Philip K. Dick Award Nominee
True confession, it was once a dream of mine to be a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World. I know all the words to “Solidarity Forever” and used to sing it regularly to my toddler whenever we finished Click, Clack, Moo–a children’s picture book about collective bargaining and the power of the workers’ strike. Though I never ended up a Wobbly, I’ve been a member of several unions, including the National Writers’ Union (which is local 1981 of the UAW, the United Auto Workers, which, let me tell you, is seriously badass and about as deep into union culture as you can go.)
A science fiction book about a future union organizer ought to be an easy sell for me.
And, for the most part, Windswept by Adam Rakunas, is. Rakunas is a very engaging writer. His writing style is easy to fall into and roll with. The action of Windswept is high octane–never a dull moment, a rip-roaring adventure from start to finish. There are industrial crane chases, daring escapes, and a lot of… punching. A lot of punching. I’m thinking our main character, Padma, must have seriously hardened knuckles for all the upcuts and left hooks she throws.
None of that is a problem. In fact, I enjoyed the pulpiness of it all. The problem, at least for me, is that Windswept isn’t really about unions. It’s not even about taking down the corporations through strikes, seizing the means of production, smashing the bourgeoisie, or other typical union tactics.
Instead, the entire story revolves around one woman’s struggle not to get screwed out of her headcount, her cut of union dues. The irony is that Windswept, which sells itself as a union book, is the deeply singular and selfish story of Padma’s desire to become…a boss.
She wants nothing more than to fill her quota so she can buy a distillery, which is, uh… super hard to root for in a book supposedly about a union planet. Her goals are antithetical to everything union.
Also? This union sucks. From what we see, the working conditions are awful, the hours long, and pay abyssmal. No one has a weekend. I can see why Padma wants out. What I don’t understand is how any of this is a thing on a supposedly unionized planet. Apparently, they signed on for the Jimmy Hoffa universe, not the Wobbly one.
When I get excited by union dramas, it’s because of scenes like that classic moment in “Norma Rae” where Sally Fields mutely stands on her desk with the sign that says “union,” or that cheesy episode of the new Battlestar Galactica (“Dirty Hands”) where the workers band together and face mutiny charges in order stop the production line. I live for those heart swelling, tear jerker moments when everyone joins together as one to rail against whatever iteration of “The Man” has put us down and shoved our collective backs up against the wall.
Up the revolution, fellow workers! Dump the bosses off our backs!
Windswept never gave me a moment like that. It was a good story–fun,exciting, and witty–but, the union jargon was just that: jargon, slogans, and window dressing.
Would I read book two? Maybe, if we follow someone else, maybe a vagabond Wobbly who shows up planetside and is actually invested in the ideas of the union. In fact, I might pay Rakunas real money to write a book where the next hero takes on Padma as the distillery boss and forces her to treat her workers fairly.
And then fixes this planet.
That’s the union book I would read the hell out of.