My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the first piece of short fiction I’ve read by this author, and it left me wanting much more. Centering on a group of Orthodox Jews living on a planet that is living itself, this story explores ideas about community and individuality, the gender binary and fluidity, rejection and acceptance, inclusion and hope. And like all fun science fiction, it does it with exciting concepts like “planet minds,” telepathy and shapeshifting aliens.
The main conflict is an original and refreshing one, and a very clever way to address questions of gender identity in a simultaneous futuristic and traditional setting. The planet-mind is willing to accept the settling humans and let them live there, consciously, but it has unconscious “immune systems” that will reject them if it senses hostility or rejection in kind. The planet has created a being named Adira, a single, nonbinary (or maybe genderfluid, since she is a shapeshifter and “can be male or female,” as the humans note, though she consistently uses she/her pronouns) entity who ‘represents’ the entire planet in humanoid form. (Maybe it’s because I’m currently re-watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but it was very natural for me to grasp all of these concepts. The ocean becomes a drop, the drop becomes an ocean.) For harmony – and Adira’s humanoid shape! – to be maintained, the human Jewish Orthodox community must accept her – wholeheartedly, happily, and believe it – or be rejected automatically by the planet’s “immune system” like a virus.
They run into trouble when they have to account for the gender binary according to religious doctrines – to which the title, “Three Partitions” refers – it’s the barriers that separate men, women, and other genders during religious services. (And maybe elsewhere in life.) I wasn’t familiar with a lot of these concepts (and looked up the new words, which I suggest readers do if they’re new to the language, while reading; it will only add to the experience, and you’ll learn things!), but this in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story, so please don’t let this deter you. It’s also important to note that this is not really a story about religious intolerance, or denouncing the Jewish Orthodox faith- it seems (to my uneducated mind) to be more about the characters finding ways of interpreting their faith and incorporating it into their changing lives as they discover new wonders and states of being. (New life, and new civilizations…) It’s a combination and marriage of faith and science, old and new. Culture and future are not mutually exclusive, and we do not have to abandon one to celebrate the other.
One line/concept that sticks out in my mind and I know will stay with me is that “expectation effects reality” – the way the people perceive Adira alter her experience, and theirs as well. This rings so true, and reflects real life: the way people expect us to be and treat us alters how we feel and react back to them. It alters our “state of being.” It alters our lives, and theirs in return. The way we are treated, or the way we are perceived alters the way we are. (If we are treated with love and acceptance, we thrive. If we are hated and feared, we wither, and the entire community suffers whether they know it or not.) Expectation effects reality.
Even if I don’t have the background to completely appreciate all of the concepts, or even all of the language in this small gem of a story, I do highly recommend giving it a read. In an avalanche of lens flares and edginess, it’s stories like this that remind me what science-fiction and fantasy are actually for.