection of the human necessity to organize people and the world into categories and systems, and a thoughtful meditation on the history, propensities, and ultimate destiny of humanity. It’s also clever, charming, fast-paced, and an extraordinary amount of fun. The opening chapters are a lot to take in—people with multiple bodies and multiple points of view, unfamiliar genders with unfamiliar pronouns, a whole world and society to unpack in just a few pages—but stick with it long enough to get to know Fift and Shria and you won’t be able to put it down.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zvi

    Like nothing else. A grand queer coming-of-age story set in a far-future world: there are two genders which don't map at all to male/female. People are multiply-embodied. The processes of thinking, group consensus, seeing the world, sex, mother- and father-hood, age, and professions are completely different. The people in it are all-too-human: they argue (boy, do they argue), get into trouble, placate, try to do their best, struggle with their passions and the baggage from their childhood, do th Like nothing else. A grand queer coming-of-age story set in a far-future world: there are two genders which don't map at all to male/female. People are multiply-embodied. The processes of thinking, group consensus, seeing the world, sex, mother- and father-hood, age, and professions are completely different. The people in it are all-too-human: they argue (boy, do they argue), get into trouble, placate, try to do their best, struggle with their passions and the baggage from their childhood, do the wrong thing for the right reasons, and generally make a mess of things, as we all do. Fift, our hero(ine), grows up and makes mistakes and changes, but all for love and passion, even though there are huge social consequences. I will re-read this after racing through it once. If you're interested in the different, the strange, the queer, the passionate: check this book out.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Esther B.

    I love this book!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jamey Harvey

