Book: The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent

The Shore of Women Cover Image

The Shore of Women, originally published in 1986, is treated as one of the classics in the science fiction genre. It is also a romantic story (with a mild dose of eroticism), and a story about a dystopian society. Some label it a feminist novel.

“With her luminous prose and vivid characters, Pamela Sargent has written a compellingly and emotionally involving novel”.

–Publishers Weekly

The World

On the earth, far away in the future,  the human society is gradually being rebuilt after nuclear devastation brought on by men wielding immense power and devastating technology. As the society is being rebuilt, men and women live separately – the women in city-enclaves and men in the wilderness, in small bands. The women have taken charge of the world and make sure that the men remain savage, superstitious and ignorant and have no say in running the world.

The women build a religion for the men to follow – the men worship ‘The Lady’ in temples (scattered in the wilderness). The men periodically visit these temples, don a circlet on their head and have religious experiences that include virtual sex involving some digitized aspects of the Lady. The circlets are also used to understand what men are thinking and pass on instructions to the men.

The men do not enter the city enclaves, expect when they are summoned – they are then drugged, tested and sperm is extracted from them in lab-like conditions. In the cities, some women are identified as ‘mothers’ and have kids through artificial insemination. Male children are taken care of  by the women till they are 4-5 years old, and then released into the wilderness in the guardianship  of an identified adult male – who is sometimes the biological father.

The men outside lead a nomadic, hard, life as hunter-gatherers in small ‘bands’. They die due to rough weather, hunger, disease, and are often killed by members of other bands. When the men try to form larger bands and create settlements, these settlements are destroyed by the women using airborne vehicles and laser technology as a ‘punishment’.

The women have inherited the technological advances that existed before the nuclear devastation – this includes laser, aircraft, genetic engineering, communications, imaging. However, the women are scared to enhance the technology, given the lessons of the past, and are happy to continue in the ‘maintenance’ mode.

In terms of sexual orientation, the women are lesbians (they can’t even imagine being physically close to men). Men are homosexual, except for the virtual reality encounters they have in the temples with the aspects of the Lady.

The Story

In this world, our story begins in one of the women’s city-enclaves. A mother and her daughter are punished for a crime, and banished outside the city to the wilderness – to a quick and certain death.

The mother dies soon, but the daughter (Birana) survives. She is adopted by a small band of men, who at first think that she is some kind of ‘aspect’ of the Lady, sent to protect them and to test them.

Eventually they start suspecting that Birana is no goddess, but by then a young man in the band called Arvil joins forces with Birana. Together they roam the continent, and venture to places very far from the city-enclaves of the women (beyond the reach of the aircraft of the women), have many adventures and are exposed to several variations of social models in action (all being unsatisfactory). Birana discovers that not all men are brutish and savage. Arvil discovers that the women are no goddesses.

In the meantime, Laissa, Arvil’s twin sister in one of the city-enclaves starts studying history and sociology – she and some others start questioning the current situation and sowing seeds of transformation.

In the end, there is a hint that change may be gradually happening to restore equality between the genders.

TitleThe Shore of Women
Author(s)Pamela Sargent
Initially Published In1986
PublisherMultiple – Crown, Bantam Books, Chatto & Windus, Pan Books, Gateway
Formats AvailableHardcover, Paperback, Kindle

“I applaud Ms. Sargent’s ambition and admire the way she has unflinchingly pursued the logic of her vision.”

The New York Times 


The story is told from three different points of view in the first person. Some Chapters are in the voice of Laissa (a young woman in the city-enclave pursuing her studies and constantly questioning the current situation). Some Chapters are in the voice of Birana and some are narrated by Arvil. We are therefore exposed to different viewpoints throughout the story.

The story is amazingly gripping, enchanting, and full of action. It also makes one ponder about our present society and how we can make it better.

Though the book is over 450 pages, I read it in around 3-4 days (along with my regular activities) all the three times I have picked it up to read!

About the author

Pamela Sargent has won the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and has been a finalist for the Hugo Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award for alternate history.

She is the author of many novels, including a wonderful series based on the human occupation of the planet Venus, consisting of:  Venus of Dreams, Venus of Shadows, and Child of Venus.

“If you have not read Pamela Sargent, then you should make it your business to do so at once.  She is in many ways a pioneer, both as a novelist and as a short story writer…She is one of the best.”

— Michael Moorcock

The author’s has a website of her own, here (

Your comments are welcome!


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3 thoughts on “Book: The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent”

  1. Sounds quite eerie to me. The interesting piece of non fiction could be around Arvil and Birana 🙂 exploring faraway continents and whatever, which you have not elaborated upon.

    I am wondering why the author took such a dim view of men and relegated them to the jungles to die of hunger and disease. And placed the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of women.

    With men and women being placed on such extreme ends in the beginning of the narrative, it must be quite some transformation to effect to make the twain meet happily after.

    Does the novel end with a “and then they lived happily together ever after”?

    Because such an ending would be true fiction as we know it…..”happy co-existence”? Take a poll.

    1. Prakash,

      No, it does not end with happy co-existence or lived happily ever after. It ends with ‘we have a long way to go’ and ‘lots of work to do’.

      The roaming of the couple across the continent is more of an adventure, and less of a documentary.

      Thanks for sharing your comments/ questions.

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