218pp/1950 Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In Rogue Queen, L. Sprague de Camp spends the first half of the novel describing the amazing society of the Avtini, the most civilized race on the planet Ormazd. Society on Ormazd is based, loosely, on terran bee cultures. Each clan is ruled by a queen who is surrounded by drones and sexless workers. However, the Avtini, and other clans, are a constitutional monarchy. The queen is more a symbol than a ruler, abiding, more or less, by the decisions made by her council.
The title refers to one of the sexless (female) workers who makes contact with the first humans to land on Ormazd. Because of her friendship with an older drone who is about to be euthanized, Iroedh begins to question the gender roles her people have. Through Iroedh's interest in the past, de Camp is able to plant clues that the Avtini did not always have such a stratified caste structure.
Unfortunately, de Camp turns the story into an adventure novel about half way through. Telling of the humans and Avtini's trek through the wilderness, escaping rogue drone bands and the impending war between the Avtini and their rivals the Arsunni, de Camp losing the train of the novel. Instead of exploring the changing gender roles, he is merely relating a sword and sorcery adventure, with science taking the place of the sorcery.
Rogue Queen begins as the sort of novel in which Ursula K. LeGuin examines gender roles and makes us think about what society forces on a person based solely on their sex. de Camp does not sustain this anthropological study, partly, perhaps, due to the phase in his career, and in science fiction, during which is was written. LeGuin did not begin her examinations until fifteen years later. Perhaps if de Camp had attempted this book with those additional years, it could live up to its potential. On the other hand, without Rogue Queen to lay the groundwork, it is possible that the anthropological science fiction of a later age, as well as its gender examinations, would not have occured in the manner it did.