Posts By: Elly Blue

What Are Your Greatest Strengths?

a photo of a magnet with a drawing of a cat flexing their bicep and the word "Fire!"
River the cat feeling their strengths

Ever since our operations manager Sid told us about the concept of strengths-based leadership, we’ve been a little obsessed. The basic idea is that instead of trying to identify and improve your (or your workers’) weakest points, you instead identify your strengths and work to make the most of them. Then, for example, if your strength is getting things started and your coworker’s strength is seeing things through to the end… well, that means you find ways to work together instead of trying to change yourselves. It’s kinda utopian that way.

The gold standard test for this is called CliftonStrengths. It’s helpful stuff and they have a bunch of books and resources to help you understand your results. For our unscientific purposes, we took a free knock-off online.

Here are results and thoughts from a couple of our workers and interns, about what their strengths mean to them at work:

Sidnee

Top 5 Strengths:

  1. Believer (An executing type strength)
  2. Empathizer (A relationship building type strength),
  3. Coach (An influencing type strength)
  4. Storyteller (A relationship building type strength)
  5. Peacekeeper (A relationship building type strength)

I first learned about this concept in my freshman year of college (my results haven’t changed too much) and at that time I did exactly what you’re NOT supposed to do which is notice all the categories I had “no strengths” in. I can be a bit of a black and white thinker. However, one thing I’ve come to love about this system as a manager is that there’s no such thing as someone with zero ability in any specific category, only a person who hasn’t been empowered in a way that makes sense to them based on their strengths.

So for instance- I may not be able to lead Microcosm in grand and innovative directions by way of strategic thinking, but when I notice an intern with a lot of strength in that area, I know to empower them by taking the time to communicate a little extra with them about our processes and coach them on how to best take their ideas and put them into action in our workplace. Furthermore, knowing that someone in our organization is super great at something like “consistency” or “activator” means that if I want to take one of those cool ideas and make sure it gets done, I set them up to turn it into a reality with their executing talents. I’m a big ole nerd about this stuff. I recommend it to everyone.

Micaela

Top 5 strengths:

  1. Deliverer
  2. Time Keeper
  3. Empathizer
  4. Thinker
  5. Analyst

I was pleased that my strengths reflected what I value in myself and what I’ve always believed my strong suits to be: organization, dependability, planning, attention to detail and listening to other people. I would have been curious to see what I scored lowest on.

Sam

Top 5 strengths:

  1. Thinker
  2. Empathizer
  3. Coach
  4. Philomath
  5. Deliverer

I’m a sucker for any kind of insight into our personalities and ways of being in the form of a quiz. My top 5 makes perfect sense as to who I am, so no surprises there, but it was interesting to dissect further than the surface and see how these all intertwine in various forms of my life, work and personal. There’s always a sense of renewed energy from discovering things about yourself, because it’s like an easter egg, another key or clue into discovering how you operate as an individual and as a team, and how to navigate yourself through the world.

Elly

Top 5 strengths:

  1. Commander
  2. Philomath (learner)
  3. Storyteller
  4. Catalyst
  5. Problem solver

Thinking about the results of this test has been extremely useful to me as a manager and a human. None of these strengths surprised me, but seeing them all together this way was helpful perspective—it helped me see myself as something more than the collection of shortcomings I’m constantly (and zestfully, per strengths two and five) problem-solving around.

I was also unsurprised to learn that none of my top five skills are in the relationship-building type. Not that I don’t have social skills, but I sure don’t turn to them first. Yet, I manage other people and much as my natural bossiness comes in handy, relational skills really have to be a part of that for it to go well. So Sid lent me her book about strengths-based management and assigned me the task of going through all my direct reports’ top strengths and figuring out how to lead to those, instead of my previous one-size-fits-all approach. So many revelations!

Now funding on Kickstarter: Ariel Gore’s F*ck Happiness

a mouth with two middle fingers holding it into a grotesque smile

Back F*ck Happiness on Kickstarter through December 18, 2019

What does it mean to be happy?

Psychologists have studied this question and come up with many compelling and often helpful answers. But, Ariel Gore noticed when researching this question, the scientists doing the studies and their subjects all had something in common: They’re cis white men.

