Dreams before the Start of Time isn't a book I didn't finish. It's a book I rage quitted.
Literally and violently. The only reason I didn't throw my ereader against a wall is because I like it too much for that.
So, please bear in mind when reading what follows that I only read up to and including chapter 5 (or maybe it was chapter 6, honestly, I won't open that book again to check).
So what are the issues?
1) It erases ace/aro persons and calls that a ‘low libido’ problem. The word ace/aro isn't even mentioned, not once. It's all down to a chemical imbalance. This books takes place in the near future, characters are bound to have at least heard the word once (even if a huge majority of persons currently aren't familiar with it). But no, a recognised queer identity (it's the A in QUILTBAG) isn't even acknowledged here and is instead put down to bad chemistry.
2) Some aspects of some queer relationships are presented as items on a shelf that some egotistical characters pick randomly to suit their needs. For instance, a woman who isn't QUILTBAG looks at polyamory to see how to raise her child in a co-parenting environment rather than with the biological father because she wants to break up with him.
3) Re-read the first 5 chapters, replace the straight couples by a lesbian or gay couple and see how problematic that is.
4) Ace/aro people wanting to have a baby are presented as making an egotistical choice, with none of the characters asking themselves the innumerable questions and fears every queer people who think about having children ask themselves.
To think that ace/aro persons (and I suppose it extends to all QUILTBAG persons) who want to have a child aren't terrorised by what impact it'll have on their kids (whether it is bullying from other kids, whether it is worrying that if you're aromantic you can give your child a balanced environment without romantic relationships in your life, etc.) is ignoring the very reality of QUILTBAG persons thinking about becoming parent. To present characters who just want to have a baby as a selfish need without even asking themselves those questions once is an insult.
5) From what I read from other reviewers, it'll lead in the rest of the novel to artificial wombs, gene manipulations, in effect creating two classes of citizens. So basically, queer people are responsible for creating an industry that'll create a dystopia? In a world were queer people have to fight for their lives, not even their rights, in some countries, that's really nice to send this message. #SarcasmInside
And, just asking, what would queer disabled people think about their queer identity being portrayed as the reason for the erasure of their disabled identity?
6) That no one at any step of this process (writing, editing, publishing, short listing it, making it win) asked themselves if there was a problem, despite the fact that Foz Meadows eloquently raised the issue a while ago for the Shadow Clarke (here, and it also includes views from her fellow reviewer, Samira Nadkarni, on why this book is ableist), despite the fact that there are sentivity readers (for ace/aro representation, please check Claudie Arsenealult's work), is a disgrace.
To sum it up, and bearing in mind I only read the first five chapters of it, in choosing that book as the winner, the Clarke Award, which had honoured in the past Geoff Ryman (winner) or Yoon Ha Lee (shortlisted), has now honoured a conservative and patronising novel, and that's putting it mildly.
Regular readers of this blog know I usually only talk about books I recommend. Tonight, I'm doing something I hope I never do again.
Dreams before the Start of Time? I do not recommend it.