The Fortress, by S.A. Jones

Review copy provided by Erewhon Books.

This is the first book I’ve gotten to review from Erewhon, I believe the first book they’re putting out at all. It’s an interesting choice to set the tone for their new imprint–very much a book both of the current moment and of science fiction’s past.

Jonathon Bridge is a man at odds with himself. He’s not even sure he understands everything that has upset his wife–the details unfold over the course of the book–but one of the conditions for staying in their marriage and co-parenting their child is that he spend a year in The Fortress. The Fortress is a woman-run city-state which men only enter under certain extremely narrow conditions–basically a gender serfdom.

This feels like a book from the ’70s. It has all the “and then it’s a fortress OF WOMEN” and “let’s learn about gender in a very encounter-y sort of way” elements that…there were LOADS of those, some of you read fourteen of them the year you were fourteen, I know I did. And I feel like S.A. Jones was maybe one of us and wanted to read one of them and realized how INCREDIBLY PROBLEMATIC all of those ’70s gender encounter books are in retrospect and said, huh, let’s do one in the present moment that people can read right now without screaming. There is a lot more emphasis on consent, on structural problems, on being part of structural problems even if you are not the worst of them. On empathy and understanding other people’s viewpoints. So if you grew up with those ’70s gender encounter books and feel like you’d like another that’s more up-to-date, this is definitely for you–and if you have no idea what I’m talking about, this might also be for you.

I do wonder whether this will age any better than the previous iterations did. I wonder whether the things that it is saying about learning what it feels like to be helpless, to consent and then feel uncertain about the free value of that consent, the context of that consent, all of those things…will feel retrograde and gross. But that’s how we get there. We don’t get there by never talking about it, by never going off and thinking about what someone else said. We get there by doing another round of them and then saying, okay, but, but this thing, it doesn’t take into account this other thing, and then this, and also that. That’s how conversation works, that’s how discourse works.

There’s a lot about sex and gender and consent in here, and I feel like Erewhon’s opening statement was: we know what this field is, and we want to move the discourse forward, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Well, okay. Thanks. I’ll look forward to that.

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