My reaction to this book seems to be a little different than that of others. Had I not read others' favorable reviews, this book would have frustrated me. The second running commentary about a "modern" family and its neighbors did provide a little humor but mainly just served to interrupt the flow of the main story. I expected some kind of grand ending which would embrace the secondary story and clearly show its meaning and purpose, but the ending did not really accomplish that to my satisfaction. As far as the presentation of homosexual themes in this story, I found nothing very controversial or nontraditional in its presentation. Our "homo sap." protagonist Charlie Johns encounters homosexuality, is confused by its practice, and actually delivers a biting criticism of that kind of lifestyle; he in fact goes so far as to say that over 99% of the men in his world would want to destroy the Ledom just because they accept and practice homosexuality. In an even larger sense, the utopian aspects of Ledom society seem to be overstated by some reviewers and certainly by the guy who wrote the words on the front and back covers of my rather old copy of the book. While Charlie Johns is seemingly very impressed by Ledom society at one point, I didn't really understand why he suddenly felt that way. Moreover, his views quickly change as his guide Philos shows him some of Ledom's secrets. I can't really go into the heart of this matter without giving something away to the future reader, so let me just say that clearly all of the Ledom are not blissfully happy nor do they even claim to be an ideal society.
This book does succeed in delivering a powerful ending. While I expected a late twist, I did not really expect the ending Sturgeon gave me, and this largely made up for the dissatisfaction I felt regarding the secondary "modern life" story. The ending makes this book the classic it is, but the main story is thoroughly enjoyable throughout. A man is somehow snatched from his own world into that of a strange new world inhabited by a small, largely sexless society which purports to keep all its citizens equal, happy, and free. In return for a trip back home, Johns agrees to study the society objectively (objectivity being something the Ledom lack); the new society rather quickly reveals a layer of conflict and isolated unhappiness hidden behind a mask of equality and utopia. Interestingly, Charlie Johns (and the Ledom) learns more about home sap. society than he does Ledom society. In essence, the book serves not as a critique but more of a study of human life, honing in on two issues: sexuality and religion. Sturgeon offers a number of interesting ideas on society, but these seem to me to be ideas only and not prescriptions or even suggestions. To my mind, Sturgeon actually lauds the greatness of human society despite whatever ills it certainly possesses.
Venus Plus X is an important, influential, successful example of social science fiction, proving that science fiction is at its best when it deals with the large, abstract issues of mankind rather than focusing exclusively on the technical aspects and believability of a future or alternative science. You can learn something about yourself by reading this book, and that is a grand accomplishment indeed for any writer in any genre.