Tagged feminist bicycle science fiction

The Wild Ride – a Bikes in Space Excerpt

If you love queer, feminist science fiction and fantasy, bicycling, and books about books, The Bicyclist’s Guide to the Galaxy, published by Microcosm in fall, 2023, will check all your boxes. Get a taste of what’s inside with this excerpt is from the story “The Wild Ride” by Shelby Schwietermanand then get a copy of the book!

You can also read an interview with Shelby on our Kickstarter page.

Carly wasn’t upset, and she didn’t care what the other girls thought of her. She simply wanted to read her book more than she wanted to participate in some stupid sleepover, and if that made enemies for her, then so be it. What could a group of sixth grade girls do to her anyway? Gossip about her at school? Ha, like that could harm her. Carly was tough. Carly was a freaking Crystal Warrior, just like Annabeth the Quick, hero of the Shining Realm, protector of the Great Egg of Wisdom.

Carly paused under a street lamp to adjust the straps of her backpack. She had perfected the art of reading while walking back in, like, fourth grade, but doing it at night really upped the difficulty level. Her right hand ached from holding the book open and turning pages with her thumb; her left hand was slippery with sweat where it gripped the cell phone she used as a reading light. She longed for the return of her actual reading light, which had been taken away after she’d been caught too many times reading under her covers while she should have been sleeping. 

The night was hot and humid for this time of year. Crickets chirped happily while toads croaked and sang, trying to outdo the little insects. Carly had been a sixth grader for almost two months now—the very least the weather could do would be to reward her with a cool, breezy night in which to walk home. It was the time of year for ghost stories and black cats and strange whispers on the wind, not for sweating through your pajamas and daydreaming about snow. 

“Ugh,” Carly said to the undesirable weather. She balanced the phone on the book, wiped her sweaty palm, shook out her other hand, and then continued on.

Most people walking home from an abandoned sleepover at sometime after midnight would stick to the sidewalk. Not Carly. The empty street provided a wider, clearer path for her feet to follow while her eyes were busy finishing chapter twelve so she could get to chapter thirteen in which Annabeth breaks the other Crystal Warriors out of the dungeon so they can help her find the Great Egg, which has been stolen by the evil emperor’s dark forces. 

Some people would be worried about being hit by cars, but this scene was one of Carly’s favorites, and she hadn’t seen or heard any cars since she started her walk home ten minutes ago. Some people, in Carly’s opinion, were just too cautious. How could anyone enjoy the book they were reading if they were constantly worrying about what was going on around them while they read?

Except for the occasional runaway or missing person, Carly’s town was quiet and boring. Just like Carly, according to the girls at the sleepover. Carly didn’t take it to heart. Those girls simply could not stand that they were less interesting than a book she had read a dozen times already. Her copy of The Crystal Warriors was beginning to look like it had been through as many battles as the Crystal Warriors themselves. The paperback cover was chipped and bent from being shoved into and ripped out of a backpack, a bookshelf, a desk, and a hiding place behind a different book so her teachers wouldn’t know she was reading it again instead of “expanding her horizons.” The pages were soft and feathery from dirt and oils they’d collected with each turn. Pages thirteen, eighty-six, and one hundred eighty-four were marked with fingerprints of cheese dust from Carly’s careless snacking while reading. An unfortunate blotch of spaghetti sauce graced page ninety-two, not to be confused with the actual bloodstain on page ninety-three, the result of a sudden but minor nosebleed. It was as if she had left almost as much of herself in the book as the book had left in her. Almost.

As Carly’s feet slapped the pavement, she turned the page. Chapter thirteen. Yes! Carly’s pace quickened as she followed Annabeth sneaking into Fort Marion’s hidden underground prison, subduing guards before they even realize they’re not alone. She was called Annabeth the Quick not because of her fast feet, but because of her fast thinking. She could talk her way out of trouble and talk others into trouble with fluid reasoning and endless charm. Of any character in the book, Annabeth had the best insults and the best comebacks. She was about to deliver one of her wittiest to a prison guard when—

The phone light flickered, then died, plunging Carly and her book into the thick dark of the night. Carly wiped sweat off her forehead with the back of her arm. After a few misses, she managed to tuck her phone into a pocket of her backpack. Something about the night felt wrong. Carly turned slowly in the street, searching for whatever felt so off about the darkness. She squinted, but couldn’t see the streetlight she’d passed just moments before. The only light came from the moon and stars above. Definitely too little to read by.

