The Memory Librarian

The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe, Can be read in a few days depending on your speed, Adult Science Fiction

Another review for the Trans Right Readathon! And yes, amazingly, it’s also another science fiction book.

The Memory Librarian is a short story collection set is in a dystopian world where those in charge (New Dawn) control and erase people’s memories. But a group of individuals living in various pockets of the world have found ways to avoid this control and build a world hiding from the ruling government (sometimes in plain sight). This is hard to do, however, thanks to the advanced technology it uses to track people and hunt down those who try to resist. To help us enter the world, we start with a story about Sheshet—The Memory Librarian. But what happens when even the Librarian starts to question this world? How do you find joy and community and a future when you aren’t even sure your thoughts are your own? The stories told here do a wonderful job of exploring these topics and more.

A photo of cover of The Memory Librarian as seen on an iPad in front greenery and a tree.

To be honest, I don’t really know Monáe’s music, so I didn’t know that these stories built off her album Dirty Computer.Indeed, the story of Jane 57821 from the album continues in the second story of the book, “Nevermind.” While the stories as a whole are not directly linked to each other, together they tell the story of life under New Dawn from a variety of perspectives. Continuing a theme from the album, the stories also show the power and strength of women and those who have been marginalized and oppressed because of their gender or sexual orientation. 

The Memory Librarian is also a fantastic exploration of the role of technology in society, the rise of A.I., the use of technology to maintain social hierarchies, and—equally as important—the way people resist, disengage from, and reclaim tech. They also explore homophobia and queerphobia, racism, and intersectional feminism. The stories at their core are about love: of self; of family; of friends; and of community.

It is truly amazing how deeply each of these stories explore the main themes in such a limited number of pages. The stories are nothing short of exceptional and the book as a whole is nothing short of brilliant.(P.S. The irony of reading this on my iPad is not lost on me.)

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