Those who believe the geek communities of science fiction and fantasy, comic books, and video games are harmonious collectives and not subcultures that reflect the racism, sexism, and misogyny embedded in our broader society live in privileged ignorance. Over the last decade, white supremacist men’s rights groups within geekdom have led movements like Sad Puppies, Comicsgate and Gamergate with the unsurprising goal of blocking the inclusion of non-white, female and non-binary voices from their precious hobbies. They have stalked, doxed, sabotaged the Hugo awards and rained misery upon so many people for wanting to experience joy in realms the male cishet set believed to be their exclusive provinces. But, as life sometimes imitates male power fantasies, the bad guys continue to lose while the people they sought to exclude keep producing masterpieces.

The latest is The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, a time travel epic about a battle between a men’s right movement called The Comstockers and a group of courageous female and LGBQT+ academics to change the timeline. The two realities at stake in this “edit war” are one where women are nothing more than breeding stock and one where they have basic human rights like bodily autonomy and suffrage. Newitz weaves a scholarly argument about how history is often perceived as either a collective action driven by thousands of unnamed players or as the record of a few mostly white men who bend the arc with their greatness into the mix, but this novel isn’t a dry exercise in theory. It’s an examination of rage, loyalty, regret, genius and humanity that begins at a punk rock show in 1992.

It is there we first encounter Tess, a geoscientist from UCLA in the year 2022 who travels through time to important moments in history for seemingly academic purposes, but she is also a member of The Daughters of Harriet, a clandestine group of activists determined to make edits to the timeline until the repressive laws named for the 19th century moralist Anthony Comstock are erased. Abortion is illegal in Tess’ time, but Harriet Tubman was a United States Senator, and the only people who remember the history of the timeline before it changes are those who were present at the time of an edit. Tess and The Daughters of Harriet are also aware that their members are being targeted by the Comstockers, who want to lock in their preferred timeline by the deadliest of means. It’s a race against time where time is fluid, alterable and the dead can be resurrected if their friends remember they were alive.

Newitz keeps the vagaries of time travel manageable for the members of their audience who lack degrees in theoretical physics, grounding the story in Tess’ quest to undo a tragedy from her teenage years in the 1990’s while destroying Anthony Comstock’s reputation one hundred years earlier, and in her co-narrator, Beth, a teenager in the Irvine, California of 1992, whose abuse by her parents is hidden behind the façade of middle class paradise. Beth provides an emotional core apart from the time travel espionage, and how she relates to the overall story provides a jarring twist. Newitz also uses Beth to illustrate the thousands of indignities of second class citizenship and the importance of having the autonomy to determine one’s own destiny.

This is a time travel story quite unlike its antecedents because Newitz not only works to deconstruct the Great Man Theory of history, but drives a stake in its heart and watches it turn to ash. They have also created a world where time traveler is a career one can aspire to. Five machines that predate humankind provide the means to temporal adventuring, and while travelers attempt to fit into the eras they explore, the locals aren’t terribly shocked if they discover one. As is often the case, a traveler may not divulge details about the future, especially to versions of themselves, but, by avoiding the notion that it takes just one good assassination to change everything, Newitz has created something incredibly unique. Then there is Tess, their Wolverine, denying something vital about herself because she is tortured by her past. She’s a great hero who deserves a sequel.

The other day, N.K. Jemison retweeted an article about how the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 was going to be taught in Oklahoma schools because of the HBO series Watchmen. Her comment on the tweet was something to the effect of not letting them tell you fiction is not important. It has the ability to change the world. The Future of Another Timeline feels like that kind of fiction. It’s wildly entertaining, but you will finish it with a deeper empathy for the women around you. It’s what you do with that feeling that will define you. Ponder it, discuss it, but for God’s sake don’t dismiss it.

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