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In Laurie Penny's novella Everything Belongs to the Future, science - corporate controlled science - has developed a drug that, taken daily, can extend the lifespan for years, perhaps centuries. It is, of course, extremely expensive, available only to the rich and to favoured scientists, entertainers, and others who make themselves of particular value to those in control.

The narrative focuses on a small group of anarchist activists. Joined by Daisy, the scientist who did the original research on the "blue pill' - now a woman in her eighties who looks like a teenager - their attempts to develop a generic life extension drug give way to something profoundly different when Daisy's research leads in an unexpected and potentially explosive direction. Although we know from the beginning that something goes wrong with their plans - part of the narrative consists of letters written from prison by one of the activists - much of the story's tension is driven by the fact that the reader learns early on that there is a covert agent of the establishment among them.

Penny writes about power and corruption, oppression and resistance, loyalty and betrayal, but her focus is so narrow that the reader is left with little understanding of how the existence of life extension drugs has changed society. We learn that, faced with long life, the world's elites have finally taken measures to curb climate change, but little else that's concrete about this future society.

We get a sense that, at least among those to whom the protagonists initially try to distribute stolen life extension pills, life seems grim and faintly desperate, but we are left unsure as to the reasons for this. Is it just the longing that everyone has for the virtually unattainable fountain of youth, or has the creation of an immortal elite altered social conditions in ways that have made a life of normal span less tolerable?

Penny also uses the dichotomous categories of eternal youth and premature aging to explore the ways that apparent age influences the perceived value and status of women.

The novella moves quickly, and Penny's prose is at times both deeply evocative and chillingly powerful. As an allegory of favoured elites, disfavoured masses, and discontented resistance, it offers considerable good for thought, but I found I wanted more.

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"A Trump Christmas Carol," by Roz Kaveney, Laurie Penny, John Scalzi and Jo Walton; Uncanny, December 25, 2016
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/trump-christmas-carol/

A brilliant piece of political fiction, a solid reworking of the ideas of Dickens' classic as the ghosts of 2016 teach the President-elect the true meaning and proper use of political power.



"The Orangery," Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam; Beneath Ceasless Skies, Issue #214, December 8, 2016
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/the-orangery/

Using the myths of Apollo and Daphne and Apollo and Dryope as central images, Stufflebeam gives us a powerful look at the responses evoked in women when confronted with men's desire and sense of entitlement to women's labour, bodies and love. When confronted with all the women, including Daphne and Dryope, who have chosen transformation into trees, Apollo asks “Why do you women fear men so much that you would rather be tree than give a kiss?” It's a question answered by this novelette, though perhaps not in any way that one who must ask can understand.



"The Evaluators: To Trade with Aliens, You Must Adapt," N. K. Jemisin; Wired, December 13, 2016
https://www.wired.com/2016/12/nk-jemisin-the-evaluators/

A brilliant and truly terrifying cautionary tale told in modern epistolary style (excerpts from emails, reports and other documents) about the dangers of making assumptions and rushing first contact.



"Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0," Caroline M. Yoachim; Lightspeed, March 2016
http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/welcome-to-the-medical-clinic-at-the-interplanetary-relay-station/

Having spent way too much time dealing with medical personnel and institutions lately, this grim little story about the futility of getting any real healthcare from a bureaucratic and underfunded system hit close to home.



"My Grandmother's Bones," S. L. Huang; Daily Science Fiction, August 22, 2016
http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/s-l-huang/my-grandmothers-bones

A short and moving story about generational relationships and cultural changes, seen through a series of funerary behaviours.


"17 Amazing Plot Elements... When You See #11, You'll Be Astounded!," James Beamon; Daily Science Fiction, May 3, 2016
http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/james-beamon/17-amazing-plot-elements-when-you-see-11-youll-be-astounded

An interesting approach to the retelling of a very old tale. Short, but worth reading for the way it's told.



"The Right Sort of Monsters," Kelly Sandoval; Strange Horizons, April 4, 2016
http://strangehorizons.com/fiction/the-right-sort-of-monsters/
Powerful story about need, sacrifice and how humans deal with difference. A strange and alien grove - the Godswalk - appears mysteriously beside a village, leaving most of the inhabitants unable to have children of their own. In the forest are the blood trees, whose flowers produce children in return for human blood, children that are not quite human, but human enough. But when Viette enters the forest to seek a child to fill the void left by a series of miscarriages, she learns that the Godswalk hides deeper secrets than she realised.

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"Tear Tracks," Malka Older, Oct 21, 2015, tor.com
http://www.tor.com/2015/10/21/tear-tracks-malka-older/

A first contact story that delves into the ways that subtle differences in cultural values can influence perceptions - and how being unaware of the differences can stymie the chances for true communication.


