“Book Review: Callisto 2.0”
Reviewed by Madeline Barbush
A stellar science fiction novel about feminists who colonize the moon
This is the first moment our main character (Calli) is introduced to the lunar society Foundation Portal al Porvenir:
“Impressive, right?” asked Naomi, grinning.
“That’s an understatement. It’s like the hanging gardens of Babylon.”
“Only better, because this really exists,” said Diana.
“Now, Diana,” Naomi said, “just because they never found the gardens doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, after all.”
Sure, there are gardens (suited for lunar gravity), but there is also lush foliage that makes the air around them sweet, an air-filtration system for extra measure, an amphitheater for staff discussions, and a farm that houses bees, chickens, and even fish. From our first discovery, we know we’re going to be seeing something special in the pages of Callisto 2.0.
Afterward, we enter the Foundation’s Shambahla Space Station where a group of scientists work in orbital labs for scientific research. But it is not your average space station. (In fact, I never even had the audacity to think of a space station as average until Shambahla.) Whereas those in Shambahla have created an advanced society for themselves, their neighbors on Earth—as some of us might have guessed—still have a lot of catching up to do.
Calli is the brave center of Susan English’s Callisto 2.0. It is the year 2097, and Calli has been hired by Diana and Izumi, the founders of the Foundation, for her expertise in faster-than-light space travel. There are many adjustments she has to make, like working with an AI named Annie and eating food in the shape of plasma balls, but the rarest is working with all women, and only women.
Calli’s best friend Naomi explains why they perform and interact better as a female-only society: “‘Part of that is residual patriarchy, I imagine. Hard to overcome ten thousand years or so of male domination. But I also think that we are just wired differently than men, and the Foundation wants to exploit that difference.’” Indeed, we see how the women’s co-working and coexisting creates an oasis of knowledge, understanding, and enlightenment. Still, this does not make them any less still vulnerable to other forces which threaten their way of life.
Callisto 2.0 manages to be both heartwarming and intelligent. Calli experiences so many breakthroughs working and living at Shambahla that it forced me to wrestle with many ideas presented within the novel. Will the patriarchy ever be dismantled? Will there ever be a world free of injustice and conflict? Why can’t we fully accept and respect other cultures? Are there more global pandemics on the horizon? Is Earth on the brink of destruction?
If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that Susan English knows how to create a beautiful escape for her readers. Thanks to her, I was able to live in a world where people celebrate diversity, scientific truths, and women. Although I obviously loved the novel for this reason, it is also why I received pangs of sadness while reading it. The author gives us her version of utopia, but then must ground us back to reality. She reveals to us those who would want to destroy the harmony of Shambahla, and why. That those people could even exist comes as no surprise, to me at least, but it still manages to provoke feelings of all-too familiar melancholy.
To pretend not to see what’s going on around us is how we got into every mess, ever. Callisto 2.0 envisions a wondrous utopia, but it does not deny reality. It is heart-wrenching to have such a clear vision of a peaceful world and then be reminded so vividly that mine, ours, might not ever reach that state. Susan English shows us very clearly where we could be and where we are. I personally would fight for Shambahla. And I hope you would too.
Category: Science Fiction
Page count: 346
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