In the middle of the twenty-first century, life as we know it has changed for all time. Shira Shipman’s marriage has broken up, and her young son has been taken from her by the corporation that runs her zone, so she has returned to Tikva, the Jewish free town where she grew up. There, she is welcomed by Malkah, the brilliant grandmother who raised her, and meets an extraordinary man who is not a man at all, but a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions–and the ability to kill….
I picked this up because of how incredibly moved I was by Woman on the Edge of Time (review) by the same author. While I found this interesting and unique, it didn’t move me in quite the same way. I imagine it would probably move a reader more if they are Jewish or a mother.
The book is richly steeped in Jewish culture and history. All of Earth is either a slum or run by corporations in basically corporate states except for a few free towns which manage to exist due to their value in trade. Tikva is one of these, and it’s made clear this is partially so because the founders were concerned about maintaining Jewish culture in a world being overcome by just a few corporations. The corporation Shira works at before returning to Tikva judges her in her performance reviews for staying too attached to her home culture, including things like naming her son a traditionally Jewish name. So there is this very interesting thread about how minority cultures can maintain themselves in the face of economic threat and assimilation. When Shira gets a divorce, the corporation grants majority custody to her ex-husband and ultimately essentially full custody when he is sent to work off-world. Overcome with grief, Shira moves home to Tikva. Here we learn that Shira’s grandmother Malkah raised her and see how differently her own mother approaches motherhood than Shira does. This is one of the key threads of the book.
The other key thread is personhood and what makes us human. One of the residents of Tikva has succeeded in making an illegal cyborg. There are periodic chapters where Malkah is telling him the story of the Jewish myth of the Golem (a human-like beast made of clay to protect the Jewish people from persecution. More info). Very clear lines are drawn between the golem and the modern-day cyborg, who was made to protect Tikva and keep it free. Of course people start to have mixed feelings about the cyborg and asking not just what makes him human but also if he can be Jewish? (He himself identifies as Jewish and attends synagogue). I particularly enjoyed that Malkah isn’t just the story teller to the cyborb but she’s also one of the most important and most intelligent programmers in Tikva. The programmers essentially are what keep Tikva free, and an elderly woman is one of the most important ones.
Even though it’s a topic I’ve read a lot in scifi, I always enjoy the exploration of what makes us human and at what point does intelligent technology gain personhood, and the way it was explored here was different from what I’ve seen elsewhere. In particular, I thought the not just female but female Jewish lens was new and great. But I will admit that I had trouble relating to Shira and her struggle with motherhood and types of motherhood. I think motherhood can sometimes be overly thought about and held up on a pedestal in our culture and in feminism too. While mothers who choose to mother differently are acknowledged in the book, women who choose not to mother are not. It’s as if mothering is a natural part of womanhood, and that was not something I felt I could connect to in the book.
Overall, though, this was a wonderfully different take on the scifi exploration of cyborgs and artificial intelligence. Recommended to scifi readers, but particularly to those seeking a Jewish lens or an exploration of motherhood in addition to cyborgs.
4 out of 5 stars
Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight or tomorrow her government will take her kidney and give it to someone else.
In this future forged by survivors of pandemics that wiped out 80 percent of the world’s population, life is valued above all else. The government of “Life First” requires the mentally ill to be sterilized, outlaws abortions and sentences to death those who refuse to donate an organ when told.
Determined not to give up her kidney, Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.
I have a confession to make. I was supposed to review this in 2016 but somehow my review copy never made it onto my Kindle or my 2016 ARCs folder. It was only when I was cross-posting to last year’s Accepted ARCs post that I saw it listed and wondered what had happened to it. Apparently it got hung up somehow in the cloud instead of ever delivering to my kindle. My apologies to the author for the delay but I must say the timing of reading it was rather impeccable. With new threats to the bodily autonomy of women coming in 2017 I found the dystopian future to be even more haunting than I might have in 2016.
Set in a near-future where the population was decimated by plagues and environmental issues leading to starvation, the title alludes to a new movement and indeed, rule of law, in the United States. In a landmark case, a woman who after the population decimation chose to have an abortion is prosecuted in court. Her defense is that you wouldn’t force someone to donate blood or a body part to save another person’s life so why should you force a woman to bring a fetus to term? The court agrees that it is a logical fallacy but instead of protecting abortion chooses to make it the law to donate body parts and blood when needed. (There are other impacts too, such as everyone must take statistics classes and decide whether or not to risk their life to save another’s based on the statistical likelihood of success). Everyone is given a life monitoring chip and is registered in a database and bodily matches found so they may be called in when needed. The main character is called in as a kidney donor, but she’s afraid to donate since one of her best friends became paralyzed as a result of her donor surgery.