“Ugh,” she said to the darkness. She’d have to walk the rest of the way without reading. Doable, but not preferable. Even the toads and crickets were mad about it. She could tell because they were unusually silent, except for a strange whirring whine from somewhere back the way she came.

As Carly stood there, perplexed, the darkness at the end of the street transitioned to a milky green glow that moved quickly toward her. The long, whining sound grew louder. Sudden wind whipped her hair around her face, obscuring her vision, making her doubt that what she was seeing was real: Within the pale green light were cyclists. Dozens of them, maybe a hundred. They moved as a unit as they sped closer. Heads down, feet pumping, wheels spinning, frames rattling, they headed right for her. Carly couldn’t tell where the riders ended and their bikes began. One figure led the pack, with the rest following in a swarm. She blinked, and they were yards away. She blinked again and they were upon her.

Cyclists zipped past, grazing her elbows and knocking her left and right. She caught a flash of yellow eyes, a glint of white teeth, an otherworldly grin. The din of at least a hundred wheels flying past was accented with manic, frenzied laughter and the smell of hot rubber. 

Carly dropped to the ground in a crouch, her arms curling over her head for protection. She expected to be run over. She was faced with the entirely new reality that she might die at any time. And that time might be after midnight, in the dark, as strange glowing cyclists ran her over in the middle of the road.

This is not, she thought, how a Crystal Warrior would get killed! Her scream vibrated in her throat, more like a growl of frustration than an expression of terror. But before her growl ended, space opened up around her. The sound of bikes whizzed away down the road. She jumped to her feet and watched the herd of cyclists move farther and farther down the street, taking their glowing light with them.

For a moment, Carly was frozen with awe. Just for a moment. Soon, though, she realized something very important was missing. It wasn’t in her hands, and it wasn’t on the ground. Not even a scrap of paper or a chunk of cover remained. She checked her backpack, just to be sure. But no, it was gone.

Carly turned back toward the direction in which the herd had disappeared and shouted, “Give me back my book, you bicycle freaks!”

Want to find out what happens next? Get the book!

Projects Worth Kicking

Our Biketopia kickstarter campaign is going well (only 4 days left to be a part of it) and I just wanted to highlight a few other projects going on too that we love, and just had to share.


#RESIST Through Our Eyes is a documentary telling the experiences and concerns of deaf and hard-of-hearing people living in these turbulent cultural times (are there ever not turbulent cultural times?), and how they work to make their voices heard.

From the kickstarter: “… will follow and document Deaf and Hard of Hearing people’s personal experiences and concerns when their human and civil rights are violated, challenged and threatened in the current political climate of chaos, toxicity, propaganda, “alternative facts” and uncertainty that exist under a regime Administration.”


This LGBTQ+ webcomic looks cute “af” and I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before this kickstarter, but I’m now in love. “Go Get a Roomie!” is looking to print the 2nd volume of the webcomic (and reprint the first).

From the kickstarter: Go Get a Roomie‘s first book focuses on Roomie’s wild hijinks and the characters’ personalities. The second book softly branches out to a more tender and spiritual look on these growing bud(die)s, by focusing on the relationship.

Bringing oldies back and breathing new life into superheroes,“Not Forgotten,” A Public Domain Superhero Anthology is doing one of my favorite things — making something old new again, and being creative as hell while doing it. Assuming they give due credit to the original creators and bring diverse voices to the table, this looks like a rad comic project.

From the kickstarter: Reimagined by top creators in the industry, this anthology collects over 20+ short stories paying homage and tribute to some of the greatest heroes and heroines lost to time with brand new, never-before-seen, exclusive tales bringing these amazing creations back to life!

An Honourable Mention goes to “The Little Particle That Could,” Particle Physics For Kids, which is already funded but just too fantastic — I’m a firm believer in teaching young kids science in creative ways.


