I read this story more than 40 years ago. Actually I read it in French, but it was almost certainly translated from english. I remember very little. It was possibly short fiction but maybe even a full novel. Humans had colonised a planet and more or less enslaved a local sentient species to do all the menial jobs. But the enslavement was not so harsh.

The only scene I remember is that one local got one day off, because he was needed for "une monte", a copulation. The point was that seven individuals were needed for that, one of each different sex. To procreate, they needed two distinct types of males, two distinct types of females, one hermaphrodite and two distinct types of "neutrals", one of which was for a "digestive" role. And I remember that these aliens were said to be "amorphous", though it is not clear what was really meant by that adjective, in that book.

I don't think the many sexes of the aliens was an important feature, it was just an incidental remark about the day off granted to the alien - the day off itself was probably a more important point. In fact I was just reminded of the "many sexes" by this recent piece of news.

It is not "Venus and the seven sexes", none of the details fit.

I have found some information. Googling a sentence in french which I thought I remembered, I ended up to an issue of a french magazine, "Galaxie" published in january 1969 (#56), containing only translations from english. The table of content mentions six short stories:

Philip José FARMER, La Quête de la vérité (Riverworld)

Piers ANTHONY, Dans les crocs du danger (In the jaws of danger)

Cordwainer SMITH, Pensez bleu, comptez bleu (Think blue, count two)

James Graham BALLARD, La Statue qui chantait (Mobile / Venus Smiles)

Terry CARR, Les Robots sont là ! (The robots are here)

Thomas Michael DISCH, Assassin & fils (Assassin & Son)

It did not look at all like a story from Riverworld. I found enough about the stories by Cordwainer Smith and J. G. Ballard to eliminate them. I don't remember any robots so it is probably not the one by Terry Carr either. But I was not able to find enough about the two remaining stories, by Piers Anthony and T. M. Disch to determine if any of those could be the one. And of course the Google search that led to this magazine may be mistaken. Still, does this help ?

  • 2
    Normally, an old story about a race of contented but subservient aliens, who are amorphous and have multiple sexes, all needed for mating, would be The Gods Themselves. But there are a lot of other details in the question that do not match up.
    – Buzz
    Oct 3 '19 at 6:34
  • @Buzz: IIRC, there were only three sexes in the alien species in The Gods Themselves. Oct 3 '19 at 7:52
  • 1
    See also scifi.stackexchange.com/q/217964/4918 Science Fiction & Fantasy “There were either twelve sexes or none.”
    – b_jonas
    Oct 3 '19 at 8:59
  • 1
    In the Jaws of Danger is a story about a dentist working on an alien planet. It doesn't match the plot you remember. Oct 4 '19 at 7:47

Maybe "Venus and the Seven Sexes", a 1949 novella by William Tenn, with a 1975 French translation by Bruno Martin titled "Vénus et les sept sexes".

Wikipedia plot summary:

On the planet Venus, the native Plookhs — who require the participation of seven different sexes in order to reproduce — are corrupted by human film director Hogan Shlestertrap.

Probably not, because the seven sexes are of some importance to the story. Still we should rule this one out.

  • This was my immediate thought, as well, though as you say it doesn't match all details. Oct 3 '19 at 7:54
  • Hardly anything matches besides the number of sexes.
    – user14111
    Oct 3 '19 at 8:31
  • 1
    Googling "seven sexes" sent me to "Venus and..." and I concluded it was not the one, because the seven sexes do play an important role. I should have mentioned it, sorry. As for Asimov's "The Gods Themselves", I read it and I remember it well. There were only three sexes, and that also played a very important role.
    – Alfred
    Oct 3 '19 at 8:56

The story is indeed one of the stories you tracked down to Galaxie January 1969. It is Assassin & Son by Thomas M. Disch.

The story is set on the planet Sepharad. Sepharadian politics is Byzantine and they employ humans as assassins. The Sepharadians are described as blobs, so that matches your memory that they are amorphous.

I found a copy on web site that I don't want to link as I suspect it is not legal. The passage you are remembering is:

The blobs were septsexual, a degree of sexual differentiation found only in free-form telepathic races. Joseph did not understand too precisely the entire Sephradian mating process. There were, he knew, two blobs that performed a masculine function and two others that could be called women; the "mother" was hermaphroditic, then there were two neutral sexes who served somehow as catalysts. The "neuters" were not motivated by strictly sexual desires: the function of one was largely vegetative and of the other (which Chilperic represented) digestive.

  • 1
    Thanks a lot. I hope I did the correct thing to confirm, turning the "check" sign to green. I am sure that "free-form" was translated as "amorphe" in french, I should not have translated back as "amorphous", sorry for that.
    – Alfred
    Oct 4 '19 at 8:54
  • @Alfred yes, clicking the green tick symbol marks the answer as accepted so future visitors to the site can see the question has an answer. Oct 4 '19 at 9:19
  • @Alfred: For what it is worth, that's an easy mistake to make. :) And even if the exact words are not there, such details help us to confirm our answers.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 4 '19 at 11:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.