Alternate feminist historical past by Annalee Newitz, a gifted science fiction creator

AnnaLee Newitz. Photo: Sarah Deragon

What is history and how does it work?

We know, of course, that history is not fixed and immutable. It is subject to the revision and reinterpretation of successive waves of scholars. Sometimes the new approach is based on new information that comes to light. But what we call history is more often just a story that historians tell us through carefully selected facts that are filtered through the hazy lens of their own values ​​and beliefs. We also know that history is not in straight lines. But what does it dodge? How do changes actually come about? Is it the product of the individual genius of the so-called great men or the inevitable result of the ideas and social movements preoccupying a nation or an era? These are some of the questions explored in Annalee Newitz’s thought-provoking feminist alternative story The Future of Another Timeline.

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (2019) 344 pages @@@@ (4 of 5)

Abortion is illegal in this alternative feminist story

The future of another timeline is primarily the story of two women, Tess and Beth. Tess is a middle-aged scientist who experiences 2022 as the present. Beth is a teenage punk rock fan in Irvine, California who lived in the early 90s. They may or may not be the same person.

We learn that Tess is a “geoscientist,” a specialist in accessing time machines that have been embedded in rock in five locations around the world for at least half a billion years. Along with others in the Daughters of Harriet (Tubman), she is dedicated to reversing the misogynist laws and attitudes that will rule her life in 2022 when abortion is illegal. Against the background of her close relationship with Beth, Tess travels from 2022 to 1992 to 1893 by 13 BC. And yes until more than 400 million years ago in the Ordovician period back and forth.


Annalee Newitz is just a brilliant writer.

Tess and her colleagues have traced the turning point that started their story to the work of anti-profanity crusader Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) in late 19th and early 20th century America. Comstock was the scourge of anyone who violated Victorian morality and the driving force behind the Comstock Laws, the original U.S. laws that outlawed birth control. And over the centuries men, determined to keep women “in place”, called themselves “Comstockers” after his time. Harriet’s Daughters have mobilized to “work” the story through time travel to reverse Comstock laws and any other restrictive measures they inspired.

I read this book even though it was not written for me

I was intrigued by Annalee Newitz’s first novel Autonomous. So it was natural for me that I would pick up her second one in a short time. But I soon wondered why. I am male. My pronouns are he / his / he. I’m almost 80 years old too. So you can well imagine that demographic factors alone probably mean that I’m not in the audience for a story about punk rock fans and radical feminism.

Yes, I see punk rock as noise, not music whose existence is only meant to annoy people who are much older than their fans. And I feel downright uncomfortable with the more extreme manifestations of radical feminism. Even so, I gritted my teeth and waded through the teenage anxiety in the early chapters. I’m glad i did. I found it a satisfying experience to read the future on a different timeline. Annalee Newitz is just a brilliant writer. And like me, reading this feminist alternative story may give you new insights into how the story works.

About the author

Annalee Newitz is a Berkeley-based author or editor of five non-fiction books and two novels. (A third, Terraformers, is out and about as I write.) You and author Charlie Jane Anders have founded and edited several online magazines, including the popular io9. Newitz was born and raised in Irvine, California where the teen scenes in The Future of Another Timeline take place. However, you have lived in Berkeley for more than 30 years. (I really wish those looking to eliminate gender differences in language would find a less confusing pronoun for asexual than “they”.)

For further reading

I liked Annalee Newitz’s first novel Autonomous (2144, Arctic Resorts, Autonomous Robots and Killer Drugs), as well as her non-fiction book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Survive Mass Deaths (Will Humankind Survive Climate Change and Mass Death?)

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You may also be interested in my post, Top 10 Alternative History Novels That Have Been Reviewed Here.

For more book reviews, see Mal Warwick’s Blog on Books.

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