Beyond a Book Review: Alternate Futures in Womb City

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Shawna Ayoub moves "beyond a book review" in not only recommending great books by diverse writers, but highlighting a technique to apply to your own writing.


Womb City by Tlotlo Tsamaase

Womb City is a genre-bending, Afrofuturist horror novel by Tlotlo Tsamaase, a Motswana speculative fiction writer and poet. This body-hopping cyberpunk, dystopian adventure is rife with themes of misogyny, centered in the main character’s AI-seeded body. Nelah, in her third lifespan, has her consciousness implanted in a body that has previously committed a crime. As a result, the body is policed through AI. Her actions are recorded sans intent, and reported if they look like they might become crimes. If this is the case, she will be terminated as though she had committed those crimes.

Womb City is a good read with complicated characters. Nelah has hopes and dreams that are in conflict with her physical existence. She manages to find ways to exercise freedom around her policed body. And she makes choices that could be easily categorized as “bad” if the reader didn’t understand the pressures she is under as a corporeal female.

Central to this story is Nelah’s desire for freedom and motherhood. However, the reader learns that female bodies are far more policed than male bodies. They are also more likely to lose their memories as consciousness transfers, a side effect of the process that seems intentional to make women more pliable. Additionally, being between genders or identifying as LGBTQIA+ is something only for the rich elite—it is policed out of the lower classes. Tsamaase is imagining a future where governing forces controlling female and other bodies has reached its extreme, and the true horror of this story is that it does not feel unfamiliar.


Asking a question for both characters and readers

But hope does exist in this world. There is a supernatural force that seems to be built on African folklore. This force lies outside of the gender binary and has the power to rule over all humanity. Nelah, through a murder she commits, is tied to this force. Once this connection is made clear in the story, a question arises: Can the balance be restored?

That question, of course, assumes there ever was a balance between the sexes. (A note: What this question does not assume is that there must be a sexual binary.)

As I read deeper into the novel I was pulled along by the question and its possible answers. Maybe there was never a balance. It has certainly felt that way to me as a person living in the world that so often feels like a precursor to Womb City’s. But what if there is a way to strike a balance that is fair and good to all citizens of Earth? What would that look like? How would life change? I found myself imagining the minute differences in my day-to-day existence.


Writing prompt

Imagine a supernatural or alien presence intervened and restructured society so that opportunities were balanced between all peoples. How would this change your life and why? Spend 20 minutes writing into this shift. If this feels too big for you, here’s an alternate prompt that’s a little smaller in scope: Imagine what it would be like if someone else’s consciousness existed in your mind along with your own. Write a short story around that idea.

Afterward, check in with yourself for five minutes. What did this writing bring up for you? What will you come back to? Is this a piece of writing you wish to develop further?

If you want to read it for yourself, consider purchasing Womb City at and supporting independent bookstores across the U.S.


Will you try this exercise? Read this book? Share with us in the comments.


Related reading 

Beyond a Book Review: Beginning at the End in Tomb Sweeping

Beyond a Book Review: The “What if?” of The Deep Sky

Beyond a Book Review: Grief and Hope in All We Are Told Not to Touch

Beyond a Book Review: Once Upon a Time in Dovelion

Beyond a Book Review: Narrators and Compassion in Finding La Negrita

Beyond a Book Review: Research as Connection in Through the Banks of the Red Cedar

Beyond a Book Review: Intuition in River Woman, River Demon

Beyond a Book Review: Timeline(s) in Becoming AppalAsian

Beyond a Book Review: Unwieldy Creatures and retelling our stories

Beyond a Book Review: Containers as safe spaces in Nonwhite and Woman

Beyond a Book Review: Footnotes in Belly to the Brutal


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