Majick Tadepa

Barrelhouse Reviews: Bikes Not Rockets

Review by Majick Tadepa


Release Date: December 4, 2018
Edited by Elly Blue
Stories by Ayame Whitfield, Elly Bangs, Elly Blue, Gretchin Lair, Hella Grichi, Julia K. Patt, Kat Lerner, Monique Cuillerier, Osahon Ize-Iyamu, Summer Jewel Keown, Tuere T.S. Ganges
160 pages; $11.95; Paperback; Microcosm Publishing

Civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw developed the theory of intersectionality to expose racial biases in the mainstream feminist movement and highlight the hardships women of color suffer due to their skin color. Created in 1989, Crenshaw’s theory has gradually influenced and changed the conversation around feminism, for the better. So, when presented with Elly Blue’s Bikes Not Rockets, a book that dubs itself a collection of “intersectional feminist bicycle science fiction stories,” one could safely assume that the book would take heed of Crenshaw’s definition and explore the experiences of people from minority groups. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The concept of the book is based on Blue’s presence in the bicycle movement, in which she has promoted gender equality and later realized that her advocacy bore inherent racism. She wanted to anthologize a group of stories that deal with “intersections,” not only to challenge the science fiction genre to be more intersectional, but also to manifest a future to which a lot of readers could relate. As varied as may be the genres and the narratives probed by the book, the whole collection comes out confused, tired, and unsatisfactory.

Bikes Not Rockets reads more like a salve to a wound caused by broken optimism than an intellectual exploration of narratives by people of color. The book’s themes center on a certain interpretation of intersectionality and the possibility of hope emerging from a dystopian box. The stories dwell on a cyberpunk environment with the presence of bicycles in any degree of relevance. But the 11 stories have various perceptions of what makes feminism intersectional, rather than a coherent editorial strategy. Some of the stories make sense against Crenshaw’s definition, while others feel skewed.

Bikes Not Rockets compels in its first story, Monique Cuillerier’s “Leaving.” The story follows a young woman who lives on a planet where the water keeps rising, and she must decide if she wants to move to another one. “Leaving” deals with the grief of losing family, history, and the world as Monique knows it. Next comes Tuere T.S. Ganges’ “This Ain’t the Apoca-rich You Hoped For,” which follows a Rapture believer’s daughter who realizes that the end of the world is not that different from the life she and her generation have already endured. Ganges’ story reflects a future still rife with racial and class tension.

The following stories concern two women from different tax brackets who meet, a woman living in a society that oversees women’s capacity for reproduction having a pregnancy scare, and a woman who finds an insurgent robot running from deactivation. This latter story, “Livewire” by Ayame Whitfield, delves into speculation regarding conscious robots experiencing hate crimes. Given how, in our current political environment, offenses against marginalized people have been publicly shrugged off, it’s especially unfortunate that the story fails to reflect the real consequences of hate crimes, and instead, falls flat.

Blue’s own story, “The Tower,” mirrors the pain of freedom-constricting surveillance and dabbles in the guilt of having privileges that others don’t. Although the story is hopeful and seeks atonement, Blue’s revelation of the deep-rooted faults and prejudices of her activism and beliefs does not necessarily make for an interesting, or new, story. The feminist movement has been primarily centered on alleviating the adversity suffered by white women since Susan B. Anthony and her fight for women’s suffrage. Women of color, especially Black women, have been excluded from narratives and discussions regarding the advancement of women’s rights.

Take Elly Bangs’s “At the Crossroads” for example. It tells the story of a black woman tasked to compete in a bicycle race through different realms in order to save what is left of Earth. Even in a fictional, futuristic universe where other species have revealed themselves, a black woman can’t take a break from saving the whole entire human race, despite having only one eye and one leg. Sometimes it’s best to leave writing characters of color to writers of color.

Bikes Not Rockets’ definition of intersectionality focuses mainly on female power and bicycles. Blue meant well. However, the only way to transform white feminism into a more inclusive activism is through the elevation of stories centered on and written by people of color, which only five, less than half, of the book’s contributors are. Individual self-growth would be nice, but it’s as difficult as rocket science. The feminism of Bikes Not Rockets remains flawed and struggling to appear woke. Although the book manages to diversify the writers included, its vision of presenting a body of work that embodies the things it wants to achieve gets lost midway through the journey.

Majick Tadepa writes about various forms of arts, literature, and failures, some of which are posted on He spends at least two hours on Twitter and 15 minutes on Instagram.