Non-Fiction: Bitch Doctrine by Laurie Penny

“In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a war on,” Laurie Penny begins in Bitch Doctrine. “The field of battle is the human imagination.” That strong opening passage sets a fiery stage, and what follows lives up to it: a gathering of piercing, insightful essays about the troubled sociopolitical state of things. The world may be in rough shape these days, but it’s much better for having Laurie Penny in it to write everything up.

Fans of this author’s online long reads will surely know what to expect from this compelling collection: writing that’s personal, angry, fiercely intelligent, funny, and ultimately inspiring. The essays—which tackle feminism, gender issues, politics, and more—were written leading up to and beyond the 2016 U.S. election, and they do a terrific job of capturing the shock and despair of being a progressive in a frighteningly reactionary time. But they also serve as a rallying cry, probing mercilessly at the calcified, toxic status quo to reveal how much farther there is to go to find a just world, and how much our current troubles are signs of change.

One topic Penny writes particularly well about is the future, a topic she saves for the final section of the book. I found the essays about futurism and science fiction especially engaging, and it made me wish she’d done more in this vein. Then I realized that all of Bitch Doctrine, really, is about the future—the one we should be building towards. After all, you can’t have “progressive” without “progress.” To me, Penny is one of society’s most astute diagnosticians; perhaps more than any other writer, she’s helped me to decode the damaging societal conditioning that shaped my generation. For that alone, she’s already something of a writing hero to me, and I have the feeling she’s only getting started.

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