When a dolphin-like alien comes to Earth disguised in a female human body,
it sets the stage for a wild feminist romp that out-stranges Stranger in a Strange Land
Passing for Human
Who Isn't Afraid Of Virginia Wolf?
In the role of:
And a happy New Guinea hoptoad
With an all-star cast including
Jennison, the Kansas Jayhawker
General George S. Patton
The Los Angeles Police Department
The Prince Of Darkness
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The Isle of Capri
Interstellar Station 8
Four billion newly created people
And several hundred Richard Nixons
Passing For Human
This satire was first published in 1977, but its biting commentary still registers strongly today. Aliens trained in Western pop culture disguise themselves as well-known figures and embark on two intersecting tasks: judging humankind’s readiness to join the interstellar community, and searching for a ruthless criminal. Scott carries on the tradition of Mark Twain, using outside observers to remark on society. While the treatment of women is the primary focus, other targets include consumer culture and the general human willingness to be led by the nose by a charismatic figure.
The narrative drags at times, but the speculative elements are well written and give a good sense of physical and cultural differences.
A light touch keeps the moralizing from getting too ham-fisted, and this cautionary tale calling for a better world is a message needed now more than ever. (Mar.)
One Of The 10 Weirdest Science Fiction Novels That You've Never Read
Future Imperfect -- Neil Gaiman reviews the Sci-Finest :
Anyone who appreciates the offbeat (and the off the wall) will enjoy Scott's Passing For Human. Benaroya is a visiting alien, whose mission (to save the human race from an evil alien invasion, and to have a good time while she's at it) is complicated by her inability to understand why human beings make a fuss over such inessentials as death, pain and the physical universe. Wearing an attractive assortment of bodies, including those of Emma Peel and Virginia Woolf, Benaroya shows herself and the reader a riproaringly magnificent time. Passing For Human is quite unlike anything anyone else has ever done.
Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine:
A ploy older than Gulliver although Swift made the approach an adjective: protagonist comes to alien world whose natives and absurdities are of course not at all "alien" but refractive of the human condition. The tilt of alien perspective however enables the insanity, of that condition, perceived by a faux-naif to be the more clearly perceived.
Scott's Benaroya, researching, takes on the body of an attractive Terran female---wildly attractive, I should say, much of the plot keys on responses to "her" breasts---and explores 1970's California. Aren't these humans quaint! They actually believe that accumulation of these silly goods differentiates them! They want to hurt one another! They are obsessed by procreation, so cunningly objectified in their vehicles of transport!
Benaroya, expanding her mission, experiments with time travel and finds Lincoln, Woolf, Heidi, to be no less insane. Mixture of fictional and "real" characters? Humans, those pitiful creatures, get all hung up on the need to compartmentalize.
This is the greatest employment of science fiction in the service of satire; we've had notable satirists---but Scott alone refuses to sentimentalize.
The best unknown sf writer.
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction:
A joyously and at times scatologically tangled Satire of the post-industrial Western world from a Feminist point of view that wittily verges on misandry.
I missed this book when it first came out (and only came across it as I’m obsessively filling in the gaps in my Women’s Press science fiction collection). This was my loss.
The basic story is fairly straightforward sf fare. Alien anthropologists study earth, despair at humans, decide they are a disease that needs wiping out, whilst doing battle with other aliens who wish to enslave humanity (and perhaps produce what would be the most frighteningly efficient and expendable race of warriors the galaxy has ever seen).
In the hands of a lesser writer that could have been a big, steaming pile of schlock. In the hands of Jody Scott, it is a funny, compassionate, and rip-roaring adventure that exposes the flaws in the alien cultures just as readily as it exposes our own.
The pace of the story never lets up, yet it finds room for serious contemplation of humanity’s woes. The style is easy, with an edge of noir. The central character is a bit of a tough girl which, mixed with her naivety about humans, makes for an intriguing and likeable character. Especially as she (in common with the other aliens) inhabits bodies she has chosen from Earth culture – Brenda Starr, Emma Peel, and Virginia Woolf. Who could not like that, especially the final scenes in which Virginia Woolf is involved in a running gun battle.
The humour, pace, and wry observation make this a rare and wonderful beast – a serious science fiction novel that doesn’t take itself seriously.
The novel leaps along with an energy and a disregard for convention that reminds me a little of genre outsiders like Barry Malzberg and possibly Josephine Saxton in that this reads like a romp through the Collective Unconscious. A closer comparison might be with the early novels of Ishmael Reed who shares with Scott a vitriolic contempt for seemingly all and everything, sniping and satirising hilariously along the way. Jody Scott’s wild imagination, seemingly scattershot but tightly controlled, makes Passing For Human an absurdly comic romp of unexpected juxtapositions and witty asides. Good examples of what SF can do when it steps out of its comfort zone, and of how women’s SF can challenge the genre assumptions by challenging its tropes and its language. Take a look, see what you think.
Birmingham SF Newsletter:
Around a cliched plot- aliens visiting Earth incognito for different reasons Jody Scott has written a highly entertaining novel. Of the two groups one is an anthropological mission to decide on the collective sanity of Homo Sapiens; failure to obtain a positive judgement will result in the disintegration of all members of the species. The other is a freelance criminal bidding for world domination and collecting a few (thousand) specimens/slaves for torture and other fun games to pass the time. The two sides clash of course, but the whole affair has more to do with slapstick and custard pies in the face rather than Rambo or Smiley. It also has enough death and destruction to supply Death Wish IV and Rambo III whilst not losing its fast, slightly giggly, 'golly gee what fun' tone. It also includes a transvestite Abraham Lincoln clone, a female protagonist whose speech patterns are largely modeled on the 'ripping yarn'/Bunty tradition, and an underlying seriousness that only twice breaks the surface. It's rather as if Stranger in a Strange Land were rewritten as a cross between Hitchhikers Guide and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Richard Nixon is the name of Brenda Star's robot-slave. Or slaves, as she owns several hundred. but Brenda Star is not really Brenda Star. She is one of several spare bodies put to use by Benaroya, a 36-foot, dolphin-like extraterrestrial who is furthering her anthropological studies on earth as she hunts down the evil cosmic being who is worshiped on 11 primitive planets as the Prince of Darkness. Scott's daring and sense of pure fun makes her first novel a memorable one,
a splendid blend of satire and sf adventure.