By Hans Ostrom
“Something is happening to men—their penises are falling off.” That’s the first line from a synopsis of my new novel, Without One, which is available inexpensively on Kindle, free to Kindle Prime members:
Link: Without One on Kindle
Link: Without One on Kindle
The premise of the novel is that a strange new microbial plague strikes in the near future. Although the microbe is a flesh-eater, it has a modest appetite. It devours men’s penises but is self-limiting and stops there, leaving those affected healthy again but obviously not whole. At any rate, the plague soon gets its own acronym: RAPIDS: RAPID PENILE DEGENERATION SYNDROME, and RAPIDS, as they say in Twitter-Land, is trending.
When I started writing the novel, I didn’t think the premise was all that outlandish, given the history of satire. Gulliver’s Travels does some wild things with the body, for example, and more particularly, the protagonist and narrator of Tristram Shandy has his own phallic issues. I thought the comic, satiric, and farcical implications of such a premise would allow people to move quickly beyond certain gruesome images that might spring to mind, and as I constructed the plot, I kept the gory details to a minimum.
But I had a heck of a time getting agents and editors interested in the book. One well-known agent who prides himself on being open to the most fantastical plots and premises wrote back and said, “Sorry—too much, even for me.” A less well-known agent—another male—wrote that he couldn’t possibly represent the book because he had a morbid fear of castration. My response, which I didn’t share with him, was, well, doesn’t that mean the book is marketable? I didn’t see the novel as horror fiction, but horror fiction exploits people’s fears in a fictionally safe way, right?
Now, however, I think I have more reason to indulge in the fantasy that Without One is a book whose time has arrived, and I have the GOP to thank. They’re determined to politicize genitalia and sexuality. True, they focus exclusively on women’s private parts, not to mention their private rights. Apparently nothing to do with female sexuality is sacred to them. In a roundabout way, via the issue of gay marriage, they get around to male sexuality, but they are positively obsessed with controlling women’s bodies, in my opinion.
But if you’ll notice, they don’t touch the penis, so to speak. If males want to buy contraception, they’re free to do so, without being forced to watch videos, have their penises undergo a sonogram, or tell their bosses why they’re buying condoms. (“Uh, we’re going to make water-balloons out of them.”)
According to the GOP view, men are also free to impregnate a woman and then have her suffer all the consequences, have her choices about how to handle the pregnancy limited, and so on. The GOP’s logic concerning contraception—you’d think that, if they’re against abortion, they’d be for contraception—makes an Escher print look realistic.
So it’s high time, I argue, imitating the self-serving logic of the GOP, that we had a novel that shifts the focus from women and puts it on the masculine member.
Without One follows an ensemble cast of sufferers, journalists, doctors, epidemiologists, evangelical preachers, activists, conspiracy-theorists as society struggles to come to grips, as it were, with RAPIDS, which has almost everyone reconsidering what it means to be a man if the man suffers a drop-off. The tale goes all the way to Washington D.C., where it takes a detour around the wounded Washington Monument and amble to the White House, where the president—one Luther De Long—has reason to suspect he’s been exposed to RAPIDS.
Is he a Republican or a Democrat? The novel doesn’t say—because RAPIDS doesn’t respect such boundaries. Respect boundaries: what a concept.
Published by Congruent Angle Press, Without One is available for download to Kindle on amazon.com.
Hans Ostrom is a poet, novelist, and screenwriter. With Michael Kerr, he co-wrote the script for the soon-to-be-filmed romantic thriller, “NAPA,” starring Rose McGowan, Sean Astin, and Kevin Pollack. He teaches at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Wash.