Review: The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty ComputerReview:

The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a very interesting collection of short stories. They are companion piece to the dystopia described in Janelle Monáe’s concept album Dirty Computer. That said, these stories are mostly full of hope. They also depict a world in which there is more room for LGBT+ members and with intersectionality. That is to say, yes, the LGBT+ individuals are hated within the dystopia of New Dawn, but within the various communities explored in the short stories, everyone who’s against New Dawn is OK with the LGBT+. This is a world where no one blinks at pronoun preferences or various types of couples. (Except in one story where the weakness of not accepting it is kind of the point of the story) Most of the morals and lessons of the stories are pretty obvious (at least to me), but I feel like Monáe and her collaborators do a good job of not distracting from the quality of the stories.

While the first 3 are very much in the traditional SF realm, the last 3 contain what could be considered more Twilight Zone magic-y logic behind them. I have read various essays (in SFF magazines) that outside of Western SF (and specifically with African SF) there’s a greater blending of the magical and the science than there typically is in in Western SF. (Science Magic like Star Wars notwithstanding) I’m not sure if that’s what Monáe is explicitly doing here. Evidence that they are: there are some allusions to African deities, ideas, names. Evidence that Monáe isn’t doing it on purpose: Star Wars (with magic warrior priests) and if you consider Twilight Zone to fall within science fiction.

Thoughts on the short stories:

Breaking Dawn – a tale of how the system we feed with our posts grows to desire to consume it all and abhor what it cannot see. Both a parable for today and an intro into the world of Dirty Computer.

The memory librarian – metaphors for war on drugs, being the successful black person in a white occupation, queer identity, code switching, etc

Nevermind – Ultimately a story of community and who truly belongs in a community. Also, how communities can be made to fall apart if they are in danger.

Time box – Possibly more Science Magic than Science Fiction as there’s an ability to stop time and have more time for yourself that seems to operate more under Twilight Zone rules than SF rules. A few interesting ideas are once again communicated along with the SF.

Save Changes – Deals with some of the after effects of the Nevermind drug as well as the dystopia that America has become. Also appears to have some slightly more magical elements to it.

Timebox Altar[ed] – The thesis of this short story is that, more than anything, it’s the death of hope that keeps certain populations from succeeding. A pretty positive ending to the collection. Also one that’s a bit more more magical than SF.

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