We’ve recently seen incredible momentum in women’s rights: the #MeToo movement has empowered women to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment, and a record number of women now serve in Congress. But what if, instead of this progress, we woke up to news of women’s suffrage being revoked or of women being barred from higher education?
Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline introduces a diverse group of feminist time travelers from 2022 who edit history to prevent such a reality from coming true. We’re introduced to Tess, a member of the group called the Daughters of Harriet, who collides with a misogynistic time-editing organization attempting to strip women of all rights and autonomy. We also meet Beth, a teenager living in California in the 1990s who’s dealing with toxic friendships and dysfunctional family dynamics. As Tess weaves in and out of time, popping in at key historical moments to make edits that promote the progression of women’s rights, Beth and her punk rock friends find themselves spiraling down a murderous path. Tess and Beth’s timelines eventually meet, with past and future linked in dynamic ways.
The Future of Another Timeline boasts an unabashedly queer feminist agenda. With their thorough research and incorporation of key historical figures and events, Newitz crafts a tale that illuminates just how fragile women’s rights are. Time travel may be involved, but this isn’t so much speculative science fiction as it’s speculative social commentary—and it shows. Tess, Beth and their friends meet numerous challenges: rape, transphobia, abuse, unwanted pregnancy, sexism and pedophilia. At times, the relentless series of traumatic events makes the book seem a little heavy-handed, and the characters’ politics are often expressed in expositional dumps. Feminist readers will readily join Tess on her mission, but readers who aren’t already on board may feel further alienated. The urgency of women’s issues in our own time, however, necessitates this heavy-handedness.
The one element that would heighten the novel’s conflict would be a more nuanced portrayal of anti-women’s-rights activists. The Comstockers, the book’s misogynistic antagonists, are caricatured to such an extent that they never seem quite threatening enough. In short, the Daughters of Harriet are strategic and determined, but their enemies are a motley crew of bumbling idiots. That said, much of the ideology spewed by the Comstockers can be taken straight from online men’s rights groups like r/TheRedPill on Reddit. If we can find the same vitriolic speech in our own reality, maybe Newitz’s caricature is appropriate?
Although it bears flaws in its character development, The Future of Another Timeline is a relevant social commentary disguised as a cautionary tale. And given the battle for women’s rights in our own timeline, Newitz may have found the right medium for recruiting more feminists to the cause.
Jane Huang is a neuroscience PhD student by day and a freelance writer by night. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA.