Feminist bicycle science fiction lives! (Or does it?)

Our newest Kickstarter project has gone live! This one is for Pedal Zombies: 13 Feminist Science Fiction Stories, published under our Elly Blue Publishing imprint. The project is being managed for us by the Zombie-Living Alliance, which aims to promote peace, understanding, and an end to violence between the undead and the few remaining living. We hope that Pedal Zombies will prove to be a small part of that reconciliation. (John Kerry has yet to comment on his availability as a mediator.)

Backers will get a bunch of goodies, including a discount on the book + shipping, some undead rights bike stickers that we’re creating just for project supporters (oh yes, they’ll be good), and other fun rewards. We’re also bringing back popular custom rewards from the last two Bikes in Space projects: One of which allows you to choose a sci fi book or story and I’ll read it and write up a feminist analysis of. Last year, acclaimed hard sci fi author David Brin jumped in to the fray to leave a fairly amazing comment defending his book Glory Road. Will we be so lucky this time around? Time will tell.

Last time I around I got a bunch more requests, so I’ll run the analyses in several separate blog posts. Here are the first two:

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Luke from the UK asked me to read this. I did, a year ago, on the train, rolling through Utah’s endless salt flats, and then I promptly lost the book. But I still can’t shake the nightmarish imagery of a post-apocalyptic soviet city, in which scavengers and the militaristic government compete to seek out mysterious and dangerous alien relics. The awfulness of this toxic future is, as in real life, accentuated for women. The men in the story risk their lives on dangerous missions in the forbidden zone; the women encounter violence on the street and in their homes. The line between a sexist depiction or a straight-up description of a sexist world is harder to parse here. The book was written in an era in which the USSR brooked no overt criticism. It’s absolutely a veiled critique, and not necessarily a feminist one—but it’s also clearly an honest amplification of the authors’ own brutal reality.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My mom recommended this book (thanks, Mom!), and I devoured it in one go, quickly followed by the other two books in the trilogy rapt with excitement and dread.

Roadside Picnic, the story is an ugly dystopian tale of a terrible pre- and weird post-apocalypse. It’s absolutely clear to see what Atwood is critiquing here, and it’s all very gendered. The future in these books is an all-too believable future, where corporations rule the earth. Across all social classes and places, women are treated as less than human and violence is the norm. The plague that nearly wipes out humanity is brought about in a gruesome drama of domestic violence.

But at the same time, the women in this book, oppressed as they are, have agency. One character who grows up as a child sex slave says that it doesn’t bother her; she’s never known anything else and she’s learned to get by. But her sexist oaf of a boyfriend is tortured by her history, the unfairness of it. Another character uses the term “trading” to describe what someone else might call prostitution; she trades what she has for rides, food, gifts for friends. Far from being a victim or ashamed, she’s an astute trader and builds a stunning artistic career. If you’re wondering how to honestly depict ugly, violent sexism without glamorizing or reinforcing it, these books are a solid primer.

More reviews coming soon. In the meantime, please check out the Pedal Zombies Kickstarter project and consider chipping in to get a hold of some fantastic, chilling, funny, all-too-possible stories. Thank you!