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Everfair
By Nisi Shawl

Discussed July 2017

Buy Everfair from Amazon.com

Questions

  1. Did you finish the book?
  2. Did you like the book?
  3. Everfair is written in brief, disconnected scenes that jump rapidly through time. Did you find the style engaging or distracting? Were there any skipped-over pieces of the timeline that you wished you could have read about in more detail?
  4. Did you connect to the characters in Everfair? Were there any you found particularly appealing? Of the eleven who have point-of-view chapters (Lisette, Daisy, Thomas, Martha, Mwenda, Josina, Jackie, Matty, Rima, Fwendi, Tink), were there any whose point of view you found superfluous?
  5. Steampunk is sometimes criticized as a genre for glorifying imperialism and colonialism. Does Everfair succeed in avoiding this?
  6. The Fabians and American missionaries are well-intentioned, but they nonetheless have different perspectives and long-term goals from the Africans they attempt to save from King Leopold's rule. How did you feel about the book's depiction of political and racial tensions? What do you think the future holds for Everfair's inhabitants?
  7. How plausible did you find Everfair's alternative history overall? Were you familiar with the history of the Fabians and the Congo Free State before reading the book? Did it encourage you to learn more?
  8. Everfair's steampunk technology includes some variations from genre standards, including the use of radioactive "sacred earths." What technological elements did and didn't you believe in? How would a nuclear-powered airship work?
  9. Magic, initially presented with plausible deniability, takes a more foregrounded role as the novel progresses. How well did you feel the magical elements blended into the rest of the story? Would you classify this book as fantasy?
  10. One of the most prominent romantic relationships in Everfair is between two women, Daisy and Lisette. Lisette's brief relationship with Rima Bailey also gets some page time. How did you feel about the book's depiction of homosexuality? Did it seem realistic for the historical period?
  11. Nisi Shawl is primarily known as a short story writer. Would you read further works by her after reading this novel?

Excerpted from Wikipedia:

The Fabian Society is a British socialist organisation whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist effort in democracies, rather than by revolutionary overthrow. . . [It] was founded on 4 January 1884 in London as an offshoot of a society founded a year earlier called The Fellowship of the New Life. . . . They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. Some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society's transformation; they set up a separate society, the Fabian Society. . . . The Fabian Society additionally advocated renewal of Western European Renaissance ideas and their promulgation throughout the world. . . .

The first Fabian Society pamphlets advocating tenets of social justice coincided with the zeitgeist of Liberal reforms during the early 1900s, including eugenics. . . . Fabian socialists were in favour of reforming Britain's imperialist foreign policy as a conduit for internationalist reform, and were in favour of a capitalist welfare state modelled on the Bismarckian German model; they criticised Gladstonian liberalism both for its individualism at home and its internationalism abroad. . . .

In 1900 the Society produced Fabianism and the Empire, the first statement of its views on foreign affairs, drafted by Bernard Shaw and incorporating the suggestions of 150 Fabian members. It was directed against the liberal individualism of those such as John Morley and Sir William Harcourt. It claimed that the classical liberal political economy was outdated, and that imperialism was the new stage of the international polity. The question was whether Britain would be the centre of a world empire or whether it would lose its colonies and end up as just two islands in the North Atlantic.

Congo Free State

The Congo Free State was a large state in Central Africa from 1885 to 1908, which was in personal union with the Kingdom of Belgium under Leopold II. Leopold was able to procure the region by convincing the European community that he was involved in humanitarian and philanthropic work and would not tax trade. . . . The state included the entire area of the present Democratic Republic of the Congo and existed from 1885 to 1908, when the government of Belgium annexed the area. Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became a humanitarian disaster. The lack of accurate records makes it difficult to quantify the number of deaths caused by the ruthless exploitation and the lack of immunity to new diseases introduced by contact with European colonists. William Rubinstein wrote: "More basically, it appears almost certain that the population figures given by Hochschild are inaccurate. There is, of course, no way of ascertaining the population of the Congo before the twentieth century, and estimates like 20 million are purely guesses. Most of the interior of the Congo was literally unexplored if not inaccessible." Leopold's Force Publique, a private army that terrorized natives to work as forced labour for resource extraction, disrupted their societies and killed and abused natives indiscriminately.

Following the Casement Report, the British, European and American press exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to the public in the early 1900s. In 1904, Leopold II was forced to allow an international parliamentary commission of inquiry entry to the Congo Free State. By 1908, public pressure and diplomatic maneuvers led to the end of Leopold II's personal rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony of Belgium, known as the Belgian Congo.

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