I’m reviewing these two books together because despite their opposite takes on speculative futures, they use similar storytelling techniques to describe how women’s lives might be different in both the near, and far future.
Naomi Alderman’s The Power imagines a future where women develop an ability to physically harm others with electric shocks. Due to the release and dispersion of an environmental hazard, women begin to develop a “skein” within their bodies which allows them to physically overpower people (men) with a jolt of energy. The strength of this ability varies from woman to woman, but seems to be stronger in women and girls who have suffered abuse at the hands of men.
Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks, on the other hand, imagines a more plausible, but frankly more depressing future in which the US has passed a Constitutional personhood amendment, rescinded Roe v. Wade, and made IVF illegal in all cases. Single people can’t adopt on their own, and any woman traveling across borders is subject to a pregnancy test just in case she might be going to another country to obtain an abortion.
Both Zumas and Alderman tell their stories through four main characters:
Red Clocks introduces The Biographer, a single teacher who desperately wants a child, and is writing a book about a 19th century woman polar explorer. The Mother, who just can’t find happiness in her life with a boring husband and two small children. The Teen, who finds herself pregnant and can’t tell anyone, or do anything about it. And, The Healer, a woman who lives outside the norms of society, but is known for her ability to aid women with their reproductive and sexual health needs which are no longer readily available.
The Power tells its story from the point of view of Allie, who kills her sexually abusive foster father with her new found power, then rises to become “Mother Eve,” the leader of a new feminist religious cult. Margot, an older woman who represents political power, but has no skein of her own. Because her own teenaged daughter’s Power is weak, she builds paramilitary camps where young girls can go to develop their Power as a force for overturning male dominance in the world. Roxy, a young woman from a London crime family, who uses her knowledge of black markets to build her own empire with a drug called Glitter, but is hobbled by her brother who wants Power for himself. And finally, the only main character who is male—Tunde, a Nigerian reporter who follows the story and chronicles the global takeover by women.
I can’t really say I enjoyed reading either one of these books, because the futures they describe are both horrible to me. As someone who believes in equality, I found that each of these stories pushed the extremes of inequality to demonstrate similarly bad outcomes, one for women, and one for men. For that reason alone though, I’m glad I read them, because I think it’s important for extreme futures to be considered, and hopefully discarded so that more equitable futures might be possible.
Both Alderman and Zumas are good writers, though I liked the framing in The Power better at the beginning of the book, and really appreciated Zumas’ storytelling skills as I got deeper into Red Clocks. The Power got a lot of praise, and even President Obama said it was his favourite book of 2017, so I’m hoping that Red Clocks might garner similar attention in 2018.
For CBRbingo, I’m tagging The Power for “Award Winner” and Red Clocks for “So Shiny!”