Monday, March 4, 2024

Tloto Tsamaase's WOMB CITY

The reader is a full quarter of the way through Womb City before anything, in this case a chapter heading, actually mentions misogyny, but make no mistake. Womb City is a novel more deeply concerned with misogyny and misogynoir than anything else I've read and bitches, don't even mention The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood's feminist nightmare dystopia persecutes its female characters with 19th century technology at best. Womb City incorporates the cyberpunk tech of Richard K. Morgan's Takashi Kovacs novels into its workings to create a surveillance state like no other, and sends us exploring it through the eyes of one of its most deeply fucked-over victims for a few eventful months in her privileged but precarious life and it goes HARD.

Nelah Bogosi-Ntsu might seem, at first glance, to have it all: part of the "body hopping" upper crust of a high tech future Botswana in which consciousness is stored on silicon and can be swapped among bodies to escape disease, experience life in a body of another sex, immigrate to another country, or just enjoy exceptional longevity, but this luxury comes at a whole terrifying range of high costs. Bodies are both disposable and precious in Nelah's world, and the technology's incorporation into the criminal justice system alone is utterly terrifying: you can be forcibly extracted from your body as punishment for even little misdemeanors. If that happens, your consciousness gets stored in a mind prison where, in most cases, it will be continuously tortured until its time is served and a body becomes available again; meanwhile, your new body has been microchipped with a dizzying array of surveillance technology so that everything the new occupant does, says, or has the barest potential to do or say in the next year, can be replayed like a movie for a supervisory board of forensic specialists to whom records are submitted for judgement.
Nelah is a 430-year old in a 29-year-old criminal's body, but since part of the embodiment process that put them there erases one's memory, and because records of a body's prior occupants' deeds are essentially sealed, Nelah has no idea why one arm is a fancy prosthetic and other parts are weirdly scarred -- or why the body's rich and important original family, with whom they're sort of expected to re-integrate by social custom, is so much weirder around them than they've been led to expect.

This all sounds like spoilers, but I'm merely describing the milieu in which the novel's intricate potboiler of a plot takes place -- Tsamaase owes a lot more to the aforementioned Richard K. Morgan and a host of other sci-fi thriller writers than she does to Margaret Atwood.

Also unlike Atwood, Tsamaase is deeply, deeply intersectional, and this novel is more concerned with class and privilege and how the ultimate surveillance state -- I mean, move over, Big Brother -- affects every life; when our hero and her motley and complicated web of connections transform from a comfortable but confined citizens to rebels, they're acting not merely on behalf of women of reproductive age but everybody. And there's more.

The Botswana of Womb City is inextricable from the Botswana of the distant past, its cultural heritage and especially its particular mythology, its creation fables, its spiritual life, its haunting shared memory -- all things about which I have been ignorant. Reading Womb City has been a hell of a way to learn about it!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Sorry about the CAPTCHA, guys, but without it I was getting 4-5 comment spams an hour.