Review: Dreams Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock at Strange Horizons

My review of Anne Charnock's third novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, is up at Strange Horizons.  I took this review as an opportunity to air some of my frustration at one of the most glaring blind spots of science fiction (and perhaps fiction and public discourse in general), pregnancy and fertility.  A genre that likes to imagine that it will dismantle any commonplace of modern life, and ask how changing it changes humanity, has been deafeningly silent on one of the most basic, common human experiences.  It's as if science fiction writers believe that there's nothing to change or innovate when it comes to how we create children, even as the real-world state of pregnancy undergoes massive upheavals due to public ignorance and indifference.

It's perhaps because of my eagerness for science fiction that engages with fertility that I found Dreams Before the Start of Time a little underwhelming.  Some of what Charnock does in this book, which follows several families over the course of nearly a century, as each generation grapples with how they want to create the next, is very interesting.  But taken as a whole, Dreams is too focused on the personal, on pregnancy as a personal choice that the characters can agonize over--and then be blamed for by their children.  The political and social forces that shape how pregnancy is viewed and experienced, meanwhile, feel muted.  To a certain extent that's me blaming Dreams for not being the book I wanted it to be, but I continue to feel that the book I wanted is essential, and sadly absent.


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