And if you haven’t checked out our campaign for Biketopia yet, check out the video below and help support the writers and creators involved….

Call for Submissions: Bikes in Space 5 (Theme: Intersections)

Submissions are open for Bikes in Space Volume 5, published by Microcosm’s Elly Blue Publishing imprint. The theme is Intersections. Stories that are accepted will all have a feminist perspective and incorporate bicycling in some way, whether or not they are actually about feminism or about bicycles. We especially welcome submissions from writers of color and transgender and nonbinary writers, and seek stories that portray more diverse perspectives than are classically found in sci fi.

Your story should be in the neighborhood of 2,000 to 6,000 words. If your story needs to be longer or shorter, then by all means write it to be the length it needs to be and we’ll work with you on edits as needed. There are no formatting, document type, or style requirements, and no strict definition of what exactly counts as science fiction. You may want to familiarize yourself with previous volumes in the series before submitting.

Black and white art is also sought. Payment for art and writing is a share of net profit from the Kickstarter project that funds the book.

The deadline for this volume is March 1, 2017.

Send submissions and questions to elly at takingthelane dot com

P.S. Volume 4, Biketopia, is funding on Kickstarter through March 2, 2017.

Rebellious Girls: An interview with Velocipede Races author Emily June Street

ejs in steampunk velo gear“A tough girl rebels against stifling gender rules in a quasi-historical steampunk world, dreaming of racing her bicycle in the cutthroat velocipede races. But can her dream survive scandal, scrutiny, and heartbreak?” That’s how Emily June Street describes her debut young adult novel, The Velocipede Races, which is also Microcosm’s first venture into the genre. It officially comes out on April 12th, but we just got them back from the printer and you can snag one directly from us right now.


1. Congratulations on the publication of The Velocipede Races! What is the story behind the book? Where did you come up with the idea?

I spend a lot of time on my bicycle on my fourteen-mile commute most days of the week. The idea for The Velocipede Races popped into my head during a ride. I was focusing on my breathing, on really letting my ribcage expand and contract in three dimensions while I rode hard, and the constricting notion of a corset popped into my mind. I felt so grateful that I lived in a time when I wasn’t expected to wear a corset and that I was free to ride my bike pretty much anywhere I pleased. In that moment, I made the connection between the rational dress movement, the bicycle, and the first wave of western feminism. I got home and did research—as I often do—and discovered the fascinating, tangled history of feminism and the bicycle. I’d long wanted to write a scifi story about track-bicycle racing, and these percolating ideas came together in my imagination. So I decided to mash-up the feminist history of the bicycle, some sci-fi/steampunk-style track racing, and some romance. These elements dovetailed into the story that is The Velocipede Races. I call my genre quasi-historical femmepunk.

2. You’ve been writing and self-publishing fiction for a while now. Can you talk a bit more about that? How did you learn the craft? What are you currently working on?

I’ve been writing on a regular basis since I was eleven years old, when I got my first diary. I fell for reading early and hard, and it remains a persistent and utterly incurable addiction. Writing has always been a natural progression from reading for me. They are two sides of the same coin. I read, therefore, I write. Reading has certainly taught me most of what I know about writing. I absorb so much about how to write by reading—everything from style to grammar to cadence to what could be possible in a book. I did minor in English many years ago, emphasizing writing in my coursework, and later I got a Master’s degree in Library Science, mainly to enable my reading addiction while gaining practical work skills.

velocipede races book coverBeing such a book addict, I’ve always wanted to write them, and along with that, I wanted to publish them—but I have a full-time life teaching Pilates. My husband and I own our studio, and that passion/career takes a lot of time and energy. Self-publishing originally appealed to me because I could set my own deadlines, work at my own natural and (admittedly very slow) pace without having my writing life interfere with my Pilates life. I also like to learn new things, and so I set out to learn how to make books. My friend, mentor, and writing buddy, Beth Deitchman, was my intrepid partner in this endeavor. We learned everything as we went, and we made our first books from the ground up. It’s been a lot of fun. It has been equally fun to work with Microcosm and make a book on a grander scale with you fine people.

