Thursday 1 August 2019

To The Daring Belongs The Future

"To the daring belongs the future"
— Emma Goldman, 1916

Women are often removed from history.

In their new novel, Annalee Newitz brings this fact to life by imagining a reality in which misogynists are enacting the planned and premeditated erasure of the socially vulnerable through time travel and murder.

Exuberantly feminist and unabashedly political, The Future Of Another Timeline is an intellectual
The cover of Future Of
Another Timeline was
designed by the great
Will Staehle.
(Image via Amazon)
heir to both Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel novels.

Newitz offers readers a covert war between time travelling factions battling over women's rights in particular and human rights more broadly. On one side of the conflict is a small group of academics from the 2020s conducting small edits to the historical timeline in order to promote equity and equality. On the other side of the conflict (and mostly unseen) is a faction from the 2300s who are trying to engineer a future in which women are entirely subservient.

The book pivots between two main points of view: a teenager named Beth in 1990s Irvine California, where women don’t have the vote or access to adequate reproductive health services; and Tess, a time-travelling activist. Beth’s work includes greasing the wheels of history to enfranchise women, improving access to abortion and contraception, and working to encourage more progressive cultural attitudes.

Newitz doesn’t concern the reader too deeply with the mechanics of time travel. It simply exists and always has. That said, creating lasting edits to the historical timeline is no easy task.

The level of research (and background knowledge) Newitz brings to the table enriches this story. Obscure historical figures, cultural movements and legal battles make the conflict more tangibly real. Industrial Workers Of The World (IWW) founder Lucy Parsons makes a cameo, as does Emma Goldman.

It is also gratifying to see positive and thoughtful representation of labour unions — even tangentially — in a story. Prior to the existence of an organized feminist movement, several women worked through the labour union movement to advance gender equality. This implicit recognition of the power of collective action and of organizing is often neglected in genre fiction.

In fact, time travel novels in particular have often subtly endorsed the Great Man theory of history, as opposed to collective action as a historical force. Newitz provides a reasonably believable introduction to these ideas through the philosophical musing of a main character, providing arguments in both directions. Of course, in the end, it’s through collective action that women make gains.

References to historical feminist movements makes for a convincing exploration of the ways in
Author Annalee Newitz in 2014.
Photo Gregor Fischer
Who released the photo under a
CC-BY-SA 2.0 license. 
which history — and thus our present — might have been different. What would America be like if the puritanical right wing had built more influence in the 1890s? What might have happened if women received universal suffrage in the 1870s? These are questions that Alternate History (AH) rarely grapples with, and Newitz’ answers will be satisfying to AH fans. This is a book that we hope will be seriously considered by Sidewise Award judges.

One of the aspects of The Future Of Another Timeline that shows Newitz’ progress as a writer is the emotionally engaging and well-realized character moments of their two main protagonists. In particular, Tess’s turbulent family life. There are moments of her story that have stayed with us.

Although our book club enjoyed Newitz’ debut novel Autonomous, it was at times overly convoluted. In that novel, it felt like Newitz wanted to fit many of their clever thoughts into the text, leaving some
The odious Anthony Comstock is one
of the many historical figures who populate
the pages of this time travel novel.
Newitz’ research brings these
characters to life.
(Image via Wikipedia.) 
 ideas without enough room to breathe. We found Future Of Another Timeline to be more disciplined and focused in both writing and plotting, though even here there are digressions and other inclusions that seem unnecessary (such as the chapter featuring an extended communal masturbation scene). In addition, readers looking for effortless escapism will likely be disappointed. It takes effort to follow multiple intersecting points of view while jumping back and forth between at least four different time periods.

Despite the final twenty per cent of the book being somewhat less coherent and more difficult to follow, the strength of the overarching metaphor about historical revisionism is enough to carry one through.

Through the use of time travel, this novel makes it easy to see the real-world connections between crusading anti-women activists of the 1890s and today’s Incel movement. Time and again, we were reminded that the villains of The Future Of Another Timeline exist in our world, and we don't need time travel to draw a straight line between Anthony Comstock and Jordan Peterson.

This is a novel that will almost certainly appear on our Hugo nominating ballots for 2020.

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