Two novellas about terrifying futures featuring brilliant female characters: the best type of Science Fiction?

In Runtime by S. B. Divya, a young, teenage girl goes against family and fate to run in the Minerva Sierra Challenge: a gruelling day-long race across the Sierra Nevada, a competition between augmented runners.  Marmeg Guinto doesn’t have any funding, a support team (or a supportive mother), and her exoskeletal is cobbled together from savaged parts, but this race is an opportunity for fame and fortune – and for a chance to change her life.        

Doom_RuntimeSet in a futuristic United States, this science fiction debut is a gripping, thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking piece. It’s a story that simultaneously works as a family story, a coming-of-age story, and a cautionary tale. In this future, race and class clearly demark separation between those who belong and those who don’t. Standing outside looking in, Marmeg has few prospects for a better future but can’t help but to dream and fight to change it. Incidentally, I never rooted so much for someone to cheat. When the whole system is rigged against you, ethics and morals be damned. Marmeg is a better person than I am, though.

Everything Belongs to the Future by Laurie Penny is set in future England, where the ultra-rich are the only ones who can afford the fix: pills that extend a person’s lifespan by decades and even, centuries. Meanwhile, a community of young artists and activists on the other side, try to make a change so that everybody gets the pill.

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This story. This story looks at a society divided between ultra-rich and ultra-poor, where there is no shortage of time for the former. The impact on human beings when they are able to live centuries is only one of the strands here. This story, compact as it is, manages to also feature a dramatic heist, a double-crossing sub-plot, and a candid look at undercover work whilst still being a story about a bunch of anarchists – Nina, Margo, Fidget, and Daisy – trying to change the world.   

What’s really gripping about this novella is the question of viewpoint narrative and unreliability. Narrated by three different characters – one of them through interspersed letters – they present three wildly divergent views of the same historical point: the run up to and the aftermath of when the so-called Time Bomb was deployed.

Both novellas are on the short side but that doesn’t prevent them from packing a punch or from displaying all sorts of interwoven, complex threads. Plus, even though they are different stories by two different authors, they are still works that brilliantly and hauntingly suggest very possible futures - because they extrapolate from the very real, very current crises in the US and the UK (Specifically. It’s not like other parts of the world are not undergoing similar crises). One story is deeply personal, the other deeply collective and both are deeply political pieces. The main characters in them are brilliant, idealistic women of colour and both novellas showcase futures in which gender is not binary. I very much loved both of these novellas.

In Booksmugglerish: 8 out of 10 for both novellas.