This is a frustrating book. It is a story about women struggling against mostly sexism and also racism. Good does not triumph. Sexist assholes run the world. The protagonist “succeeds” in spite of them, but the world is still run by sexist assholes. This is a portrayal of America’s past, but let’s not kid ourselves, it is also our present, and for a while yet, our future. It is depressing and enraging.
Kowal’s protagonist suffers from a bad case of “tell-don’t-show”. She is repeatedly telling us how she feels about things instead of simply acting according to those feelings. Even two-thirds of the way through the book, she is pointing out quirks of her personality as though we’d just met. There is something missing in her voice. It is the difference between speaking about something speaking as something. As an example, her affinity for mathematics is communicated by her reciting sequences to herself (good). However, the sequences in the text are all very basic (bad). If this woman is a mathematical genius, why can I keep up with her? It reads like the idea of a person rather than an actual person.
There is Truth in a story about humanity faced with potential extinction forcing those who would save us to wear bikinis and put on lipstick. It is not enjoyable to watch people struggle against humiliation and oppression, but is is important to see them.