CBRBingo: They/She/He – Non-binary author
On their podcast Our Opinions are Correct, Annalee Newitz describes themself as a “science journalist who writes science fiction”. I love the podcast and the novels of their co-host and life partner Charlie Jane Anderson, so I thought it was time to check out Newitz’s work for the They/She/He bingo square.
Timetravelling, feminist science fiction is most definitely right up my alley. The world of this novel is a sidestep from our own, much the same, but clearly on a different timeline. The biggest change is that time travel is a reality, and unlike most other time travel sci-fi, it’s not a closely guarded secret known only to a select few, but something that’s been part of society for millenia, ever since the first of the Machines was discovered at Raqmu (Petra) in Jordan. These Machines are weathered remnants of unknown origin, as old as multicellular life on Earth.
Tess is a traveller, a ‘cultural geologist’ (i.e. historian) with a special interest in the late 19th Century, authorised to travel to and observe the past. Tess is also a member of the Daughters of Harriet, a group of feminist activists who are covertly editing the timeline, fighting against male supremacists to preserve women’s rights to control their own bodies and lives. In their timeline abortion has never been legal in the US, despite women’s suffrage having been achieved much earlier. They know from travellers from the future how bad things will get without intervention, and how much worse their rivals’ goals are.
Tess is on official business in the 1890s observing the Chicago World’s Fair, and on a covert parallel mission to stop moraliser Anthony Comstock from shutting down women’s reproduction freedom. Tess is also making sidetrips into the 1990s, risking her own sanity in an attempt to edit her own personal history.
Beth is a 1990s native, a teen whose love of feminist punk rock and fiercely loyal group of friends offer an escape from an oppressive home life. Beth’s friends own efforts to fight back against men who abuse and exploit them are spinning out of control.
This is a very ambitous book bursting with ideas, with a complex gripping plot. My only criticism is while that Beth and her friends are given the space to feel real, Tess and her story have to carry so much of the narrative weight that I didn’t know her and her allies as well as I wanted to.