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Bewildering Stories

Rafael & Roberts, eds, Mother of Invention

reviewed by P.C. Keeler

Mother of Invention
Editors: Rivqa Rafael and
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press
Date: September 1, 2018
Length: 396 pages

Some stories are written to tell a message. Some stories are written to tell a story, and carry a message along for the ride. Determining which is which is a subjective exercise best left to each individual reader.

Such is definitely the case with each entry in Mother of Invention, an anthology edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Rivqa Rafael, centered around the theme of creation, with nontraditional gender elements associated with the creator or the created. If you’re interested in social purpose with your science fiction, then you’re the intended audience.

With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that there are multiple entries in this collection that are very much character pieces, following the growth and development of artificial intelligences, rather than going in lasers blasting against the Invading Bug-People of Zebulonia Twelveteen. Obviously this results in a number of similarities between those stories, but there are some critical differences in how they interact with gender roles.

One story explores an AI creating an offspring and learning to raise it; another takes the same scenario from the young AI’s perspective as it develops into a binary gender role. More than one story follows agender roboticists figuring out how to teach gender to their creations. “The Art of Broken Things” by Joanne Anderton elegantly follows a twin tale of grief from the perspective of both creator and child.

The differences are important, but the high-level similarities may feel repetitive to some readers. In many cases, there’s message, but it’s not built into a plot structure. Other stories in this collection carry the theme while striking a more unique place for themselves. “Sugar Ricochets to Other Forms” by Octavia Cade creates a fantastical world with some very old desires taking on a new expression; “Sexy Robot Heroes” by Sandra McDonald has a wonderfully-realized, immersive world where high technology and abject poverty are deeply entwined in a dangerous adventure.

The most common emotional theme running through Mother of Invention is frustration: being tired of having to explain a nontraditional gender or having to deal with the behavior of others regarding it. In that regard, it offers a “We know what you’re going through” voice for readers who feel that in one way or another, they don’t fit the prevailing cultural assumptions around them.

There are a number of stories that might prove attractive to a general audience in any format where they appear, of course, but this is a collection designed around social purpose rather than raw storytelling. If you’re interested in getting perspectives outside of contemporary gender norms, this anthology could be what you’re looking for.

Copyright © 2018 by P.C. Keeler

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