So begins F*ck Happiness, Gore’s thoughtful, lyrical, thoroughly-researched book about what happiness might mean for women. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression, and in the studies that do include us, report both greater amounts of joy and greater amounts of struggle. Gore tackles the complexities of emotion and gender in this fascinating book, advocating a shift from positive psychology to what she terms “liberation psychology.”

This book was originally published with minimal fanfare in 2010 as Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness, and promptly went out of print without ever coming out in paperback. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to right this wrong, along with fully updating and expanding the book to encompass new happiness research and contemporary understandings of gender.

And we’re funding it on Kickstarter—you can get $2 off the cover price by pre-ordering the book over there, and there are some reward levels offering nice deals on a bundle of books.

Also, there are seven questions about happiness that Gore posed to her interview subjects for the book, and we’ll be asking them to you in the Kickstarter updates, and asking you to chime in with your own experiences if you feel inspired to.

Back F*ck Happiness on Kickstarter through December 18, 2019

How to Resist Amazon & Why

The zine that took the bookselling world by storm is finally widely available! Danny Caine, owner of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas chronicles his pro-local, pro-independent bookstore, anti-Amazon activism and shows you a path to fighting the power, too.

5 Mentions for Microcosm’s Mini Marvels

When given the task to procure one review per month for Microcosm’s blog of a Microcosm published book, the thought haunted me. Choosing a book each month seemed like such a daunting task because there were too many to choose from. So I went with the classic Sam thing to do, and instead of choosing one thing, I chose many. I decided I wasn’t going to limit myself, at least not in the way of one book a month, but instead in the size of the book. Only the teensy weensy titles would catch my eye. I’m aware this doesn’t make much sense, because I wasn’t deciding to limit myself by the page count (that’s too rational). I decided to limit myself by the overall size of the text. Tiny things are cute, so roll with it.

Moments later I found myself poking and prodding through the metal shelving of the backroom and discovered that there weren’t many titles that fell into this niche search, a handful maybe. So that lead me to decide that I would review ALL the Microcosm mini’s and I would write them mini reviews! Maybe I was too excited to do this. Maybe I wanted to write mini reviews on the mini texts. How much this excited me really awakened me to another level of book nerd status I didn’t know I had. So cool.

Applicant  edited by: Jesse Reklaw

The book compiles application photos and documents the editor found while rummaging through city recycling bins. These applications, with the students’ photos attached, were riddled with quotes and comments left behind from professors about each perspective doctoral student. Oh! And it’s from 1965 – 1975, so the comments are sure to astound, causing laughter and irritation. This book had me laughing, loudly, on the bus, (people stared), in anger and in embarrassment for all these students pictured before me.

Best Quotes: 

“She is a female and an attractive, modest one so is bound to marry”.

“He revealed himself to be a very bright underachiever with sharp elbows, and I wondered whether he was majoring in house-keeping and girls”.

True Trans Bike Rebel (Taking the Lane #15) edited by: Lydia Rogue with Elly Blue

A series of feminist bike zines (since 2010), all compiled with special attention to the fact that bike culture, as vast as it is in Portland and around the world, is a heavily white, cisgender, hetero, male dominated hobby, lifestyle, and culture. This then inherently creates a struggle within anyone who doesn’t identify as such in the community. This collection speaks to that. Loudly. Vitally. Sometimes it’s difficult and heartbreaking, but always empowering. Oh! Perk! There’s trigger content warning subheadings to allow you to pick and choose from stories if something may be too much for you.

Best Quotes:

“This issue is about us, by us, for us”.

“Somewhere on that highway I made peace with the risk of seeming weird to people. There will always be someone to gawk…but the things that make me different are my mountain to climb, and I’m proud of every switchback I’ve hauled myself up. I take pride in my weirdness”.

“I’m not a rider or a walker, not really. I’m the movement in between”.

