A sci-fi book set in a fantasy world where all women suddenly gain the ability to kill men with a single touch has won a major fiction prize.
The Power, by Naomi Alderman, was announced last night as the winner of the Bailey’s Prize for women’s fiction, which carries prize money of £30,000 (about $40,000).
It describes an alternate future in which women find themselves endowed with deadly, electrical superpowers.
Early in the “feminist science fiction” novel, by former Guardian writer Alderman, an unexplained event means women can suddenly fire electrical blasts from their fingertips, inflicting huge pain – and death – on men.
An excerpt of the novel on her website describes the superpower at work:
She throws her head back and pushes her chest forward and lets go a huge blast right into the centre of his body. The rivulets and streams of red scarring run across his chest and up around his throat. She’d put her hand on his heart and stopped him dead.
A gushing review from Alderman’s former employer (“instant classic!”) describes the dystopia like this:
Alderman has [women] come alive to the thrill of pure power: the ability to hurt or even kill by releasing electrical jolts from their fingertips. “Something’s happening. The blood is pounding in her ears. A prickling feeling is spreading along her back, over her shoulders, along her collarbone. It’s saying: you can do it. It’s saying: you’re strong.”
Footage of girls electrocuting men floods the internet; uncontrolled individual outbursts swell into the knowledge of collective power as more girls learn how to harness this strange new ability, and show older women how to awaken it too. Men start to give teenage girls a wide berth on the street; boys are segregated into single-sex schools for their own safety.
The Power was announced as a shortlisted book in April, and was eventually chosen as the best effort by a judging panel.
Alderman’s novel beat off competition from 10 other longlisted authors – including feminist icon Margaret Atwood – and dozens of other submissions.
The Baileys Prize – named after the creamy Irish liquor – is now in its 21st year, having been established as a reaction to women authors struggling to win literary competitions open to all genders.
— Baileys Prize (@BaileysPrize) June 7, 2017
It was originally sponsored by the British telecoms company Orange, which ditched the event in 2012.
The 2013 prize had no sponsors, and was kept alive by private donors including Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Baileys was eventually persuaded to take up the sponsorship in 2014. However, in January it announced it was pulling out of the sponsorship deal after 2017. It is not clear which company – if any – will replace it.