Technofeminism and Romance: A Book Review

In my ‘free’ time – or basically when I need to read something besides academic – I read Romance novels. Grad school taught me to be really good at reading, voraciously, so my fun reading is normally limited to free romance novels. This is one such read:

Ink Witch (Book One of the Kat DuBois Chronicles) by Lindsey Fairleigh

While I normally avoid books that are not standalone – because they are designed to sell the remainder of the series – I found the plot summary for this one to be interesting. A secret society of near mortals living in Seattle. The main character – Kat DuBois is a tattoo artist/tarot card reader who needs to save her brother.

I don’t want to reproduce a typical book review here – instead I want to focus on a fairly minor portion of the story.

***Spoilers ahead for those interested in reading the book***

There are interesting biological facts to the Nejereet, once entering their mostly immortal state, the Nejereet female is essentially infertile. Nejereet enter the immortal state by essentially dying, freezing them at the age they died (for Kat that’s 18) – hormones, looks and all.

The secret society, Nejereet, operate under the guidance of a governing council with a rogue faction. What I find interesting about this rogue council is the scientific testing on their own people and humans to play with female reproduction. The characters converse about the stakes if humans learned about near immortal gods living among them, the war that would break out, and the need for human females to birth children for the Nejereet population to survive (even near-mortals need children). The obviously conclusion for these characters is the experiments must involve fertility because working with female humans who can birth future Nejereet is essential to the survival of their species.

There is so much happening in this moment. I’m not talking plot development, I’m focused here on the ways meaning making practices are expected of the reader. The ways female fertility is the obvious focus for scientific experiments and the survival of two species (humans and Nejereet).

The most amazing part is the ‘obviousness’ of female reproductive biology as the ultimate answer for scientific examinations of the Other. When I read Technofeminism a few weeks ago I found Wajcman’s discussions of reproductive science and technology wanting to take control over reproduction. But I was amazed at how smoothly this worked into the Ink Witch narrative, the rogue governing council were obviously the ‘bad’ guys for experimenting on reproduction and shifting the power balance.

The noticing of power balance was also really interesting to me. While fertility experimenting specifically on women reduces women to ovens instead of independent people who can rationalize and decision make. But what was important in this conversation was the shift of money and power that would result if the experiments were successful – of the use of ovens to gain power and money. The concern was less for the women, and more for the shift in power that would disadvantage the masses.

Overall, this was a minor conversation in this book. While this would be incredibly difficult to explain to freshmen in a composition course, I love the subtle expectations of sense making required from this scene. The use of these experiments to develop the good and evil in this universe so quickly is amazingly complex – female readers, as the primary audience of romance novels, are expected to understand good versus evil based on biological experiments that reduce them to ovens.

I’m really interested now in how other readers reviewed this book and the entire series. In what ways do popular (is this book ‘popular’ in the romance genre?) fiction novels reflect the lived cultural experiences of readers? Who are the readers being reflected? Where are they learning the values included? I don’t often read science fiction (unless there are werewolves, shape shifters, dragons, then sign me up!) so I can guarantee the book blurb did not sell this book as science fiction. For readers less familiar with such a genre – how do they make sense of such a technology driven scene? How can these subtleties help students better understand the functions of the rhetorical situation in all communication situations? How can this also help students understand how popular culture functions as a site of resistance and hegemony (thanks Hall)?

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