The Book Bindery by Sarah Royal

First beginning as a zine that took the mundanity of a blue collar work place and made the hellish reality a laughable one, this book takes those zines further. With an angle of tone and writing that touches on the stupid reality of being a creative type in a less than creative job to make ends meet, Royal finds a way to the humor in the littlest details, pointing out that if we pay attention, pretty much anything is fucking funny. Bring on the co-workers who are competitive square-dancers, who grow hot peppers and who attend 80’s prom massacre parties. Give me the socialized smoke breaks of analyzing the guy who lives in the van out front or whether or not the pizza joint on the corner is a mafia front. This book had me gawking and giggling all the way through in its mundanity and its outrageous oddities.

Best Quotes: 

“It’s a glorified Kinko’s” (7).

“The shit you uncover with such variety in one stupid place is pretty amazing…because you’re weird, and you love weirdos, and you work with a boatload of ‘em”.

[Discussing Smoke Breaks]: “Initially the breaks were just for the smokers, but that’s obviously unfair, as the people would have to take up smoking just to take a breather. The irony speaks for itself…I found that at the bindery, there are two smoking cliques —the front-door smokers and the side-door smokers.  Both groups offer social and cancerous delights in their own separate ways, and I considered myself a part of both contingents, even if I wasn’t puffing away”.

“After work I took my gift card to Target to buy myself some Bagel Bites and a Walkman to listen to mix tapes”.

Burn Collector Fourteen by Al Burian

A zine collection of comics and rants on superficial and weighty topics surrounding the Chicago area. For anyone who admires Chicago, traveling, punk shows, ranting about the ways things change or never change, this is your pocket book full of mini doses of these and so much more. I turned to page two and realized I was in deep. This wasn’t a book I could breeze through; it was gonna make me think. The comics towards the middle-end were my favorite: there’s a caveman, dinosaur, submarine and the Creator (all you need to know). This book made me think critically about my own perspective when experiencing a new place or person and how I internalize that information and project it. Really read this book and you’ll know what I mean. This is one of those books I have trouble explaining, even in a snapshot. If you were my friend, I’d place it in your hand, no words given and you’d just read it. 

Best Quotes:

“In early adolescence, as the idea that I’d one day have to assume the mantle of adulthood reared its ugly head, I began to dream of working for Marvel comics. The nagging reality of the situation was that I’d more likely end up on the distribution end of the comic’s rack”.

“And in the end, everywhere is as much, or as little, like Chicago as you interpret it to be”.

“As good an indicator as any for gauging a cities’ commitment to its citizens’ well-being is to examine that cities’ public transit situation…A good public transit system equals freedom, democracy and liberty”

Dream Whip No. 14 by Bill Brown

With a pointed look at the cities all over the nation and world, I found myself nodding along in agreement and laughing out loud at absurdities all the way through. Lines that had me reading and re-reading because they were so good, reading them out loud to those around me so I could get the nods of agreement and validation as we all smirk at one another. With human conditions that are relatable, sometimes gut wrenching and other times laughable, this book is sure to be one to carry with you.

Best Quotes:

“’Citizenship?’ the border cop asks. “American’ I say. ‘Unfortunately’ I want to add, but I don’t. I don’t mention that I feel more like a dual citizen: American by birth, but un-American by inclination”.

“We talk about the grid, how it moves across the Earth, first as an idea, and then as tract houses and strip malls set in neat rows. Sometimes I wonder if the old world isn’t still there, underneath the hatch lines of enlightened reason. That old, magic world that haunts us, the way the restless dead haunt model homes built on top of Indian burial grounds”.

“In San Diego, strangers don’t talk to each other in person, but leave notes under each other’s wiper blades… some people read the notes, and some people don’t bother. Instead, they drive onto the freeway and let the wind take care of the rest”.

These Microcosm minis were all very different in content and form, yet somehow they worked together in ways I couldn’t have imagined. If you find yourself curious to read these mini marvels as I have, find them on our website here.

This review was written by fall intern, Sam. Find them on Instagram @lalavandemenace

If You’re Freaking Out, Read This

This book began as a letter Simone wrote to her future self, with a list of ten steps to take to bring herself back from a state of panic, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Now it’s a book-length workbook that you can use and customize to suit your own needs. Bring yourself back from the brink with these expert coping skills that you can practice when you feel okay and use any time you need them. With an intro by the one and only Dr. Faith!

