So the premise of Naomi Alderman’s The Power is that suddenly one day, women start getting the power to generate/manipulate electrical fields, making them powerful and dangerous in a physical way, in the way that men stereotypically are today.

This could have come off as a kind of wish-fulfillment power fantasy or as a purely cynical “power corrupts” fable, but it mostly doesn’t do either of those things in a straightforward way. What it mostly feels like is a plausible story of how things change—slowly at first, and then somehow so quickly that it all seems inevitable in retrospect—and about how the course of events is always balanced between the large forces that nobody could change and the whims of particular individuals.

And along the way, it really hits its notes well. The characters feel real, the online forums that it portrays are the most precise portrait of online communities that I’ve seen since Vernor Vinge’s Galactic Usenet in A Fire Upon the Deep, and even its framing story captures its characters and interactions in a note-perfect way.

Recommended for anyone looking for a good read about gender roles, the sources and uses of power, and the ways that civilizations change.


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