As far as what I’m doing now—I’m in the midst of a seven-book fantasy series. I’ve put out Books One and Two, The Gantean and The Cedna, and I’m working on revisions to Books Three and Four. I have about twelve other partly-written novel manuscripts. I rotate among them, writing bits in my spare time. I’m really a turtle when it comes to writing. I work slowly but steadily. Books take me years, not months, to write.

I’m also working on a two non-fiction projects, both related to Pilates. One is sort of a memoir crossed with an instruction manual for the basic Pilates matwork, collecting my ideas about Pilates and what I’ve learned teaching it. The other is a project I call “Fix Yourself” which is about simple stretches to help alleviate common aches and pains.

3. What kind of bike do you ride, and where is your favorite place to ride?

I have two bikes right now. I do not love either of them with all my heart. I struggle finding the right fit on a bicycle because I am in the murky under-five-foot-four category. My “Big Beater” is an old Felt F65 road bike that’s a little too big. My “Little Twitcher” is a custom Merlin from the 1990s that I got secondhand from a woman who rode seventy miles on her seventieth birthday (I aspire to this, and I superstitiously think the bike will help). I love the Merlin, but it is just a little small. I know I sound like Goldilocks, but my dream is to someday get THE ONE, my own custom velo.

As far as where I like to ride, I regret to say I am very boring, since I mainly ride for transportation. I ride anywhere I need to go, but rarely for recreation. My current commute is a beautiful ride through a rural valley and up over a hill with a vista. But I’ll ride almost anywhere happily.

4. What are you planning to do to celebrate your new book?

I’ll definitely drink some malt whisk or at least some prosecco. I may indulge in a trip to a velodrome if I can find anyone brave enough to go with me.

ejs signing books

Now Kickstarting: Feminist steampunk bike racing action!

When I joined Microcosm at the beginning of this year, I brought along a lot of contracts for books that nobody quite knew what to make of. Several of them have come out since, including the feminist bicycle science fiction volume Pedal Zombies, which was met with quite a bit of skepticism—Microcosm has never published a straight up work of fiction before, much less science fiction. Would we be able to pull it off? Well, one successful Kickstarter campaign and a steady stream of kick-ass reviews later, it looks like it’s working for us. 

And not a moment too soon. Today we launched a Kickstarter project for our second science fiction book: The Velocipede Races is Emily June Street’s steampunky YA tale of a young woman’s liberation, a comedy of manners combined with edge-of-your seat racing scenes.

It’s an exciting, page-turning read. Cherie Priest, New York Times Bestselling author of Boneshaker, says that it’s “Tense, thoughtful, and truly thrilling; The Velocipede Races is a marvelous fantasy of manners and machinery.” We hope you like it as much as we do: To learn more, check out the video below, and please consider backing the project before it ends on November 28th.



Feminist Sci Fi Analysis: Software Objects and Objectified People

We’re getting down to the wire with the Pedal Zombies Kickstarter project! 

One hundred and twenty six worthy souls have backed the project, bringing us to just over half our funding goal. We’ve got less than six days left to make this happen. So we’ve added a bunch of new reward levels, featuring custom fun stuff ranging from a letter about the future for your kid to read when they grow up to a custom voicemail greeting from the voice of Zordon of Eltar.

Or you can just get the book, which is a pretty sweet deal in its own right!

Onward to the most popular custom reward last time around: the feminist analysis of sci fi classics recommended by backers. 

“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang

This analysis is at the request of Mason in California (who, based on his avatar, is an actual zombie!). It’s a longish story, and you can read the entire thing on the publisher’s website. This one was good thinking. The first word of the story is “Her”—referring to a woman named Ana, who plays online warcraft-esque games, is applying for jobs as a software developer, and who goes on throughout the story to navigate a world full of white collar professionals that seems to have gently broken free from any kind of marked expectations or reactions stemming from gender or race. 