Meet the Fall Interns!

Microcosm offers nine paid internships every year, in the spring, fall, and winter. Interns get to work on meaningful projects and learn both practical skills and industry knowledge. Every class of interns, for all their many individual differences, has its own personality. I’d describe our Fall 2019 batch, Micaela, Grace, and Sam, as giving us a run for our money. They’re all three ready to act, learn, and build on what they’ve learned, and so efficient and smart that we need to hustle to stay a step ahead of them.

Fun fall intern fact: two of them were high school yearbook editors, and one went to a yearbook summer camp! That’s legit publishing experience.

Here’s a little more about each of them.

Micaela

How would you describe yourself?

I am a quietly reliable story and linguistics nerd.

What brings you to Microcosm?

I love books and I want to work in a field that lets me be both creative and analytical.

Where are you from? What do you miss/not miss most?

I’m from West Linn, Oregon and I’m still living there now! I miss all my old friends who live in other parts of the state/country/world. I love being close to my family (and also within walking distance of the library).

What creative or empowering thing do you like to spend your time doing?

I write novels and I also paint and draw mandalas.

What’s your favorite thing to enjoy/watch/read/listen to on TV/the radio/in the world right now?

I really enjoy actual play RPG podcasts like Rise of the Demigods, Friends at the Table and Prism Pals.

What’s your favorite or least favorite thing about Microcosm so far?

Everyone is very approachable and easy to ask for guidance.

Where can readers find you online?

@_mgoldschmidt on Instagram, @_MGoldschmidt on Twitter and at MGoldschmidt.com

Grace

How would you describe yourself?

Would forget my head if if wasn’t screwed on, but strangely detail-oriented when it comes to books!

What brings you to Microcosm?

I’ve always wanted to work in the publishing world and Microcosm is an amazing place to start getting hands on experience!

Where are you from? What do you miss/not miss most?

I grew up in a little Northern California town called Oroville. I miss my family so I make sure to visit often!

What’s your favorite thing about where you live now?

I live really close to the Willamette and I love taking my dog on walks by the river right before sunset.

Tell us more about your dog!

His name is Hashbrown and he is the light of my life haha. He loves walks, he loves belly rubs and kisses, and he’ll stand on his hind legs for a treat!

What creative or empowering thing do you like to spend your time doing?

I enjoy writing poetry and journaling.

What’s your favorite thing to enjoy/watch/read/listen to on TV/the radio/in the world right now?

I’ve recently started watching Brooklyn 99 and it’s my new favorite show to throw on when I need to just veg out

What’s your favorite or least favorite thing about Microcosm so far?

My favorite thing is how incredibly chill the environment is here.

Where can readers find you on social media/online?

evelyneditorial.com; Twitter: @thegracieve; Insta: @grace_evelyn18

Sam

How would you describe yourself?

She/Her, Queer, Feminist, cat ‘n plant lady. I’m a total geek for anything comic/graphic novel related, animated shows/movies (especially ones with gay content), and huge book/movie buff. I like to make friends so we can all be a little less alone in this big spacey thing called life.

What brings you to Microcosm?

I graduated from PSU last year with a BA in English and a minor in Writing and I basically have three goals for myself in professional regards.

1. Be the published poet/author I want to be,

2. Work in the publishing world (specifically indie pub.) and maybe one day open up my own small press geared towards publishing zinesters/poets/playwrights

3. Teach college level writing courses (because I want to be in school forever, I miss it).

So working for Microcosm is basically fulfilling one of those dreams and goals for myself. I have been a long time customer of Microcosm, so it feels really good to be a part of the team and get to take part in such a lovely community of people who are actively creative and motivated to make this world a little more EVERYTHING.

Where are you from? What do you miss/not miss the most?

I’m from all over. I technically was born and raised in southern Oregon for about half of my childhood, but after that my family was relocated just about every year for the remainder of my youth. It was great to see all the new places we lived whether it was in the U.S or out of it, culture and diversity and change became a regular thing, but like everything else it had its cons. On the one hand you’re always the new kind on the block, but one the other hand you’re always the new kid on the block. A chance for reinvention and discovery within the freedoms of no one knows you and you can be whoever you want to me. I’m not sure there’s anything I miss about it in general though, as far as a “home” feeling is concerned. I’ve made a home in my chosen family and they are right here in Portland!

