Monday, February 27, 2017

Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman, at Strange Horizons

Strange Horizons has published my review of Naomi Alderman's The Power, a twisty, thought-provoking tale about a world in which women suddenly develop the ability to shoot bolts of lightning out of their bodies.  As I say at the beginning of the review, it's the sort of premise that seems designed to get SF fans' motors revving, and I think that it could easily have overwhelmed a lot of authors--in the rush to cover all the possible stories that could emerge out of a premise like this, it would be easy to lose sight of the one you want to write.  Alderman teeters on the verge of this failure mode, but in the end her idea of what she want to say with The Power is too strong.  The result is one of the most satisfying, but also disquieting, books I've read in some time. 

There's a lot I would have liked to say about The Power that didn't make it into my review.  Alderman's use of Jewish scripture (including one of my favorite Bible passages, which she uses as an epigraph) was a refreshing change of pace from the Christian focus of most anglophone literature.  And while discussing the review with editor Aishwarya Subramanian, we had an interesting conversation about the way the book uses white and non-white, Western and non-Western cultures as emblems of different attitudes towards women, that I didn't really have the space (or, really, the expertise) to discuss in my review.  I hope there ends up being more discussion of The Power--most of the reviews I've seen have been, while positive, a little surface-y, not scratching much beyond the book's "revelation" that women can be just as violent and power-hungry as men, though this is far from the point that Alderman is trying to make. 

I do think that discussion is forthcoming, though.  I'd be very surprised not to see The Power on this year's Clarke shortlist--even leaving aside the obvious debt the book owes to The Handmaid's Tale, the Clarke's first winner and, in many ways, its mascot, this is one the most Clarke-ish books I've ever read, seemingly tailor-made for the award's interests and concerns.  Even if it doesn't make the shortlist, however, several of the participants in the Clarke Shadow Jury have selected The Power for their shortlists, and I'm very interested to see what they make of it.

By the way, once you're done reading my review, be sure to check out Dexter Palmer's long review/essay on Alan Moore's Jerusalem, a master-class in how to grapple with a book that is seemingly too big and too complicated to be encompassed in a something as mundane as a review.

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