    I think the best recommendation for a book, is whether when you get to the end you immediately pick it up and read it again. Which I did with the Unraveling, like about 4 or 5 times in a row now! Rosenbaum loves genre fiction but then he loves to flip it, invert it, transform it and let it leap over itself. There are so many ideas, deeply woven into the far future setting of the Unraveling that it' easy to lose track of that it's basically a heart driven, human story about love, belonging, making I think the best recommendation for a book, is whether when you get to the end you immediately pick it up and read it again. Which I did with the Unraveling, like about 4 or 5 times in a row now! Rosenbaum loves genre fiction but then he loves to flip it, invert it, transform it and let it leap over itself. There are so many ideas, deeply woven into the far future setting of the Unraveling that it' easy to lose track of that it's basically a heart driven, human story about love, belonging, making your own way, growing up and asserting one's own identity apart and alongside one's family. The characters are fully realized people with wonderful rich relationships to each other which is what really makes a book sing.. AND yes... even though they are networked to one another, have 3-6 bodies, 4-12 parents, with genders established with something closer to the Myers Briggs than by one's genitals, in a universe is populated with Orphan tech ambassadors vainly struggling to keep us from destroying ourselves... despite all of those differences, the protagonists Fift and Shria remind us of what it' like to be young idealistic and brave. An absolute instant classic in my opinion. A brilliant, splendid, and transformational first novel.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    I dunno if you've read the novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen, but while reading this book, I was reminded of this Regency romance. Now, you must be wondering, what on earth does a Regency romance have anything to do with a sci-fi set in a secondary world? The connection lies in the two books' protagonists. While the Regency romance has two sisters who are vastly different in temperament; one being sense (as in serious and sedate in emotions) and the other being sensible (back then this w I dunno if you've read the novel SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen, but while reading this book, I was reminded of this Regency romance. Now, you must be wondering, what on earth does a Regency romance have anything to do with a sci-fi set in a secondary world? The connection lies in the two books' protagonists. While the Regency romance has two sisters who are vastly different in temperament; one being sense (as in serious and sedate in emotions) and the other being sensible (back then this word meant sensitive). Elinor Dashwood is as serious and sedate in emotions as Marianne Dashwood is impulsive and passionate. These two temperaments are the basis of THE UNRAVELING, a groundbreaking sci-fi by author Benjamin Rosenbaum. In THE UNRAVELING, there are two genders in this world, the Staids and the Vails. Now, if you google their meanings, you'll find that Staid means serious, conventional, unadventurous, solemn, somber, stiff, uptight. So yeah, the Staids are the gender who are like Elinor Dashwood. Meanwhile, the Vails are the Marianne Dashwood; passionate, hot-blooded, sentimental, sensitive. Vail also means, according to Google, "take off or lower (one's hat or crown) as a token of respect or submission", aka the Vails are seen as something of a lower status than the somber Staids. Though there isn't any strict order for the two to mingle or even mate, it is forbidden for the Staids to display emotional outbursts and the Vails to engage in physical violence outside designated areas, referred to as "the mats". Anyway, this will be a polarizing book. I mean it. Firstly, because it's written in neo-pronouns, no he/she. Instead, the Staids use ze/zir/zir/zirs/zirself; the Vails use ve/vir/vem/virs/vemself. For me, it was tough to not read he/she, rather ze/ve. The first time I began to read it, I only made it to chapter 2 before I had to stop and let my brain stew this in. That took me a week. I returned to the book a week later, dumping all my preconceived notions of gender and sex and bodies and privacy of mind and family structure out the door. I began again and this time, it took me less than two days to finish. Yeah, the story sucked me in. At its heart, THE UNRAVELING is a story of two themes; gender identity, and individual vs community. In a world where your place is determined immediately after birth and forever, in a world where you're rigidly stuck in one temperament and denied a chance to express yourself as you like, do things as you like, without any privacy inside even your head, life can become suffocating. So it becomes for our protagonist, 16yo staid Fift Brulio Iraxis. Born, gendered, and raised in a cohort (alternate word for "family" in this world) of close to ten parents, Fift often feels suffocated by the lack of privacy, lack of freedom, and lack of any chance to choose things for zirself. The same thing zir best friend, Shria, feels as well. Gendered as a Vail, vir cohort already makes a huge mistake when ve was a child, having another child without the consent of their community. That's right! In this world, to have a child, you'll need consent and approval from your community. If not and you still birth a child, the Midwives, who assign gender to a child upon birth, take away the child and bring them up as a midwife for future. While this community connection can be good, it has its dark sides. If a cohort doesn't abide by the ridiculous rules imposed by the Midwives, the latter holds the power to disband any rule-breaking cohort and take away their child too. Also in this world, a child's mind and activities can be constantly monitored by their parents, no matter how many bodies the child possesses (yup, here everybody possess more than one body, almost like clones, except they share one mind). So the chapters contain lots of head-hopping, another thing that can confuse and frustrate and irritate readers, thus further dividing their opinions about this book. Personally, it was somewhat tough to constantly head-hop almost every paragraph, but it became easier for me when I began to imagine the events in my head the way movies and shows with multiple parallel timelines are shown onscreen simultaneously. Maybe this tip can help you read it better? 🙂 Anyway, the story begins when Fift and Shria accidentally find themselves in the middle of an unprecedented revolutionary riot during a festivity and the inappropriate affection they display toward each other. Complicated by Fift's stubborn refusal to conform to societies ridiculous rules that demand from zir to end zir friendship with Shria, they find themselves at the precipice of a revolution that not only threatens to tear them apart, but also tear apart their respective cohorts, their communities, even the fabric of this Midwives-controlled world. An interesting weave of utopia and dystopia, THE UNRAVELING both changes and challenges our ideas of gender, identity, personality, and family. Again, this book is full of conflicting tug-of-war between a sense of community and a sense of individuality. How far would you go to retain your individuality? Can you survive without a community? Can you have individuality within a community? Another cool thing about this book is that the pressure and expectations to conform to this world's standard of gender identity is eerily similar to our own. In real life, anything other than male or female is considered an oddity. Although at present, the binaries of gender identity has been pushed and broken a few many times, the idea still stands. In THE UNRAVELING, you'll find similar rigid, arbitrary expectations and pressure from society. The Staids cannot express emotions, the Vails cannot access into the Long Conversation, a detailed, erudite collection of this world's intellects. Although unlike ours, this society does not bestow gender identity based on one's sex, the dark side of the binaries still stands. Gender identity in our world is assumed upon arbitrary attributes, same as the world of this book. The author does not reveal what makes the Midwives assign one child Staid gender and another child Vail, and by keeping this vague and somewhat arbitrary, the author is asking us to ask those same questions to ourselves, about our society's way of assigning gender to a person. Just the same way Vails can be stoic and Staids can be expressive and both can be both or neither, men can have vagina and women can have penis and both can have both or neither as well. With such deep thematic exploration, this book will divide people. Some will love it, some will hate it, some will hate it with love, some will love it with hate. But it'll make all its readers think and perform some serious brain work to figure out the machinations of this book's world. Thank you, NetGalley and Erewhon Books, for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    Rosenbaum, Benjamin. The Unraveling. Erewhon, 2020. If science fiction has one persistent structural issue, it is exposition. How much information does a reader need to understand, say, life on a distant planet in the far future? Some writers, such as Kim Stanley Robinson, provide large infodumps that orient the reader but break the narrative flow. In The Unraveling, Benjamin Rosenbaum operates very differently. His approach is to require a reader to gather information about his narrative world i Rosenbaum, Benjamin. The Unraveling. Erewhon, 2020. If science fiction has one persistent structural issue, it is exposition. How much information does a reader need to understand, say, life on a distant planet in the far future? Some writers, such as Kim Stanley Robinson, provide large infodumps that orient the reader but break the narrative flow. In The Unraveling, Benjamin Rosenbaum operates very differently. His approach is to require a reader to gather information about his narrative world inductively. The narrative thus proceeds without interruption, but it risks confusing some readers. This is especially true in The Unraveling, because Rosenbaum is at pains to put the trans in trans-human. Our protagonist, Fift, has five parents and three bodies in which Fift is simultaneously conscious. Gender is no longer divided into male and female, because one’s genitals and their associated plumbing are now a fashion choice, easily combined and changed. Gender is now divided into staid and vail, each with its own set of pronouns. Reproduction is now a group decision, and interactions between staid and vail genders is strictly limited by community secrets and taboos. Understanding how all this works (or doesn’t work) engages more of the reader’s attention than the plot. One hardly notices, for example, that buried somewhere in it is a rather good coming of age story. The only book to which I can compare The Unraveling is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. That is rarified company for a novel to share. It’s worth the work. 4 strong stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shoshana Rosenbaum

    I am not usually a hard sci-fi reader, but I loved this book and couldn't put it down. You may experience some culture shock while reading the first couple chapters, as this world is so far in the future and so much is different: people with multiple bodies; genders that don't map to our world's male and female (or to physical biological characteristics at all); cohorts of as many as 80 adults parenting a small number of children together; a feed where everyone can see each other almost anytime t I am not usually a hard sci-fi reader, but I loved this book and couldn't put it down. You may experience some culture shock while reading the first couple chapters, as this world is so far in the future and so much is different: people with multiple bodies; genders that don't map to our world's male and female (or to physical biological characteristics at all); cohorts of as many as 80 adults parenting a small number of children together; a feed where everyone can see each other almost anytime they want; a social system in which birth order is paramount...and more. So it's a lot to get used to, but once you experience the bond between the main characters, Fift and Shria, you will be hooked on them and on the revolutionary things happening in their world. And like the best science fiction, spending some time in the world of The Unraveling will forever influence how you see our world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joanna

    Reminded me of a modern Ursula K. Le Guin. Amazing world building, exploring altarnate forms of gender, economy, and technology.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rain Reads

    This was a very challenging read for me but I'm happy I persevered. The concept of the story is very unique and intriguing in that it takes us to a very distant future where humans are allowed to clone themselves having the same single consciousness through a polysomatic network. Inhabitants of the Nation of Fullbellly are able to live up to 500+ years of age and are segregated according to gender, ratings, and cohorts by a governing body called the Midwives. The story follows Fift, a sixteen-yea This was a very challenging read for me but I'm happy I persevered. The concept of the story is very unique and intriguing in that it takes us to a very distant future where humans are allowed to clone themselves having the same single consciousness through a polysomatic network. Inhabitants of the Nation of Fullbellly are able to live up to 500+ years of age and are segregated according to gender, ratings, and cohorts by a governing body called the Midwives. The story follows Fift, a sixteen-year-old Staid whose parents are composed of seven Fathers and a Mother. She was born through natural birth and was the Only Child of the family. The story tells us about her life as a Staid, the rules she must always follow, and the struggles she experienced during Her First Childhood. I honestly struggled reading the first few chapters of the book describing the multiple actions taken by the characters in a scene and the gender pronouns used. But as I go along, I was able to read it smoothly taking note that their world is set in the distant future where their language not just their civilization has evolved. If you love reading books about sci-fi, love, and friendship, family life, and strong-willed characters, I would definitely recommend this book to you. I'm grateful to the author, the publisher, and Netgalley for allowing me to read and review the ARC of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mariah Wamby

