Alanya to Alanya: feminist science fiction adventure

I've just finished L. Timmel Duchamp's first novel, Alanya to Alanya, the first book in a feminist science fiction series of novels about pacifist aliens working with human activists to topple a corrupt authoritarian political establishment. The action opens in 2076, when environmental cataclysms and political instability have birthed a new, rigid social order with an elite, called The Executives, running the majority of the world's government. Executives hold onto their power with a mixture of brutal military oppression and a bread-and-circuses program of propaganda and "tubefood." This is ended when an alien species comes to Earth and shuts down all electronic equipment, but not before announcing that they have taken charge of the planet and require that each of the world's governments send them three unarmed women to negotiate on humanity's behalf. The negotiation will determine the tenor of a new egalitarian, pacifist political regime.

Naturally, this drives the Executive berserk; they decide that the "aliens" are in fact sophisticated terrorists and resolve to fight them -- only to face demonstration after demonstration of the absolute, unearthly power that the invaders possess.

The story follows Kay Zeldin, a retired intelligence officer turned academic, who is brought back into the field by the loathsome Sedgewick, the head of the secret police and military apparatus -- who also happens to be an old lover and partner of hers. Zeldin is sent onto the alien ship to negotiate on behalf of the US, and balances on a knife-edge between terror of Sedgewick and outrage at the aliens and their activist allies who have taken her country hostage.

This is not a subtle book. I don't think that there's a single sympathetic major male character in it -- even the anarcho-syndicalist boyfriend of one of the activists dismisses her feminism as divisive "identity politics." But then again, subtlety is hardly the point of political, dystopian science fiction. If Alanya to Alanya is explicit and one-sided about its point of view, it is no more so than 1984 or Brave New World or Frankenstein are. And what's more, it's absolutely true that issues of gender are very divisive within progressive political movements.

Alanya to Alanya does just what a poltiical sf novel should do: it leavens its political message with first-rate futuristic extrapolation, chilling dystopianism and a breathless adventure story that keeps you turning the pages. It was a refreshing read and a rare example of deft political storytelling.