Annalee Newitz's second novel, The Future of Another Timeline, finds her in good fighting form. If I wanted to give you a one-sentence synopsis of this book, it would be riot girls fight incels across time. If punk rock girls fighting neckbeards to guarantee universal suffrage and reproductive rights don't intrigue you, this book is probably not for you, which is fine— this is political science fiction with an emphasis on political.
The book opens at a riot grrl concert in the '90s and a group of friends from suburbs moshing, smoking, and generally doing all of the harmless things that annoyed parents about teenagers at the time. Beth is the main character for this half of the story. This version of the Los Angeles area in the '90s is pretty close to our own, and it takes a good chunk of the book before you realize there's more than a few things that are slightly off.
This is a weird footnote to the book, but Newitz might be one of the few writers to perfectly capture the feeling of being at a punk show and the elation and aggression that mix together perfectly when you're at the front of the pit. There are not many writers that capture the feeling of music at all, and Newitz might be one of the best since Kerouac to focus on the atmosphere in the audience rather than the mechanics of the musicians.
In the other half of the chapters, we are Following Tess from the early 2020s, who is a "geologist" traveling through time. While she has an academic job for cover, her real missions are to try and fight weird incels from going back in time to try and relegate women to second class citizens. Most of her chapters find her in Chicago during the White City World's Fair. She's partnered up with Spiritualists and Burlesque dancers, fighting Comstock and his obscenity crusaders.
The time travel in the story works. There's a mix of real-world and invented figures in the past that ensures just enough realism but still left Newitz room to play around with events. The time travel itself is not entirely explained; instead there are machines that are discovered around the world. Tess and other characters posit their theories of how the machine works, but no one is sure. It ensures that the plot doesn't get buried in the mechanics of time travel, giving her a bit of room for Doctor Who-esque handwaving when things make a turn for the weird. It's naturalistic and a little bit of magic, which is perfect.
If the premise of this book doesn't sell you, I don't know that you're in the audience. Newitz is a great writer with a natural talent for writing the character's inner lives and giving the narrative their spark. Each of the two characters feels entirely separate from the other, and a single style still unifies the text. Newitz is an adept writer, and definitely on my preorder list of authors.
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