Reproductive Rights Take Center Stage in Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline

Author photo: Sarah Deragon

Amid a wave of time travel books published this year, Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline stands out for its focus on a woman’s right to obtain a safe abortion.

The book, which comes out this week from Tor, opens in an alternate America in which women gained the right to vote in the 1870s (rather than 1920), but abortion never became legal.

“I was imagining that if women had gotten the vote earlier, there might have been a backlash, which would have prevented a reproductive rights movement from really taking hold,” Newitz tells me on the current episode of New Books in Science Fiction.

A lot of major political powers are experiencing instability. It feels like we don’t know where history is going to be taking us, and we don’t know where the future is going, so a lot of us have turned to time travel to tell stories about how that feels.

—Annalee Newitz

In the novel, time travel has gone mainstream. Anyone with the proper training can do it, although technically it’s only supposed to be used for research. That doesn’t stop Tess, under the guise of studying cultural history, from trying to “edit” the timeline to thwart men’s rights activists from trying to subjugate women through their own illicit edits.

And hidden within Tess’s agenda is another secret, which she hides even from her trusted friends. That secret is revealed slowly to the reader, through alternating chapters set in the 1990s in Irvine, California. For those chapters, Newitz draws on their own experiences, including being raised by an abusive father.

While the father in the story is different from their own, “what’s true to my own experience is the emotional part of it,” Newitz says, adding that one of the ways “that fiction allows us to get distance on things that have happened to us is that we get to make shit up, and somehow, in the act of doing that, it’s healing.”

The Future of Another Timeline is Newitz’s second novel. Their debut novel, Autonomous, which they discussed on the show last year, was nominated for Nebula and Locus awards, and won a Lambda Literary Award. They also co-host, with Charlie Jane Anders, the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct, which won this year’s Hugo for best fancast.

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