"Your Orisons May Be Recorded," Laurie Penny, March 15 2016, tor.com
http://www.tor.com/2016/03/15/your-orisons-may-be-recorded/

What if our prayers were answered in a heavenly call centre by supernatural beings who can only listen to the pain of the world while keeping up productivity and client retention rates? What would it be like to be an angel who longed for more?


"Descent," Carmen Maria Machado, Feb 2015, Nightmare Magazine
http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/descent/

Chilling. Traditional ghost story format in which one person recounts a horrifying or terrifying experience - in this case, dealing with survivors of a school shooting - and another person is directly affected by the tale, but brilliantly done.


"Faster Gun," Elizabeth Bear, August 8, 2012, tor.com
http://www.tor.com/2012/08/08/faster-gun/

A day in the alternate life of an alternate Doc Holliday. Or so it seems. In Elizabeth Bear's novelette Faster Gun, a somewhat unusual party of tenderfeet - a man with a gift for magic, and four women with a variety of striking attributes - hire Doc to guide them to the wreck of an alien spaceship not far form the town of Tombstone. But the reality is something rather different indeed. Beautifully written, as Bear's work always is, with just enough clues to the explanation of what's really going on to make the realisation a slow and poignant one. I'm not particularly enthralled with the mythos of the American Old West, but a cowboy fantasy story this good transcends the very genres it embodies.


"Empty Graves," by Unpretty, April 3, 2016, An Archive of Our Own
http://archiveofourown.org/works/6447187

As I've said before, fanfic counts. Now Superman is far from being my favourite fandom, but this is a brilliant piece of fic featuring a different and very captivating take on Martha and Jonathan Kent, updated from the original comics to a background as young adults in the 60s. Martha is the focal point here, and she is amazing.

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"Trollbooth," Maureen Tanafon, April 2015, Crossed Genres
http://crossedgenres.com/magazine/028-trollbooth/

While the men around her bluster around violently in an attempt to save two children lost to supernatural captors, a courageous young woman takes another path to win their freedom.


"And the Balance in Blood," Elizabeth Bear, November 2015, Uncanny Magazine
http://uncannymagazine.com/article/and-the-balance-in-blood/

Bear's fantasy novelette is a marvellous story about an unusual hero, a grey-haired cloistered religieuse named Sister Scholique who has the gift of the gods' grace; her prayers are often answered by the gods, from small things like a prayer to allow her to overhear a conversation just beyond the range of her hearing, to prayers for the souls of the dead. In fact, it is this latter purpose that takes up most of her time, praying over wax recordings of prayers for the dead as she turns these cylinders in her chantry. When a dream gives her an idea of how to build an automated chantry that will give her more free time, she sets her church on a path that leads to potential abuses. A beautifully written tale that asks questions about the influence of the wealthy in accessing practices meant to be available to all.


"The House of Surrender," Laurie Penny, January 11, 2016, Der Freitag
https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/the-house-of-surrender

In the future, people have learned to live mostly in harmony. Captialism, the belief in hierarchies and the idea that one person can with impunity interfere with the autonomy of another are all distant memories of the past. But sometimes people, being people, offend against others, and if there is no way for them to live among others, they come to the island of the House of Surrender. And there they stay. Until one day a man arrives at the House who claims to be from the past.


"Two to Leave," Yoon Ha Lee, May 28 2015, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/two-to-leave/

Yoon Ha Lee writes in a style all his own, lyrical, elegant, packed with images and delicate allusions. His writing seems to speak to the heart and the unconscious - when I read one of his stories, I often feel that I've just encountered something deeply profound, yet something I cannot quite capture in words, something that partakes of the nature of our dreams. So it is with this story, and deservedly so, for this is a story of a ferryman, and a river that cannot be crossed without sacrifice, a mercenary who kills with a swarm of bees, a messenger raven, and of eyes, and vision, taken and given. Of life and death and the states inbetween and the ways to reach them.


"Vulcanization," Nisi Shawl, January 2016, Nightmare Magazine
http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/vulcanization/

King Leopold of Belgium seeks to rid himself of the ghosts of the Congo. A steampunk meditation on atrocity, remembrance and guilt. Powerful.


"Our Lady of the Open Road," Sarah Pinsker, June 2015, Asimov's Magazine
http://www.sarahpinsker.com/our_lady_of_the_open_road/

In the future, people's fears of mingling with those they don't know, combined with increasingly sophisticated technology that makes possible holographic displays of concerts and sports events in the safety and security of one's home, have almost destroyed the idea of live performance and the travelling band. But a few artists remain on the road, committed to the belief that performance art involves the immediate relationship between performer and audience, no matter how high the cards are stacked against them.


