09 June 2016

Review: Fictions of a Feminist Future edited by Kate Macdonald

Hardcover, 305 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 1908-11)
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2015
Political Future Fiction: Speculative and Counter-Factual Politics in Edwardian Fiction, Volume 2: Fictions of a Feminist Future
edited by Kate Macdonald

This books contains two relatively forgotten pieces of Edwardian science fiction: Allan Reeth's Legions of the Dawn (1908) and Una L. Silberrad's The Affairs of John Bolsover (1911). They're not quite "Fictions of a Feminist Future" in a conventional sense: these aren't depictions of futures where women are equal to men. Rather, they explore the nuances of gender in a science fiction context.

Legions of the Dawn is about two men who end up following some hot chicks to their colony in Africa, only to find it is a women-ruled society, where the men are stay-at-home husbands who have been what I guess you might call "feminized." They struggle to adapt themselves to this new world, and throughout the novel we learn something interesting ideas about gender and some repellent ones about race. (Black men do not come away very well.) It's not a story of total reversal: a male alleges that a women tried to rape him (he wants to exploit the accusation for his own benefit), only to learn that part of what makes women superior to men in this society is the knowledge that men commit sexual violence and not women. Mostly it's not very good, but it is a weird snapshot of both Edwardian gender roles and what was considered subversive at the time, too.

The Affairs of John Bolsover is impossible to discuss without spoiling it, so sorry: the "John Bolsover" of the title is in fact "Jean Bolsover," a failed governess who goes into politics under the guise of a man for complicated reasons, and ends up using her keen attention to social detail to be a force for world peace. Like Legions it's not exactly good (lots of the political cases Bolsover solves are dead dull) but what a wacky, fascinating premise.

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