Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Review: Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman, at Strange Horizons

My first Strange Horizons review of 2019 looks at Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman, a near-future-set novel of science and research in the vein of Gwyneth Jones's Life.  As I write in the review, Schulman covers a wide range of subjects, but while each is fascinating in its own right, she struggles to tie them all together into a single theme.
In the appendix to her fourth novel, Theory of Bastards, Audrey Schulman lists the many scholarly works she consulted in the course of her writing. These cover a wide range of subjects, from the lives and communities of great apes, to the study of flint-knapping, to research into pain and the medical community's attitude towards it. It's an eclectic bunch of topics that epitomizes both the novel's charms and its frustrations. Theory of Bastards is about so many fascinating things that one can't help being carried along by them (and by Schulman's gift for dramatizing these subjects and fitting them into her story's framework). But eventually one comes to wonder what the novel itself is trying to say with all its erudition. This is a question that becomes even more pressing when Theory of Bastards reinvents itself halfway through, becoming something completely different than what it started as.
Despite this scattershot quality (and despite the sudden lurch into post-apocalypse in its second half), Theory of Bastards is worth looking out for, especially if you're interested in the too-small category of books about female scientists, about women's struggles with the medical establishment, and about women whom reviewers tend to dub "unlikable".

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