The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood is a 2011 Australian SF novel set in a grim dystopian Melbourne approximately a generation into the future. A bird flu pandemic ravaged Asia and Australia, and an untested vaccine rendered most Australians infertile. (All we know about the impact in Asia is that Singapore went bust.)
Five years ago, the Generic Christian Oppressor Party (okay, they’re called Nation First) came into government, and along with their dodgy co-religionists (…something-or-other First), they have imposed an oppressive theocratic regime that bans artificial fertility, non-binary gender identities, and queerness in general.
The story follows agender bicycle courier Sal Forth, whose day job is making deliveries for the underground artificial fertility industry, and who is an animal rights activist in zir spare time. Sal becomes embroiled in a set of mysteries: who is trying to destroy zir’s boss’s business; who is responsible for the beating of a surrogate mother; and who has poisoned zir previously only-once mentioned bestie with a contaminated T-shot.
Spoilers: the answer is, STRAIGHT PEOPLE, but especially STRAIGHT WOMEN, because if there’s one thing this book has, it’s spades and spades of misogyny. Trans-misogyny, cis-misogyny, unexamined misogynistic treatments of women of colour, it’s all straight-up woman hatin’ here.
Suffice to say, Steph and Liz didn’t care for it. Which is sad, because lots of people whose taste we normally share loved it! But by coincidence, we started reading it at the same time, and sent colliding text messages going, “I’M READING THIS BOOK AND IT’S AMAZINGLY TERRIBLE WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT FOR NO AWARD”.
There’s some really awesome stuff around gender and sexuality. Lots of queer relationships and people, and a real consideration of how that impacts peoples’ lives. And so much of the book’s underlying messages are about found family and how great and valid they are. It’s a great look at different conditions and different situations, and the way in which Australia might change in our climate change dystopia (the proliferation of bike couriers, the constant warm weather, the creation of glow in the dark pets, good work CSIRO).
But despite the awesome stuff, Liz and Steph had to take turns encouraging each other to get through the book. And that rarely ever happens.
Spoilers. So many spoilers below.
No Award Disclaimer: When we go on rambles like the 3500 words within, it’s not because we want nobody to write anything new or fun or intersectional. It’s just that we have feelings about the respectful way to do these things, and everybody, even people we love, makes mistakes.