This anthology boasts of some amazing authors and I just couldn’t resist from requesting it as soon as I heard about it the first time. And what a thought provoking, sometimes infuriating and sometimes hopeful collection of stories this is. Right from the Foreword by Victor LaValle, we get an insight into how powerful representation is, how important it is to fight for the rights of the marginalized and and resistance can start from even just one person. These stories will move you, make you angry and tear up, will terrify you and will probably light a fire under all of us to fight for everyone’s rights in our own way so that we don’t let many of these dystopian futures become possible.
As with any short story anthology, there are some brilliant tales here and some which I didn’t understand, but someone else might find them relevant. The book didn’t start off strong for me, but the middle portion has some of my favorites including the ones by Ashok Banker, Omar El Akkad, Justina Ireland, Gabby Rivera and a few others. I would recommend this to anyone and everyone, this is an important book and I promise that you will find something in it that will resonate with you.
Below are my reviews for the individual stories:
The Bookstore at the end of America – Charlie Jane Anders
This story features an America where California is now a separate country with the former being a very religious, probably fascist place while the latter feels like a technocracy. During the time when wars break out for the sake of water resources, Molly still tries to maintain her bookstore at the border catering to both regions, and trying very hard to toe the middle ground for the sake of her daughter. This is a story about the power of books (both good ones and the propaganda) and how a good discussion about books might just quiet a heated argument between angry people on both sides.
Our Aim is Not to Die – A. Merc Rustad
This world scared the hell out of me because anyone who is not the “Ideal” (straight, white, male) is discriminated against or being autistic and non-binary like our MC is literally illegal and people have to perform daily approved actions to prove their patriotism. Sua’s horrible predicament is captured so realistically that it terrified me too and the worst part is that this world seemed entirely plausible.
The Wall – Lizz Huerta
This story feels like a metaphor to the wall that our politicians so want to build at the southern border and what consequences it might lead to. Although I’m not sure I understood the world here.
Read after Burning – Maria Dahvana Headley
Another story about the power of words and books but I think it was too meta for me to understand.
Disruption and Continuity – Malka Older
This is sort of like a report written in the future about activism and it’s affect on society, especially after it’s realized that the political system is ineffective. I thought the format this is written in was inventive, but I was also slightly confused.
It was Saturday Night, I Guess that Makes it Alright – Sam J. Miller
This is a story about powerlessness and trying to free ourselves from it and desiring to do more, to resist, to take back some power.
Attachment Disorder – Tananarive Due
A story about a mother wanting to protect her child, while trying to remain unattached. It’s heartbreaking to see a mother having to choose between life in a cage but with protection vs freedom that might not keep them alive long. I thought this struggle was depicted in a very gut wrenching manner.
By his Bootstraps – Ashok K. Banker
This story is pure wish fulfillment for every single person who is fed up with the current government’s preposterous antics. I won’t say anything except just go and read this one.
Riverbed – Omar El Akkad
A woman returns to the US almost half a century later after she suffered through imprisonment in Muslim internment camps. This story realistically depicts how survivors must actually feel when they see monuments and memorials erected at the places where they suffered so much injustices, while the attitudes of the people haven’t changed much. This is another story where the world seemed entirely plausible and too damn scary.
What Maya Found There – Daniel José Older
I was surprised to see the current administration referenced here. The story of a future where bioengineering projects are being used for create the President’s private army and how some scientists are trying to stop them. Definitely depicts the dichotomy of a government that only believes in the science that’s useful for their purposes.
The Referendum – Lesley Nneka Arimah
Another scary world where all Black people have been designated wards of state, millions deported and a referendum on the ballot to reestablish slavery. And the small steps that led to this state are described which seem quite possible in our near future and it terrified me. However, there is Black Resistance and that means, there is hope. Very well written from the perspective of a mother and wife, struggling with her choices and trying to do her part.
Calendar Girls – Justina Ireland
A Handmaid’s Tale-esque America where abortion/contraception is outlawed, marriage age is as low as 12 for girls and women’s rights activists are considered terrorists. In a very unlikely turn of events, the senator responsible for all the “moral” laws needs a contraband contraceptive selling woman to help his teenage daughter get an abortion. It just shows that just like the present day, men who make laws to police women’s bodies never want the same to be applied to their own.
