Two Books of Collective Heroism

The last two books I read had something in common. A group of flawed people each making personal, hard choices to change their society – whether that’s a whole galaxy or just where they live.

Alone, none of them were successful. It required a community effort.

Empress of Forever

In Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone, Viv is a leader. She always has been, and she’s used to winning because of it. She’s also arrogant, cold, and a sharp (sometimes poison) arrow pointing toward a goal.

She meets a monk who saves her life because he is also a leader and has led his people so well that they followed him into heresy, so losing isn’t an option.

These two messy heroes meet new people, and each new person is also a screw-up in some way. They use each other. They hurt each other, but they forgive and keep going because the goal they have in common is too important.

That doesn’t mean they don’t work on their issues. They do the work. They communicate and yell and stomp off to sulk and occasionally even throw things (or each other). But, they do the honest work because they know that’s part of getting to the goal.

They have arguments in good faith. No one is just being an asshole.

clean install

Rhiannon Held’s Clean Install is a completely different book in scope and tone. It’s a zip of a read, and the setting is much smaller, but it has the same belief in people doing good despite their individual messes and drama.

Genevieve infiltrates a government base with the goal of revenge against her enemies. What she finds are people who give her a chance. That first impression of welcome, of humanity, is enough to sow seeds of doubt in her plan.

The big payoff comes when Genevieve and her new friends choose to save lives over harboring secrets and nursing past traumas. (Yes, it’s a little too easy, but that’s part of why it’s such a nice escapist read.) As the first in a planned series, it’s possible reparations and equity are coming in future books, but the point of this book is that we can work together when we have huge things to achieve.

There are no saints and superheroes out there waiting to swoop in. We are it, and I’m increasingly looking to my science fiction and fantasy to visualize and imagine the ways we can solve our problems collaboratively and compassionately.

“Progressive struggles – whether they are focused on racism, repression, poverty, or other issues – are doomed to fail if they do not also attempt to develop a consciousness of the insidious promotion of capitalist individualism.”   — Angela Y. Davis

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