"The Killing Jar," Laurie Penny, January 2016, Motherboard
http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-killing-jar

In the not too distant future, the simulated murders of television and film are no longer sufficient to satisfy the public craving for blood and circuses. Society has recognised and legitimated a new kind of performance, the serial killer - who is free to kill as long as he follows the rules.
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More short stories!

“eNGAGEMENT," Richard Oduor Oduku, Jan 15, 2015, Jalada
http://jalada.org/2015/01/15/engagement-by-richard-oduor-oduku/

A young plugged-in Nairobi resident explores love, sex, illusion and desire in a wired and virtual world.


"Blue Monday," Laurie Penny, Oct 22, 2015, Motherboard
http://motherboard.vice.com/read/blue-monday

A woman who only wants to retrieve her cat uncovers the extremes of manipulative callousness to which the establishment will go in its goal of controlling the people. Chilling cautionary fable.


“Who Will Greet You At Home," Lesly Nneka Arimah, Oct 26, 2015, The New Yorker
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/26/who-will-greet-you-at-home

In a world of women who choose what materials to create their daughters from - clay, twigs, porcelain - and their mothers bring these babies to life with blessings, Ogechi, at odds with her own mother, struggles to find the right substance to use for her child. Powerful and disturbing.


"So Much Cooking," Naomi Kritzer, Nov. 2015, Clarkesworld
http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_11_15/

The progress of an influenza epidemic, from early warning through the shut-down of a city and growing scarcity, and its effects on one family, is told through a series of foodie blog posts. Effective and moving reminder of how close the middle class urban world is to the loss of all the plenty and convenience we have come to take for granted.


"Last Wave," Ivor W. Hartmann, Jan 15, 2015, Jalada
http://jalada.org/2015/01/15/last-wave-by-ivor-w-hartmann/

The last words of the last human to live amid the ecological nightmare that the Earth has become land five million years later on unexpected ears. The narrative sets up an interesting plot twist but is somewhat lacking in depth.


“The Monkey House," Tade Thompson, Mar 5, 2015, Omenana Issue 2
http://omenana.com/2015/03/05/the-monkey-house/

An office worker in Lagos begins to see things around the office that should not be there. Unsettling story built around a Nigerian folk tale.

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Laurie Penny's book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, is (whether Penny or her readers know this or not) a call for the rebirth of the radical vision of feminism I remember from my youth, a vision I've never set aside, and one I hope will indeed come again, a true revolution that will change society, not just for women, but for all those oppressed by power inequities - and for those driven to oppress by fear and insecurity.

Working from within the system was never going to get us very far. And Sister Audre told us we couldn't use the master's tools to tear down his house. But many of us tried. For so many reasons. Because good girls don't ride the thunder and shake the house down to the foundations. Because the lies we swallowed with our mothers' milk kept us divided from all the other people who needed to tear down that house, the ones we could have worked together with, if we weren't white middle-class women who weren't ready to ally with queers, with workers, with the poor, with people of colour. Because the people who identified most with our oppressors (not seeing their own oppression) were our fathers, our brothers, our lovers, and even our sons.

Penny speaks to the women who came after us, and she is calling them to finish the revolution.
It must be mutiny. Nothing else will do. I used to be less hardline about this. I used to vote, and sign petitions, and argue for change within the system. I stayed up all night to watch Obama get elected; I cheered for the Liberals in London. I thought that maybe if we kept asking for small change – a shift in attitudes about body hair, a slight increase in the minimum wage, maybe shut down a few porn shops and let the gays marry – then eventually we’d get the little bit of freedom we wanted, if it wasn’t too much trouble.

No more of that. Being a good girl gets you nowhere. Asking nicely for change gets you nowhere. Mutiny is necessary. Class mutiny, gender mutiny, sex mutiny, love mutiny. It’s got to be mutiny in our time.
In her analysis of the current state of sexism, Penny looks at issues that will be familiar to most feminists - among them the policing of the female body, the consequences of enforcing socially-defined gender roles on people, male, female and non-binary, the relationship between reproductive freedom and personal freedom, the unpaid emotional work that women do, the backlash against women who dare to enter the public area, male entitlement and the nature of marriage - with clarity and with passion.

But more than this, Penny is drawing down the future with a vision of a renewed revolution:
A time is approaching when the humanity of women and girls and queer people and our allies will be understood in practice rather than acknowledged in passing. I believe that together we will find the courage to rewrite the old, tired scripts of work and power and sex and love, the old stories about what it means to be a beautiful woman, a strong man, a decent human being. I believe that the time is coming when those stories will be heard in numbers too big to silence. The great rewriting is already under way. Close your eyes. Turn the page. Begin.


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