What creative or empowering thing do you like to spend your time doing?

Working on my writings and making it a priority is always empowering. Making sure I’m keeping on top of my never ending to read pile is also a wonderful thing to do and feel.

What’s your favorite thing to enjoy/watch/read/listen to on TV/the radio/in the world right now?

Steven Universe has my heart right now.

What’s your favorite or least favorite thing about Microcosm so far?

It is two answers but they are kind of two fold in the sense that it is the best worst thing. You get thrown into projects head on and are free to just figure it out. I’m used to more guided work. It’s scary but also thrilling.

What do you want to get out of your time here, now that you’ve seen the basics of what we do?

I love how willing and open the people of Microcosm are with giving away projects that mean something. It’s really true, everything is important, there’s no time for busy work. I will leave (or be hired on) with a sense of true understanding into the indie pub. business and community.

Do you have any pets?

Margot and Yolanda (my cats). Two of my exes have them now and we share custody. Gay I know.

Where can readers find you online?

@lalavandemenace on Instagram

Reviewing Car Sinister: a Science Fiction Anthology about Cars, by Men

Want more feminist science fiction in the world? Back Dragon Bike on Kickstarter through Nov 1, 2019!

Last summer, as I was preparing the Kickstarter project for Bikes Not Rockets, my colleague Jeremy Withers, a professor of bicycle science fiction at Iowa State (sadly, I’m not 100% sure that’s his official job title), sent me an email about what may in fact be my arch-nemesis of books: Car Sinister, a long out-of-print, justifiably obscure 1979 anthology of reprinted sci fi stories from the previous two decades about cars. Every single one is written by a man. And they’re all about men, too! Or as the marketing copy on the back of the book reads, “Man and his machine … Machine and his man.”

“It has no bicycles in it,” Jeremy wrote, “but has some really imaginative depictions of cars, roads, traffic, etc. And as the title suggests, the book takes a pretty dim and dismissive view of the automobile. Most of the stories are 1960s and 1970s SF, with selections by some of the masters of that era (Roger Zelazny, Avram Davidson, Frank Herbert, Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin, etc.). Unfortunately, the book is also a proverbial sausage fest: no women writers!”

How could I not be delighted to find the evil mirror twin of my feminist bicycle science fiction genre? Gleefully, I ordered a used copy on the spot, and pledged to write a feminist review of it as a special reward level on the Kickstarter project. Someone stepped up to the plate (thank you!). So once the funding campaign for the next Bikes in Space book, Dragon Bike, began, I buckled down.

Nothing but spoilers to follow.

I expected this review to be a fairly easy mandate—no great nuanced reading would be necessary to find a feminist critique for these stories. And truly, I was not disappointed. Most of the stories in this book contain women as window dressing only. A meter maid, an old lady waving a sign, a girl standing in the crowd. The female characters given larger roles tend to be objects of contempt, attraction, or foils for the male lead’s grandiosity.

The stories that are least critical of cars are the ones steeped in the most toxic masculinity—like Roger Zelazny’s two contributions to the volume, each of which pits a stoical, solo man against against a machine. For instance, in the painfully overwritten “Auto-da-Fé,” women appear only as faceless parts of the crowd cheering on the automotive matador. 

But in Zelazny’s other story, “Devil Car,” one of the two main characters is a woman, sort of. This is the very first story in the book, chosen by the volume’s three editors to set the tone and substance of the entire volume. It is the story of a man and his car, whose name is Jenny. Their conversation consists of Jenny nagging him to take care of himself and him snapping at her for it. Later, he apologizes. “‘That’s alright, Sam,’ said the delicate voice. ‘I am programmed to understand you.’”