It’s not exactly a utopia, though. The tone is of strong connections forged and broken and a pervasive loneliness. The software objects of the title are “digients,” sort of next-level virtual pets programmed with a rapidly developing intelligence and personalities. Over the years, the digients become more human-like, but the human consumers move on to other interests. Ana a few others continue to care about the digients they’ve raised and have to make tough choices to keep them real, valid, alive in the online world. Instead of the social order we’re used to either accepting or trying to bend, the world of this story is defined by the rifts between people—calling into question what it means to be a person, a family, a community. The only thing that can be counted on is the definition—and power—of legal corporate personhood. All else is overshadowed, especially questions of personal identity such as gender; your legal status and your access to funds are what identify you above all. 

It’s a dystopia that almost makes the messiness of negotiating identity seem preferable. Is the story motivated by nostalgia for more complicated times? Or does it contain a warning that achieving racial and gender parity doesn’t mean much if wealth is still what rules the world? I’ll take the latter and run with it. baby robot illustration from the lifecycle of software objects

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

In a not-so distant future, the world is ruled by agribusinesses staying only a step ahead of famine and food disease, and the Kingdom of Thailand is on the verge of sinking into the sea. This novel follows a handful of characters around the city in its final days. There was a lot to like about this book, especially the complicated plot, intense political, military, and corporate intrigue, and the two strong female characters, one of whom is a loyal soldier and the other one of whom is a genetically engineered slave. 

All of this might make for another interesting analysis along similar lines of what personhood means in a world run by distant corporations, but I got completely thrown off track by the book’s repeated in-depth violent rape scenes. To some extent they served a purpose in the plot, and the victim gets revenge, though even the revenge is designed to be more satisfying to the reader than to the character, who after all just wants to be left alone. But I do wonder: would a woman writing the same story have felt the need to drive that point home so luridly, in such precise anatomical detail, and with such relatively brusque treatment given to the eventual revenge and redemption? You can’t get away from vivid reminders of sexual violence these days just while walking around in the world, browsing the books at the grocery store, reading the news, opening twitter. These prolonged scenes felt gratuitous and bruising, like being told a stranger’s unwanted confession of violent fantasy. 

Call for submissions: Bikes in Space 4: Utopia / Dystopia

Announcing…. a call for submissions for the fourth annual Bikes in Space anthology.  futuristic elevated cycling highway

Our 2016 theme is: Utopia / Dystopia

Bicycle transportation is often seen as a means towards a utopian project. The joy of cycling, the environmental and health benefits, and so on, are spoken of almost evangelically, and many riders and advocates have lain awake imagining a world where the bicycle reigns supreme, or at least roams free. Some of the political backlash against cycling is a reaction to this dream of a bicycling future; a dystopian fantasy of a society where cars are outlawed and the freedoms they represent to many are curtailed. Yet others love bicycling but question dominant visions that often seems exclusionary and class-divided. 

For the fourth volume of Bikes in Space, Microcosm’s Elly Blue Publishing invites you to imagine, write, and submit short stories and art on the theme of bicycling and utopias, with a feminist perspective. Golden visions of feminist pedal powered communities vs patriarchal auto-dystopias are fine. But even better are tales that complicate the idea of a fully perfect or fully terrible society, show unexpected viewpoints, and are fun to read. 

Bikes in Space is an outlet for speculative fiction (or related genres) short stories with a feminist perspective that incorporate bicycling or bicycles in some way. What these things mean vary, and we seek a wide range of styles and viewpoints.

Most stories we publish are approximately 2,500 words. Some are much shorter, a few are slightly longer. In general, make your story the length it needs to be. 

We especially seek stories that convey perspectives that have not traditionally been seen and heard in science fiction, and encourage people who don’t see themselves as fitting into any sort of science fiction establishment to submit stories.

Please email submissions to elly at microcosmpublishing dot com. The deadline for submissions is Nov 1, 2015. 

To get a sense for the types of stories we publish, check out the original Bikes in Space zine, the second book, and of course volume 3, Pedal Zombies (the best way to get it before August 4, 2015 is via our Kickstarter project).

Big thanks to contributor Aaron M. Wilson (he has a story in the first volume, and wrote a series of bicycle sci-fi reviews for Pedal Zombies) for the idea, inspired by this year being the 100th anniversary of the original publication of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story Herland.


