Sometimes it’s good to go to war, just to know you can.
i’d enjoyed this author’s kinda-sorta The Secret History book, The Lessons, some years ago, and when i saw the cover and description for this one, i was very WANT for it. so, first things first: millions of thanks to lena for so generously sending me a copy, because it isn’t out in the u.s. until OCTOBER! sheesh.
this is nothing at all like The Lessons, leaving realism behind for a feminist SF “what if?” scenario in which girls the whole world ‘round begin to manifest shocking (heh) abilities – a long-dormant “skein;” a bundle of nerves and muscles stretching across the collarbones, is activated, giving girls the power to generate electricity within their skeins and transmit it through their fingies in a range of intensities from “mild warning” to “death.”
and the world is changed forever.
women are now quite literally empowered, able to defend themselves against any would-be attackers or break free from oppressive regimes, and over the years, power dynamics shift and patriarchies topple, leading to a kinder, gentler world run by women and their inherent nurturing qualities.
or the opposite of that.
if there’s one thing we’ve learned from scandal (when we’re not hypnotized by olivia pope’s powerbouncing stride and inhumanly poreless skin), it’s that power corrupts. and what starts out as a handy defense mechanism becomes darker with the dawning realization that The power to hurt is a kind of wealth, and once half the world is united in its ability to inflict pain, the young giddiness of freedom calcifies into something much more ruthless.
the book is not as flawless as olivia pope-skin, but i think when it comes to social science fiction, we can (president)* grant it some leeway. to me, social science fiction is a fascinating speculative exercise; an imaginative anthropological experiment in setting up a thought-provoking situation, turning it loose and seeing what shakes out. this isn’t meant to belittle the form at all – i’m more or less a genre-tourist, so i don’t have a ton to compare this to, but i think that any flaws in the book are outweighed by its strengths. yes, it’s a bit facile or reductive at times, particularly in the macro view of the world, but it excels in the smaller details, most amusingly in its depiction of the evolving gender dynamic between news anchors. it’s a fine exploration of a conceit, and it definitely gave me something to think about.
it’s told from the perspectives of four characters: allie, an abuse victim turned messiah figure establishing a more female-friendly religion, margot, a rising-star politician, tunde, a sympathetic nigerian photojournalist and the only male POV, and roxy, a formidable english smart-ass from a powerful crime family whose skein is the most powerful of all, and who was far and away my favorite character. each of them experience the phenomenon in different ways, exposed to a different cross-section of the global repercussions of the event, all the hopeful, brutal, opportunistic ways in which humanity uses and abuses this power for personal, professional, cultural, or sexual advantage.
the book is structured as a decade-long countdown to an impending event, all tucked into a cheeky framing device which sets the events of the book into a larger historical context, complete with images of excavated artifacts, and also provides the opportunity for fun with anagrams.
this would be a good book club selection, which is what lena is reading it for, so she will be able to weigh in and let us all know for sure if this is a true statement.
* because i’m never one to drop a running gag.