Jenny is a sentient, state-of-the-art killing machine designed by Sam with the sole purpose of destroying the titular Devil Car. But when the moment comes, she intentionally misfires. She is simply “too emotional” to complete the job. The story ends with her human cargo patting her seat and reassuring her that, despite her faults, she’s “well-equipped” and still desirable. 

a book cover featuring a figure in a futuristic gas mask on a motorcycle
Different Zelazny book, same basic idea

Processing the experience of reading this story led me down a minor rabbit hole in which I learned that Zelazny is best known for a series in which a bunch of white characters colonize a planet where they lord over the other inhabitants in the guise of Hindu gods. 

A cover of Zelazny’s, um, great work

(See? This review writes itself.)

So maybe I’m feeling conspiratorial, but there is one other story in this volume in which a car is anthropomorphized as female—and it’s the book’s midway point and namesake, Gene Wolfe’s “Car Sinister.” A man takes his sports car into a shop for servicing. But due to a miscommunication, his car gets, um, stud service instead and the car becomes, as the mechanic puts it, “that way.” The man finds his car’s condition greatly inconvenient, expensive, and gross. No human woman appears for most of the story, until a passing mention in the end that after the birth, he drives the new car and gives the old, feminized, one to his wife.

a book cover showing a car pileup in front of a decaying city
A holiday-themed short story collection in which “Car Sinister” represented Mother’s Day

Of course, you don’t need to turn your women characters into objects to strip them of their personhood. In Harry Harrison’s “The Greatest Car in the World,” an automotive engineer travels from Detroit to Italy to drop in uninvited on his childhood hero, a race car driver, now an ailing old man. After bullying his way through the front door, he’s greeted by a girl who asks him why he is intruding in “cold tones unsuited to the velvet warmth of her voice. At any other time, Haroway would have taken a greater interest in this delightful example of female construction, but” … he takes a paragraph to describe her tresses, her bosom, and her lips, and then replies rudely and dismissively. This is pretty standard for the majority of stories in this volume. When women appear, they primarily exist as story devices, coveted but contemptible objects for the male gaze.

Spoiler alert! Men loving (hover)cars is apparently a theme among a number of Harry Harrison’s books.

I was especially curious to read George R.R. Martin’s entry in this volume. The introduction to his story touts him as “one of sf’s brightest young stars and whose nickname is ‘Railroad.'” This sent me off on an image search for “young George R.R. Martin,” which I discovered many of on the web page he keeps about the conventions he’s been to over the years. It contains lots of photos of him, including this collection (truncated so as to include the text, which speaks a thousand pictures) of himself posing with various ladies who, unlike the people appearing in the other pre-selfie photos on this page, are unnamed:

But much as Mr. Martin seems to appreciate women, his story in this book, “The Exit to San Breta,” detailing a crash with a ghost car, is the only one in the book that contains no women at all; not even as window dressing or a passing aside. The copyright page tells us this story was written in 1971, so I guess that’s before he discovered our existence.

The other still-pretty-famous author represented here is Frank Herbert, whose Dune series tackled gender in big ways that attempted to break free from sexist stereotypes, even if it didn’t always work. Not here, though! His story is called a promisingly feminine “The Mary Celeste Move” but the only female character is secretary who appears briefly. We don’t know her name, but we do learn that she’s a “well-endowed brunette.”

Not all the stories are dehumanizing or dismissive to women. Kenneth Bulmer’s “Station HR972” is an opaquely written description of a day in the life of a futuristic service station on a high-speed (250mph) highway.

I was bemused by this passage on page one: “Libby, the torso technician for whose sake he walked the extra hundred yards for coffee, played it cool, daily less shy, daily more inclined to talk about her own handling of units and less to listen to his accounts of rapid crane manipulations.”

Libby turns out to be a skilled surgeon dedicated to rapidly putting humans back together after the inevitable high speed car crashes. She might be the most (only?) empowered woman in this book. Certainly, she’s the only one with a non-secretarial job.

A couple of detectives appear to travel into another dimension in this rickety old car in Kenneth Bulmer’s short novel The Land Beyond the Map

There are a couple of women in whom we glimpse a more complicated humanity. In H. Chandler Elliott’s cartoonishly colloquial “A Day on Death Highway,” a nuclear family flees a planet with strict automotive safety laws to try out life in a different dimension where the dad can fully indulge his road rage and his belief that no rules should apply to him. The story’s notable because dad’s buffoonery isn’t glorified; the family dysfunction is deftly painted, and while Mom and sister Judy aren’t given a lot of ink, they clearly have their own agency and motives.

