Volume 15, Number 02, Spring, 1997

“Even the Queen”

By Connie Willis

Reviewed by William Stoddard
Spring, 1997

“Even the Queen” earned high praise, including a Hugo award, for its already highly regarded author Connie Willis, and deservedly so: it was a brilliantly handled comedy based on a plausible technological innovation. Willis’ dialogue and characterization were at their surest when she wrote it.

But take a look at the details. In a future where a medical technique, the Shunt, makes menstruation unnecessary, a small radical movement wants to bring it back, as a celebration of nature and womanhood, and the protagonist’s daughter is planning to join them. Her family is in turmoil over this bizarre behavior, and meet over lunch to debate it—but debate is virtually all they can do, because the law will not let them interfere.

The protagonist, a judge, says, “The law is called personal sovereignty…A free society has to be based on respecting others’ opinions and leaving each other alone.” Willis gives us just enough hints to indicate that this change in the law came about as a result of women demanding the right to choose for themselves not to menstruate—an event called the Liberation. Given this premise, she contrasts two different conceptions of freedom: freedom to live according to “nature,” or freedom to choose for oneself what technology to use or not to use, the Rousseauian and Lockean visions—but without ever giving the reader any feeling of weight.

There are more ways than one to communicate libertarian ideas—as follows from libertarianism itself, with its emphasis on diversity. Willis’ story does so in a style we haven’t seen much of since G.K.Chesterton and H.L.Mencken: lightly, through comedy, taking individual human beings more seriously than ideas.

“Even the Queen” appeared in Willis’ collection Impossible Things, Bantam Spectra (1994).

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