"WOMEN'S LIB GONE WILD
Dr. Henrietta Carey, leader of the
Fems, was the first woman candidate
for president, and the perfector
a biological skin cream designed to
do away with superfluous men. It
WAR BETWEEN THE SEXES"
-from the back cover
John Boyd was the pen name of Boyd Bradfield Upchurch. He died two years ago, in 2013. His best known work was The Last Starship From Earth, a book about a parallel reality in which Christ was a revolutionary agitator.*
Boyd was never a big name in science fiction, and if the rest of his output resembles Sex and the High Command, I can understand why. Sex and the High Command might be excusable if it had been written a couple of decades earlier, but by 1970 we were well beyond the Golden Age of science fiction, and the 60s vibe that this novel purveys is strictly old hat. It also exhibits a multitude of other problems, some of which I'll go into below.
But first, the story (or lack thereof). After the above-mentioned doctor Carey discovers Vita-Lerp, she realizes that it a) allows women to achieve orgasm without any external stimulation whatsoever, and b) allows them to bear children without resorting to sexual intercourse with male members of the species. This discovery triggers an attempt by women everywhere to overthrow the male power structure, to the extent that the government employs nuclear weapons to thwart their ambitions.
And if you're scratching your head at that one, you're not alone. There is a lot that goes unexplained in Sex and the High Command, and by the end the plot makes little sense. It's almost as if Mr. Boyd was making the whole thing up as he went along, without any sense of the greater narrative arc within the story. Events occur and are reacted to arbitrarily, the characterization is inconsistent, and the resolution of this novel is entirely unsatisfying. It is, in other words, one of the worst science fiction novels I've ever read.
A dedication on the first page reads "To Aristophanes and Lenny Bruce," but I can't help but think that Aristophanes would have been embarrassed by this book. Aristophanes wrote the play Lysistrata, which in part inspired this novel, but Sex and the High Command has neither the humor nor the cleverness of that famous work. It is instead a sophomoric attempt to shock its audience with bad language and sex talk.
Worst of all, this book is too similar to Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove. Where as that movie still has a lot to say about politics, armageddon, and even 60s attitudes toward sexuality, the best that Sex and the High Command can offer is lame literary allusions, and jokes that are too crude to be funny. It promises biting social commentary, but fails to deliver.
If you're looking for a book that explores similar themes much better, I would recommend Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X or Raymond Z. Gallun's The Eden Cycle. Both are excellent books, both appeared in the early 70s, and both are far, far better than Sex and the High Command.
*most of this was taken straight from the Wikipedia article.