Feminist bicycle science fiction is definitely niche, but I’m always excited to find a new category of stories to explore. Bikes in Space: A Feminist Science Fiction Anthology creates it’s own place in the SF genre with ecological, technological, and dystopian themes mixed together with humor and some hard-riding bicyclists.
Bikes in Space is edited by Elly Blue and published by Microcosm Publishing, a Portland, Oregon-based publishing house and distribution company. Bikes in Space was originally released through the quarterly zine Taking the Lane as the publication’s tenth issue, and is now available as Volume 1 in the Bikes in Space annual fiction anthology series.
Volume 1 contains 10 short stories and original art, and includes contributors from Portland; Austin, Texas; and other locations around the United States. The stories have settings as diverse as a paper route for an idealized small-town community on the Moon, an Earth with horribly polluted air, and a bike route that takes you up a steep incline from the planet’s surface into space.
The stories are short, but bristle with compelling details about futures both dystopian and transformative. I particularly enjoyed how several of the writers described the kinetic experience of riding a bike and the visceral thrill of propelling one’s self through space. While the audience Bikes in Space is talking to might seem like a small sub-section of the SF/F readership, I found the specific perspective a fascinating way to approach standard science fiction themes.
“To See the Stars from Above” by Jessie Kwak dives the most thoroughly into fantasy, introducing us to the Tatoi, a winged people that use bicycles to hunt Lesser Beasts through the jungle and grassy plains of their homeland. The narrator, a Hunter, has been selected to join the caste, and she develops superior biking and silent tracking skills. She and the other Hunters attack the Lesser Beasts at the behest of the Governors, a group revered by the Tatoi. But soon she learns the motives of the Governors are not what she has been led to believe. Kwak provides just the right amount of detail about the world to give us the shape of it, but never allows the world building to pull us too far away from the story and characters.
“Bipedal” by Nicky Drayden follows Dan’knor, a down-on-her-luck Octopodian, who’s trying to get off Earth and back to her home planet. Unfortunately, the interstellar toll for the best wormhole transit is way too expensive and Dan’knor needs to make some quick cash. She decides to participate in a human triathlon where the winner gets $250, the equivalent of 13 years’ salary on her planet. Dan’knor thinks she’s a shoe-in with her swimming skills and her octocycle, but the rules of the game trip up her plans. Drayden’s humor shines through during our time with Dan’knor, and I enjoyed hanging out in her Douglas-Adams-style universe. I’d love to see a novel’s worth of Dan’knor’s adventures.
“Nova’s Cycles” by Aaron M. Wilson starts with a job posting and ends with a bang. Inez Wick is looking for work because her “true passion of environmental monkey business” keeps her on the run. She’s recruited by Nova’s Cycles to repair bicycles on a space ship that’s trying to sell them to colonists on the Moon and Io. Nova, the business’s owner, says the bikes can bring “a little bit of freedom” to the inhabitants of the colonies, where the high cost of living keeps everyone’s nose to the grindstone as they save what they can to return to earth. Soon Inez realizes the space trips Nova takes are more than just for bike sales. Basically, I want an entire comic series with the characters and setting of “Nova’s Cycles.” Universe, make it so.
“Henry’s New Old Bike” by Sara Tretter takes us to present-day Portland and into the life of Henry, a resident with a passion for his fixie bike and authentic-looking early 20th century lumberjack clothing. Things start to go wrong when his “Pista Classic” is missing and chained in it’s place is a filthy, old, red one-speed bicycle. He reluctantly uses the red bicycle to get home and finds it is curiously comfortable and easy to ride. A bike-restoring friend identifies the red bicycle as a hard-to-find vintage bicycle from Canada, and she encourages Henry to keep it. Henry does, but then strange things start to happen when he rides the bike around town. I liked Tretter’s good-humored dig at hipster culture and her careful rolling out of clues to piece together what is happening to Henry.
I recommend picking up the first volume of Bikes in Space: A Feminist Science Fiction Anthology. It’s a fun series that opened me up to a whole new category of SF/F storytelling. You can pick up Bikes in Space: Volume 2 and volume 3, Pedal Zombies at Microcosm Publishing.
//Images courtesy of Elly Blue.