Back in (probably) the 1980s I read a short story or novella (English, US) set in an all-female society where people reproduce by parthenogenesis. Eventually their scientists re-create the Y chromosome (or at least the SRY gene) and create a (bearded) man via IVF; one of the primary characters describes him as

"the ugliest woman I had ever seen"

However, she was the sole survivor of a genetically identical family that had been wiped out by an epidemic that they were unable to resist (she had been away, (at university?) and was not exposed), so she feels that the ability for at least a portion of births to be by genetic re-assortment of chromosomes would be a good thing.

(If memory serves me correctly, they relied on sexual reproduction, like some all-female lizards, where hormones generated by sexual activity triggered an egg to divide; the protagonist's girlfriend doesn't understand why reintroducing men is a good thing.)

I don't recall any discussion of why or how humanity lost sexual reproduction, but clearly (to my memory) the various clone families are the remnants of the kind of diversity that only comes about through sexual reproduction; they don't just have different disease resistance profiles, but have different appearance, what one might think of as different ethnicities.

I've ruled out Who Needs Men? by Edmund Cooper -- that has a theme of deliberately exterminating men. Also, the created male is a child, and I strongly remember the description of the created man as an adult with a beard.

Thanks for the suggestion of Herland, that will be interesting to read, but that is a story told from the perspective of male travelers who find an all female society and does not match my memory at all.

Someone suggested He, She, and It, which is a fascinating read but not what I'm looking for. (The "It" is interwoven stories including a cyborg and a golem, with a strong Jewish theme.)

While the Otherwise award (originally known as the James Tiptree Jr. Award) showcases a massive trove of explorations of gender, it was first awarded in 1991, and I almost certainly read this story before 1991.

  • 1
    Reminds me of the Mark Twain quote - "Last week, I stated this woman was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. I have since been visited by her sister, and now wish to withdraw that statement."
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 30 at 6:01
  • Almost certainly it's one of the stories mentioned in this article; researchonline.jcu.edu.au/11566/5/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 30 at 6:11
  • @Valorum I tried to give it a go, and "parthenogenesis" is mentionned twice, for the novels Mizora, Herland and He, She and It. None of them seem to fit the description though. :/
    – Ren
    Commented Mar 30 at 6:49
  • He, She, and It features a golem as the "It", and while I only read half of the book, it doesn't at all match the memory I'm trying to pin down.
    – arp
    Commented Mar 30 at 23:13
  • 1
    (Just read their reasoning for the Otherwise, it's the biggest facepalm I've read in ages)
    – Andres F.
    Commented Apr 4 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


Possibly World Without Men by Charles Eric Maine. This was published in 1958, but the book was republished in 1972 as Alph. The story matches but it is a short novel not a novella or short story.

I cannot find the quote you cite, but the following exchange happens between Gallardia and her girlfriend Aubretia when they are studying the dead body of a man:

"Then take a look." Gallardia drew back the sheet, revealing a white waxen head and shoulders.

"She’s got a lot of hair," Aubretia observed. "Peculiar face too. Kind of hard. Ugly."

Something caught her eye. She leaned forward quickly and inspected the dead face. "I could almost swear…"


"More hair here, around the chin… like stubble."

Gallardia drew back the sheet a little further. "And on the chest," she pointed out.

Aubretia retreated in mild revulsion.

"No breasts," Gallardia went on, "Only nipples of a rudimentary character."

"Then who is she? What's happened to her?" asked Aubretia, wide-eyed.

With a conjuror-like sweep of her arm, Gallardia removed the sheet altogether, revealing the full length of the naked corpse. "There!" she stated with evident satisfaction.

Aubretia was only conscious of certain grotesque detail. Her stomach seemed to contract and her abdomen to twist up inside itself. Her rational mind rejected the obvious explanation. Across a gap of five thousand years it was impossible, yet…

"It can’t be!" she gasped in horror.

"But it is," Gallardia stated emphatically. "You are looking at a man!"

The scientist Koralin creates a male child by recreating a Y chromosome, and there is a discussion of why the male sex is needed again:

"I realize I’m talking about things you may not fully understand, but believe me, Aubretia, what I am saying to you is the truth. The last man died some five thousand years ago. Women would have died too, if scientists had not learned how to perpetuate the human species by artificial means. But a monosexual society must of necessity be a perverted society — abnormal. It conforms to distorted patterns of behaviour, and for that reason is all the more susceptible to regimentation. You have heard of the parthenogentic adaptation syndrome. It is a concise definition of our way of life. It sounds like a disease, and that’s exactly what it is. We are diseased, all of us, and we shall go on being diseased, generation after generation, until the end of time. Unless...

"Unless," Aubretia repeated hollowly, not comprehending, but sensing the ominous implications of the other woman’s argument.

"Unless we turn the clock back five thousand years. Unless we reintroduce a male sex and revert to a normal way of living.

  • 21
    The last part really sounds like it was written by a man...
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 30 at 11:40
  • 11
    The past is indeed another country - or at least 1958 is. Commented Mar 30 at 11:42
  • @DavidW: It also represents a known truth. Strict parthenogenesis merely delays the inevitable.
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 31 at 2:16
  • 2
    @Joshua you'd think in 5000 years they'd have stopped relying on it and completed the last steps of the process of creating sperm from female cells though, since we seem to be fairly close to it already. Only a man would think the reintroduction of males would be the only thing to save an all-female society :P
    – Erik
    Commented Mar 31 at 9:48
  • 1
    @AndresF. It's hardly the only Tiptree work that says that; it's largely the premise for The Gate to Women's Country as well...
    – DavidW
    Commented Apr 4 at 19:46

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