Those who disagree with this policy have seceded to their own country in what used to be Florida. Kelsey and her boyfriend Luke plan her escape there but of course, not everything goes as planned. There are a lot of twists and turns that bring forth more moral issues that I can’t really get into without spoiling the book for others. Suffice to say, I work as a medical librarian, and I found the medical ethics issues raised on top of the bodily autonomy ones to be quite well-put and thought-provoking.
I must give a quick trigger warning that there is a graphic attempted rape in the book, which was definitely disturbing and not possible to simply skip over, as it was a key plot point and lasted for a while. However, I do think that it suited the book and the issues being raised and was not out-of-place. Essentially, if you’re disturbed by the attempted rape and not by the rest of the book then I have some questions for you about your ethical lines.
Overall, this was an engaging read that left me immediately curious about the next entry in the series. Twists and turns took it places I wasn’t anticipating it going and I encountered more medical ethics issues than I thought I would in the read. Highly recommended, particularly to those who have enjoyed other women’s issues dystopian futures such as The Handmaid’s Tale.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for honest review
Thanks to the generosity of the author, one lucky Opinions of a Wolf reader can win a copy of this ebook.
How to Enter:
- Leave a comment on this post stating why bodily autonomy matters to you.
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A feature for the disappointing reads: I spent enough time reading them. The reviews shouldn’t waste more time. See all haiku reviews here.
By: Daniel Woodrell
The sheriff’s deputy at the front door brings hard news to Ree Dolly. Her father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn’t show up for his next court date. Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive.
How could a book with
Meth and gangs and a strong lead
Be very boring?
2 out of 5 stars
Little Lady Agency
By: Hester Browne
Melissa Romney-Jones can bake a perfect sponge cake, type her little heart out, and plan a party blindfolded. But none of that has helped her get far in life or in love. When she gets fired — again — she decides to market her impeccable social skills to single men. To avoid embarrassing her father, a Member of Parliament, Melissa dons a blond wig and becomes “Honey,” a no-nonsense bombshell who helps clueless bachelors shop, entertain, and navigate social minefields.
Everything that makes
Browne’s other books good is just
Missing. Try again.
3 out of 5 stars
By: Philip K. Dick
On the arid colony of Mars the only thing more precious than water may be a ten-year-old schizophrenic boy named Manfred Steiner. For although the UN has slated “anomalous” children for deportation and destruction, other people–especially Supreme Goodmember Arnie Kott of the Water Worker’s union–suspect that Manfred’s disorder may be a window into the future.
Using the n-word
For Martians. Fear of mental
Illness. Doesn’t age well.
2 out of 5 stars
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
A scifi novella I heard about in the context of bringing some much-needed new energy to the genre. It’s not that there’s never been scifi starring a black woman, but there hasn’t been a lot of it. What I found most intriguing about the novella, though, was the main character seeking to pursue her scientific interests without losing her ties to her culture. I think this is a struggle that many first-generation college students feel, and I liked seeing it represented so eloquently in literature.
The young black woman going to university isn’t devoid of her own character and culture. The characterization isn’t just like every other scifi main character ever whose skin just happens to be darker. No, Binti is much more than her skin tone. She’s a whole backstory of a tribal culture that is simultaneously rich in scientific knowledge. (A great concept, beautifully executed). Being the first to leave is scary, and she clings to what she knows of home while also being unafraid to reach out and learn new things.
Without spoiling things, her culture and her diversity ends up being a key factor that aids in the war with the Meduse in a creative way that had me smiling. So there’s a lot to like about the novella.
I didn’t 100% love it, though. Much as I got a good sense of Binti, I didn’t get a good one of the secondary characters around her. This made it so that when the bad things start happening later in the novella, it was hard to care about them. Obviously novellas are limited by length, but I do think the secondary characters could have been more fleshed out like Binti to make the action scenes have the emotional impact on the reader that they do on her.
All in all, though, as a woman with curly hair that has been called “tentacle-like” I loved having a scifi read with tentacle-like hair playing such a central role. I’m excited to read the next entry in the series.
4 out of 5 stars
Generations ago, humans fled to the cosmic anomaly known as Grass. But before humanity arrived, another species had already claimed Grass for its own. It too had developed a culture……
Now a deadly plague is spreading across the stars, leaving no planet untouched, save for Grass. But the secret of the planet’s immunity hides a truth so shattering it could mean the end of life itself.
I wanted to say “I’m sure this was super progressive when it was first published” but actually it was first published in 1989 so….actually not so much. I think if I read this in print I might have flown through it faster and not noticed how kind of all-over-the-place it was but actually…it’s kind of all-over-the-place.