More Feminist Science Fiction Analysis: Genderless Worlds

Slowly, but surely, the Pedal Zombies Kickstarter campaign is wending its way to its goal. We got a nice boost yesterday when Cory Doctorow blogged about us on Boing Boing (praising our production values, no less—we swooned). We also found out that some less-enthused Redditors discovered us, but were disappointed that they only assigned the project 4 Oppression Points. Can’t win ’em all.

As promised, here’s another batch of feminist science fiction analyses. (Read the first two here!) Both of these books were requested by Bikes in Space 2 backer (and two-time contributor) Emily June Street (keep an eye out for her reproductive apocalypse story “Breeders” in Pedal Zombies):

I read this book when I was a teenager and my main memory is of mortification upon reading the sex scenes—I thought that someone might walk past me and just know, perhaps through telepathy or x-ray vision. Returning to it as an adult was in fact a bit nostalgic; not just for the dimly-remembered story of a woman who makes what turns out to be a one-way trip to a planet where a virus has long-ago killed everyone with XY chromosomes, but for an era of half-awed, half-ashamed discovery of early-90s feminism, lesbian separatism, and a sort of post-Mists of Avalon ecological mysticism. Times and tropes have changed so much in 20+ years, but slowly and organically enough that it wasn’t until I reread this that I was able to pinpoint exactly what I’ve seen them change from.

What seems amazing now is that the thing that sets Ammonite apart from other books I’ve seen about all-women worlds is, well, the actual lack of men. No hapless male explorer needs to stumble on this strange society in order to interpret it for a bewildered audience. There’s no Lysistrata-like parable here of how zany and strewed up things can get when women are in charge and men become the underdogs, and also no posturing about how much better a world run by women would be. Maybe it seems like a subtle difference, but it’s a big thing. Instead of a parable about gender differences, the story becomes a case study in genderlessness. Femininity just isn’t a thing on this world, so there’s no need to interrogate what it means. Instead, its inhabitants have a whole complex range of traits, interests, backgrounds—a range usually reserved, especially in science fiction, for the default gender (ahem, men). 

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

I remember reading books by Ursula LeGuin as a young person and one of the many things that set them apart is that the human characters of her very distant worlds of the very far future were almost never what we’d think of as, well, white. It’s kind of an obvious point if you think about it—why would race in a galaxy far, far away exist in the same exact way that it does now? But back then, space was populated either entirely by white men, or when others were allowed in, governed by the same unfortunate racial and gender power dynamics of the authors’ time. That’s still very much the case in today’s writing about the future, unfortunately (and oh, the movies, let’s not get started). But there’s a refreshing trend away from that. Ancillary Justice, in winning the 2014 Hugo Award, has come to represent it. The book has inspired many science fiction writers and readers to question their assumptions about race. And at the same time, it’s sparked a countermovement of writers, readers, and losers who don’t approve of science fiction that describes anything but the heroic white male norm. 

The book is lots of fun. It’s a good, classic story of humans and robots and empires engaged in an interstellar, interspecies war. The main drift of the book is the conflict, at points embodied in one consciousness, between two different ways to manage an established empire: Constant, cruel expansion, or methodical, democratic dismantling. On a smaller scale, the book is about personhood: What does it mean to be an individual, the protagonist of your own story? Who qualifies, and who gets to choose? 

Class hierarchy has more meaning than gender in the ruling group. Skin color is meaninful: dark skin is a hallmark of the aristocracy, though it is mentioned that both skin color and gender can easily be altered by anyone with a decent paycheck.

In some of the societies in the book’s expansive universe, gender is so unimportant as to not even be marked by language. The protagonist, who comes from this culture, constantly screws up pronouns as they travel from place to place. For us earthbound readers, the author defaults to the pronoun “she” to describe every character, even if we’ve been told that character happens to be male. The result is pleasantly disorienting. As I read the book I was constantly backpedaling mentally, realizing my subconscious assumptions one at a time as Leckie blasted them to bits with plasma guns. I’m excited to read the next two books in the series.

I’ve got one final batch of reviews coming up in the next 10 days. In the meantime, please check out the Pedal Zombies Kickstarter campaign and consider throwing down $13 for a book and some stickers… or $50 for a chance to see your own sci fi choices raved or panned here!

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!