Thursday, January 16, 2020

Review: The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, at Strange Horizons

My review of Annalee Newitz's The Future of Another Timeline is up today at Strange Horizons.  It's a fun novel that carries forward what feels, to me, like a mini-trend in recent SF, of stories that ask how to be achieve change in a fundamentally broken world. 
In her second novel, The Future of Another Timeline, Annalee Newitz approaches those questions head-on, following a working group of time-traveling scholars who seek to improve history, specifically for women. As in her previous novel, Autonomous (2017), Newitz uses her central McGuffin as a powerful, versatile metaphor for real social currents. In Timeline, this is the realization that history is not—as the children of well-meaning, privileged liberals are often taught at school—an inevitable progression towards greater equality, but a constant back-and-forth between those who wish to expand freedom, and those who wish to suppress it. In the world of the novel, the fifteenth amendment to the US constitution guaranteed universal suffrage, giving the vote to all races and genders (in reality, it did so only for men). This led, among other changes, to the election of Senator Harriet Tubman. But as the novel’s narrator, middle-aged academic and time traveler Tess, observes, “change is never linear and obvious. Often progress only becomes detectable when it inspires a desperate backlash” (p. 66).
Timeline is about the basic question of how change is achieved.  Its characters debate the Great Man theory of history, discuss the role of violence in fighting back against oppression, and consider how much you can trust power that has been borrowed from people who don't recognize your humanity.

Also at Strange Horizons, I participated in the annual year in review project (parts 1, 2, and 3), in which the magazine's reviewers pick their favorite genre-related things from the previous year.  As usual, these selections are eclectic and illuminating, and leave me with a long list of books, films, comics, TV shows, and games to look up. 

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