First there’s the weird backwards planet that for some reason has decided to revert to medieval European ways of being in spite of being settled at some point in the future when people figured out how to travel through space and colonize planets. Then we jump back to planet Earth which has been taken over by both Catholicism and some weird new religion that I still haven’t figured out but that seems to believe in saving the soul to computers? But also has forced monk servitude?
So some Catholics go to Grass (the medieval planet) because some evil flesh-eating plague is spreading all over the galaxy and Grass is the only place that doesn’t have it. Somehow Grass is blissfully unaware of the impending plague. The Catholic family consists of the mom who used to work helping people who didn’t obey the two child mandate, the father and his mistress, and their two teenagers (one boy and one girl and the girl is of course super sullen).
Then we have a long diatribe about this weird Fox Hunt the Grassians do using entirely alien species. Riding the aliens gives the women orgasms, and this is dangerous. I couldn’t help but feel like the author had some huge problem with horseback riding, and what is with that in scifi? HORSES ARE GREAT, SCIFI WRITERS. STOP WRITING THIS PLOT. Anyway so then somehow this plot of maybe the alien Fox Hunt is saving the Grassians from the plague takes a super weird religious turn involving morals and ethics and what are the aliens actually and the Catholic lady has some weird religious dream after she whacks her head and the aliens start attacking the humans and somehow they find a scientist/doctor person in the midst of all this who can help them with the cure yadda yadda. See? All over the place.
Ultimately it’s realized that this whole thing was basically Catholic lady’s mid-life crisis, and she finally comes into her own as a result of the whole thing and wow. I just kept thinking….who is so out-of-touch with themselves that it takes this whole huge interplanetary incident to sort your shit out? In the end I sort of felt like this is the book version of that random old lady you meet on the bus who talks to you through your headphones to tell you her “tragic” life story and you sit there nodding because you think she might be just a bit coo-coo and well her story is all-over-the-place but at least it’s moderately interesting and then at the end you realize her life has been awful because she is awful.
So…..if you’re a person who didn’t sort your shit out until mid-life and you have a lot of empathy for people who claim to be trapped by their own damn choices then you’ll probably enjoy this book. Also if you have some weird problem with horseback riding you’ll probably enjoy this book.
Why three stars? Because while I found it annoying and disappointing the plot was at least interesting, it was well-written on the readability level, and it was an audiobook but I read the whole thing, so I think that’s saying something.
3 out of 5 stars
Lesley and Mo’s relationship is tested when Mo develops feelings for Jayne and the arrangement the triad struck in Rymellan 2 comes to an end. The three women know they must adapt to the inevitable changes for the triad to thrive, but the triad’s shifting dynamics would challenge the strongest of Rymellans—and does.
The second book in this series ended on such a cliffhanger that I picked up the third right away. At the time, I wasn’t sure if there would be more in the series or if this would be it. Since then, I discovered another book that has published but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up. The third book left me feeling a bit strung along with questions and no answers for too long for me to keep going.
So Lesley and Mo who we the readers presumed to be soul mates from book one find out in book two that the all-powerful government matchmakers have determined that they actually have a third soul mate and will be formed into a triad. This whole book strikes me as very similar to a real world monogamous couple where one of them falls in love with a third and them trying to make the move into polyamory. Say what you will about the government matchmaking them but their arrangement was to essentially be a couple with a live-in friend and roommate who they consult on household things. The plan was never for anyone to fall in love. But of course (because they’re Chosens) first one then eventually the other does fall in love with Jane. Thus, in spite of the government aspect, it still is essentially the same as a real world couple making the move to polyamory.
Why am I bothering to explain this? Because a lot of the book is dealing with the angst of a couple deciding to become poly. That is a plot point that will either work or not work for a lot of readers. I’m not sure how I feel about a series that starts out as being so strongly a romance between two moving into a poly romance. I’m sure many poly readers would say that’s how they themselves discovered polyamory and enjoyed it. But for me I was expecting one style of story which I really enjoy (lovers having to overcome many things to be together) and instead I got another that I feel very meh about personally (a couple choosing to open things up to polyamory). I guess what I’m saying is I think it might be difficult for the audience for this series to find it because the poly aspect is a surprising plot twist.
The other big change in this book over the others in the series was that the sinisterness of where the society they live in really hangs over this book, and what makes it extra eerie is they don’t seem to realize just how sinister it is. In a book with romance at the center, it’s an odd feeling to have.
While I’m glad to have seen where Lesley and Mo end up, this read to me as a bit of a lukewarm tragedy that didn’t realize it is one. I’d have preferred an obvious happy ever after or a truly dramatic tragedy. However, readers simply looking for a couple that turns into a romantic trio in a scifi backdrop that’s not explained will eat up this series, and I do recommend it to those readers.
3 out of 5 stars