12. A collection of short stories: Biketopia: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories in Extreme Futures edited by Elly Blue
Feminist dystopian…bicycle stories? It is so absurd that when I saw Biketopia: Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories in Extreme Futures at a street fair stall, I had to give it a shot. One of my all-time favorite games is Zombies, Run!, a fitness app about runners trying to cobble together an existence in a zombie apocalypse, so I was expecting something similar in the realm of bicycling. Some sort of post-automobile future with lean survivors pedaling through ruins, nothing between them and certain doom other than two wheels and some rusty pipes. It is a fun idea, and some of the short stories in this collection delivered. Others were just…weird. And not in a good way, like I would hope feminist dystopian bicycle stories to be.
Published in 2017, Biketopia is the fourth installment in the Bikes in Space series, all edited by Elly Blue and published by Microcosm Publishing. I have seen Microcosm pieces in a few places, but never read one, and in terms of editing and publishing, the book is a bit of a mess. Several typos scattered throughout, and one mid-page name switch that actually managed to neuter the name-based conclusion to a story. It might just be that I myself am in the middle of a large editing project and am feeling particularly sensitive, but it was enough to bother me.
The stories themselves, written by a variety of writers, are a mixed bag, as is the case with many multi-author anthologies. I would separate them into three categories:
- Stories that worked well.
- Stories that did not work.
- Stories that worked fairly well, but crammed bicycles into an otherwise unrelated story in order to fit the anthology theme.
Category 1 stories were actually pretty strong, and I will give individual shout-outs to the following:
“Signal Lost” by Gretchen Lair. In a future where insurance companies make people use health chips that monitor their physical health second-by-second, a newly pregnant woman feels restricted by the rules thrown up around her. This one had a great premise that feels like only a step and a half removed from our reality and a upbeat, chirping tone.
“Questions with the First” by Jim Warrenfeltz. Basically The Hunger Games with bikes. Which it turns out, is pretty fun.
“Maaike’s Aquatic Center for Bicycles Raised By Fishes” by Jessie Kwak. The title makes me laugh, and I love the idea of bikes as pets that need to be rehabilitated after being thrown into canals.
These are the standouts, though others are pretty solid.
Category 2 stories are usually at the fault of a lack of worldbuilding, not enough time spent painting the picture of this bicycle-filled world. There is also a tendency towards unnecessary cruelty in a handful of the stories, gore and body horror that seems to exist for its own sake. If your story is going to end with routine cannibalistic infanticide, you better have set up a strong world and story to carry it.
Category 3 stories were more amusing than anything, but weakened the cohesion of the anthology as a whole. Though with this being the fourth installment, I could see how editor Elly Blue might have already used up the most common wells in the first three books.
So with all of that said, how do I feel about Biketopia? I can’t really say. I’m mostly glad that I read it, but I probably could have found similar and better things with not that much effort. It was a decent way to spend my reading time, with a few bright points, a few low points, and some crap. If the premise of the anthology, feminist dystopian bikes, piques your interest, you will probably find something you will like, if not a lot of it.
Would I Recommend It: A lukewarm yes.