The Synapse Will Free Us From Ourselves – Violet Allen
This story features a very high tech version of a gay conversion therapy institute, where the subjects are made to feel shame and hate themselves without knowing why, so that they will stop living out and proud. The way it’s described is chilling because it’s quite similar to the rhetoric we hear even now – “we don’t have a problem with gay people, just their lifestyle choices.” – and it just shows however much support people show outside, changing discriminatory attitudes is not easy.
O.1 – Gabby Rivera
The plague called Imbalance wiped out more than 40% of the population and made many others infertile – but this bacterium only affected those people full of white supremacist and capitalist greed. This story follows a queer couple of color, one of them non binary, on their journey to give birth to the first child in a decade – away from the eyes of the Federation and all the people who believe they owe this child to everyone. It’s really a beautifully written story of love and compassion.
The Blindfold – Tobias S. Buckell
This story had some amazing commentary on the privilege of being white passing, the still existing racial prejudices in this particular future (however much people try to deny it) and how steps are being taken to try to ensure a fair judicial process for people of all races and ethnicities. It’s written in second person but was quite easy to read and is definitely a very important tale to tell.
No Algorithms in the World – Hugh Howey
A fascinating story about a world that mostly runs on automation and people have universal basic income to survive. This clearly depicts the generational struggle between a father and son, the older not ready to accept the new reality and the younger wanting the chance to explore. I loved how this mirrors our present conflicts with our parents and elders.
Esperanto – Jamie Ford
A story of how people who live in a technologically altered reality will react when all their alterations are stripped away and they are given a glimpse into their true reality. It’s a wonderful tale which tells us that diversity is beautiful.
ROME – G. Willow Wilson
This story takes place in a future Seattle where there is no infrastructure anymore due to tax abolition, and a group of students have no choice but to write their midterms even when there is a fire breakout nearby and no firefighters. I’m not sure I fully understood the point of this story, maybe that sometimes the choices that we think are best in the short term could have long term disastrous consequences.
Give me Cornbread, or Give me Death – N. K. Jemisin
What imagination Jemisin has. A story about the government trying to recreate the ten plagues to destroy the population of color, the second one of which utilizes dragons. And the resistance tries to win over the dragons by stealthily feeding them tasty spicy food. I was both horrified at the tyranny of the oppressors and delighted at the ingenuity of the women in the resistance. A brave tale of fighting back in any way possible.
Good News Bad News – Charles Yu
Taking place in the next millennium, this story is told through various news stories detailing the technological breakthroughs and challenges of the day – from racist robots to refugee resettlement on the moon to bots voting on legislations to pharma companies trying to make pills to reduce intolerance and mansplaining – I thought the was a very hilarious and imaginative read. However, even in this world which has finally reached 100% income equality for women and females outnumber males in executive positions, women are still harassed at the workplace by male subordinates. Some things never change.
What You Sow – Kai Cheng Thom
I can’t really explain this story but I think it’s a mirror to a woman’s struggle to always remain calm and composed and non confrontational, to keep the peace, until she realizes she has other options and she should take back her voice and power.
A History of Barbed Wire – Daniel H. Wilson
Cherokee Nation is a separate country, divided by a wall in this story. However, the land outside the wall has become corrupt and greedy and people ready to give up everything to illegally enter the Indian country. It just shows that sometimes what we wish for won’t turn out the exact way.
The Sun in Exile – Catherynne M. Valente
An extreme example of what a cult leader can do – convince the adoring masses of the exact opposite of reality. The people are so utterly devoted to their leader that they believe they are in an ice age when they are actually dying of an extreme heat wave. Another story that veers too close to our own reality. Excellent writing!!!
Harmony – Seanan McGuire
The author correctly says in the story that tolerance can be demanded and legislated but not guaranteed because haters are always gonna hate. This is the story of a bisexual/lesbian couple figuring out that their actual dream for life is different from the one they have been told to have, and they decide to take matters into their own hands and create a home for everyone, however different they maybe from the norm.
Now Wait for This Week – Alice Sola Kim
This story could be a metaphor to women being violated in various forms by men all the time, but their voices are never heard and the men are never punished and the cycle continues. However, the story did confuse me a lot and it’s too long and I can’t be sure that I understood it correctly.
PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.