Elliott’s 1955 novel. Boobs! Also, seals with opposable thumbs!

(Contrast this with the final story in the book, Harlan Ellison’s “Along the Scenic Route” which depicts in gory detail a road-rage fueled duel in which the driver’s wife cowers in the passenger seat as he escalates a violent encounter to its fatal climax … but she is the one to comfort him after they survive. “You did what you had to,” she croons. Side note, he calls another driver a “beaver-sucker,” an insult now burned into my brain.)

Perhaps best of the lot (in terms of representation… not in writing style) was Robert F. Young’s very long and unpromisingly titled “Romance in a Twenty-first Century Used-Car Lot.” Lone among all these stories, the main character is a woman! At first, we think she’s an anthropomorphized car, but then we discover this is a society where cars must be worn like clothes at all times, even indoors, or you’ll be exiled to a “nudist reservation.” Our heroine Arabella Grille lives in a sexist society, but she’s a complicated person with insecurities and strengths that we get to see played out in the story. Her appearance is equated with her value and her intellectual bent is bemoaned by her abusive family, her image-conscious workplace, and her fascist-consumerist society.

In this story, we see the impact of the behavior and attitudes demonstrated in the other stories. When a car-clad stranger, attracted to Arabella’s new car-dress, bullies her into a date to the drive-in movie, she feels validated. When he tries to assault her (grabbing her headlights and grinding his chassis against hers), she knows everyone will blame her for the crumpled fender that resulted from fighting him off. A 24 hour mechanic helps her fix it, and asks her out more kindly. They fall in love over the course of a few dates, but her attacker finds out and calls the police; they intervene and it turns out that her new love is a secret nudist! After she weathers her family’s reaction, she decides to run away to the nudist reservation, too, where no cars are allowed, and they live happily ever after in a single-family detached home with a swimming pool.

Towards the end of the story, Arabella has a revelation about her would-be rapist. “He hates me because he betrayed to me what he really is, and in his heart, he despises what he really is!” This nugget of wisdom is a contender for the highlight of the book, matched only by the machine-gun wielding old lady pedestrian who manages to take out several passengers in the car that intentionally runs her down in the excerpt from the chronicles of the Car vs Feet wars that is Fritz Leiber’s “X Marks the Pedwalk.”

“X Marks the Pedwalk” does NOT appear in this short story collection, but check out that sweet ride!

Car Sinister was easy to critique but hard to read. The stories are fantastical, but reading it today, most of them feel cartoonishly old fashioned, especially in the depictions of characters’ families, work, and expectations. In most of these stories, women are either background noise, helpmeets, coveted objects, or overly emotional obstacles our heroes must overcome. The attitudes towards cars and highways—ranging from worshipful and entitled to skeptical and pessimistic—feel contemporary, perhaps because our current climate crisis resonates with the oil crisis of the late 70s.

But even if the editors couldn’t find any car-oriented stories by the many women writing in that era to reprint, the attitudes toward gender, which are unremarked on in the book’s editorial notes, are what truly date these stories and show why most of these writers are truly no longer relevant. Science fiction authors whose work has held up over the years, like Octavia Butler or Ursula K. Leguin, have stayed readable in part because their capacity for complex cultural imagination transcends the “what if it were like now but the cars did cooler stuff and there were bigger guns” style of worldbuilding reflected in the stories in Car Sinister (and the bulk of their genre). But in part, too, they hold up because they treat all their characters as fully human, whole people. Most of the stories in this book, and in this genre over the years, fail to do this, and as a result they fail all the readers, not just us emotional womanfolk.

Want more feminist science fiction in the world? Back Dragon Bike on Kickstarter through Nov 1, 2019!

The back cover of Car Sinister with the list of stories and authors.

Unfuck Your Boundaries Workbook

Get ready to dive deep with this workbook companion to Dr. Faith’s Unfuck Your Boundaries. Examine your personal history with boundaries and consent, figure out which relationships in your life need attention, do a “wheel of consent” exercise, and †