Welcome to Diversity in Sci-Fi! Today we are reviewing The Seep by Chana Porter, a surreal speculative fiction novel about a peaceful alien invasion that transforms Earth into a blissful utopia, where capitalism no longer exists and anyone can be anything they want to be.
Title/Author: The Seep by Chana Porter
Summary: When the aliens invade, Trina Goldberg-Oneka, a trans woman of color, and her wife Deeba throw a dinner party for their neighbors, unaware that the Seep had already invaded their city's water supply. Soon, everyone is integrated with the Seep, and their gentle alien overlords usher in an era of blissful complacency. Years later, everyone is content in their capitalism-free world, and "Seeptech" modifications are all the rage, from retractable claws to hooves. Personal transformations have become a performance art. Trina has never gotten any Seep modifications, and she can scarcely believe it when her wife mentions that she wants to transform back into a baby... but Deeba is more serious than Trina can possibly imagine.
Sub-genre: Utopia, Alien Invasion
Book Format: Physical (also available in eBook format)
Length: 203 pages
In one of the earliest conversations in the book, Trina Goldberg-Oneka discusses Seep modifications with Horizon Line, a fellow person of color who appears to be ageless. His face looks exactly the same as it did decades ago, and Trina assumes that he is using the Seep to smooth away any wrinkles. With a smug sense of superiority, he confides in her: "This isn't my real face." Trina is horrified to discover that her friend was a white man who modified himself to look like his deceased lover: a brown-skinned man. He tells Trina -- a woman of color -- that race is simply a construction. Trina's response really stuck with me: "Constructs mean things [....] Our bodies may be containers, but they still carry specific histories. And those histories are still meaningful. Of course the Seep doesn't understand that--they're amorphous beings with no physical bodies! But I won't let you stand here, looking like that, and tell me that my history is interchangeable with yours."
Horizon simply shrugs off the comment. When accused of being racist, he becomes hurt and offended, as if being called a racist is somehow more hurtful than being a victim of racism. While I have never experienced alien technology that allows for fantastical body modifications, I have experienced something similar to Trina's conversation with her friend. Because white, cisgender, gay people know what homophobia feels like, they assume that they are incapable of perpetuating other prejudices, such as racism or transphobia. Simply put: experiencing oppression on the axis of sexuality does not absolve you of oppressing others on the axes of race and gender.
I really appreciated the inclusion of this moment in The Seep. It revealed a lot about the convictions and morality of both characters. It also made a salient point about how white people elevate their voices over those of POC, invalidating their experiences and opinions. It was necessary for both the character and the reader to hear!
The Seep delivers when it comes to both trans and queer representation. In Trina's aforementioned conversation with Horizon, he compares the act of slipping on another race's skin to Trina's transition, asking her if she had ever taken hormones or had surgery. Trina unequivocally tells him that this is none of his business, and regardless, it's not the same thing. Anyone who is transgender has more likely than not been asked "have you had 'the surgery'?" It's a rude, invasive question, but it's a common one. Its inclusion in this novel added a sad touch of realism to a science-fictional universe, where Seep technology allows a stranger to display a sign above their head that indicates their preferred pronouns.
I also found Trina's relationship with Deeba to be startlingly touching. The part of this book that puts people off the most is the idea of Trina's wife wanting to become a baby, but I thought it was handled well. Deeba wants to use the Seep to revert to childhood so that she can get a second chance at life: to grow up in a loving home with a family who cares for her. Trina understandably balks at this idea. She can't understand her wife's rationale: Deeba wants them to cycle through life together, learning how to love each other in every way possible, going beyond pure romance. It was an interesting concept, and I could understand both characters' perspectives.
"Trina FastHorse Goldberg-Oneka, daughter of Rita and Samuel, a child of love. Trans woman. Artist. Doctor. Healer. Native American. Jew." For such a slim novel, Trina is a wonderfully developed female character. She never feels tokenized in the slightest. She is allowed to feel a full spectrum of emotions, from warmth to anger to grief. I appreciated that Trina's grief was allowed to be ugly and upsetting: it made her human, rather than a cardboard cutout of a female character.
This delightfully bizarre book was exactly what I needed to read this month! Its social commentary was wonderfully relevant. One of my favorite passages says it best:
"Every day, I wake up embarrassed by my country and what we've become--"
"Ugh," groaned Mariam. She took on the tone of a newscaster. 'Now, more than ever. . . In these trying times. . ." Trina laughed and
slapped the table.
"Let her finish!" chided Deeba.
Katharine cleared her throat. "As I was saying! I'm embarrassed by what we've become, and by what we always have been and have
"In these trying times" has truly become a mock-worthy phrase in the COVID era, and I couldn't help but laugh when I read it. Despite this, The Seep was something of an escapist read for me. I enjoyed being transported into this utopian world and considering whether or not such a world would be ideal. Recommended for readers who enjoy socially-conscious speculative fiction with a surreal edge.