    “Maybe it’s better to be miserable for a century, if at the end you—you win joy built on honest foundations.” I received an eARC of The Unraveling by Benjamin Rosenbaum from Netgalley and Erewhon Books. Here is my personal and honest review! 🪢 The Unraveling is the story of young Fift who is trying to find a way in a world where advancements in biodiversity have changed the constructs of gender to a system that is almost unrecognizable. Is following a path outside of the strict regulations o “Maybe it’s better to be miserable for a century, if at the end you—you win joy built on honest foundations.” I received an eARC of The Unraveling by Benjamin Rosenbaum from Netgalley and Erewhon Books. Here is my personal and honest review! 🪢 The Unraveling is the story of young Fift who is trying to find a way in a world where advancements in biodiversity have changed the constructs of gender to a system that is almost unrecognizable. Is following a path outside of the strict regulations of gender worth risking Fift’s family and freedom? The Unraveling was a great concept that just failed in the execution. In Fift’s world most people are able to split their consciousness between multiple (typically three?) bodies. This concept is so cool, but led to a super confusing reading experience. Fift’s POV was constantly shifting between bodies mid sentence and so often I was just left lost. I understand trying to convey the feeling of being split, but it was just a little too convoluted to be enjoyable for me. That being said a lot of the commentary and societal constrictions of gender was interesting, you just had to suffer through a lot of confusion to get to it. This one gets two stars from me! 🪢

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Coming of age within a unique society An intereresting look at gender and societal norms within a coming of age romance. In a society where you choose your sex but gender is assigned by midwives, our protagonists have to learn how to be themselves while everything is unraveling and everyone is watching. The pronouns took a little getting used to, but otherwise it was an easy, entertaining, and thought-provoking read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    W.L. Bolm

    This is the best book I've read this year. It's about a complacent society on the edge of unraveling, but more importantly, it's about two teens finding themselves and bracing up against the expectations of society and their families. It's about love and gender and the messiness inherent in both. It's the best sci fi I've read in a long while. This is the best book I've read this year. It's about a complacent society on the edge of unraveling, but more importantly, it's about two teens finding themselves and bracing up against the expectations of society and their families. It's about love and gender and the messiness inherent in both. It's the best sci fi I've read in a long while.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Well, dang. This book is an excellent test of reading comprehension, specifically trying to figure things out from context clues. It is both entertaining and baffling, and I wonder how many gender studies classes will make it required reading. I am extremely impressed.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Danny

    I made it 9% through this book... And had to start over and read more carefully to figure out the world the author built. Unique read. 4/5 stars.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Carl Feynman

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarak

  18. 4 out of 5

    Noah

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Moyer

  20. 4 out of 5

    Julie

  21. 4 out of 5

    a small bug

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lira

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  24. 5 out of 5

    CJ Tillman

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nika

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  28. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Hill

  30. 4 out of 5

    charlotte,

  31. 4 out of 5

    Jess

  32. 4 out of 5

    alessi

  33. 5 out of 5

    Mariette

  34. 4 out of 5

    ♡ ⭐ Asterites

  35. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  36. 4 out of 5

    Brenda Shannon

  37. 5 out of 5

    flossie

  38. 4 out of 5

    Kate (Feathered Turtle Press)

  39. 4 out of 5

    Luke

  40. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

  41. 5 out of 5

    Rob Liebscher

  42. 4 out of 5

    E.M. Tippetts

  43. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Picard

  44. 5 out of 5

    Miramira Endevall

  45. 5 out of 5

    Ms B Baker

  46. 5 out of 5

    Ron

  47. 5 out of 5

    Maddy

  48. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Rinio

  49. 5 out of 5

    Paco Madden

  50. 5 out of 5

    Holly Schurr

  51. 4 out of 5

    Judith

  52. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Schmadel

  53. 4 out of 5

    Cora

  54. 4 out of 5

    Mary

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