The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

Taking cues from works as diverse as Miller’s
A Canticle for Liebowitz
, Cuaron’s
Children of Men
, and Atwood’s
The Handmaid’s Tale
, Meg Elison’s
Book of the Unnamed Midwife
uses its post-apocalyptic setting to explore sexuality, gender roles, patriarchy, and the fluid nature of identity. Speaking as a former card-carrying member of the Society for Utopian Studies, I am as thrilled by this book’s questions for our own society as I am the suspense that surrounds our nameless - or many named? - protagonist. An exciting debut from Elison, and worthwhile for any fan of feminist science fiction.

- Eric O. Scott, author of
The Lives of the Apostates

(Moon Books, 2013)

 

 

Meg Elison’s
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
stands head-and-shoulders above contemporary post-apocalyptic novels with a gritty intimacy that seeps into the subconscious and stays with the reader long after she’s read the last page.
Midwife
is an astounding debut for an up-and-coming writer.

 
- Marie Lecrivain,
Bitchess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by

Sybaritic Press

12530 Culver Blvd.

Suite 3

Los Angeles, CA 90066

www.sybpress.com

 

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as ‘unsold and destroyed’ to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for this ‘stripped book.’

 

All works within this book are retained by their original authors.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
 
For any information address: Sybaritic Press, Los Angeles, CA.

 

ISBN: 978-1-4951-1636-0

Cover Art - Devon Cooper

Printed in the United States of America

First Edition

June 2014

 

 

Prologue

 

Mother Ina tapped her fingers on her hollow wooden belly. It tied around her shoulders and the small of her back and sloped out in front, making the curve of a nine-month pregnancy. Mother Ina was very old, too old to be really pregnant. Her hair was white and so short that her black scalp showed through, shining. She tapped again, her thin fingers drumming so that the hollow sound echoed through the room. She clicked against the wood with her fingernails rhythmically until the scribes looked up at her.

Six boys, all around the age of puberty. Their faces were hairless and their eyes were bright in the morning light. The schoolroom was older even than Ina herself. Parts of the building had collapsed. The biggest spaces had once been gyms and theatres and auditoriums, but over the years they’d sagged and then fallen, weighted with rain or snow. The long corridors of offices stood empty. Squirrels nested in the file cabinets and the branches of trees grew in through the windows.

Ina’s village only used three schoolrooms. These were swept and kept up. Blackboards and wooden desks. The hardest things to mend were the glass windows. Some of the more skilled craftsmen had learned to pull good windows out of other buildings and reuse them, but they were never the right size. The classrooms still got sunlight, but much of it came through old sheets of plastic and acrylic. The light was enough.

The scribes had good pens. They had been trained since babyhood with walnut ink and berry ink until they were old enough to be trusted with the precious ink taken from squids or cuttlefish. Fishing them was deep business, expensive and time-consuming. Each boy had a stack of straight-cut hemp paper and a glass jar of the blue-black ink. Each boy had a stylus and a narrow squared nib. Each had been taught perfect even script and how to line out a page and work carefully, conserving.

Tap tap tap went Mother Ina’s fingers on her wooden baby belly.

“Are you boys all ready?”

They gave her their silent attention. It was their signal.

“Good. You boys were chosen for a special project this year. You’ve all copied from the Book of the Unnamed Midwife before?”

Nods.

She walked to the large wooden desk behind her and pulled a light cloth away. Beneath it lay nineteen leather-bound books of varying size and thickness. Some were very worn. One showed the bloat and wrinkle of water exposure. Scrapes on the leather were visible on every side. The boys craned to look, but kept their seats.

Mother Ina picked up one volume with a gentle hand, and the boys could see another chamois cloth underneath the books. She held it up for them to see. In the bottom corner of the front cover, a year was stamped in gold.

The boys knew how old the Book of the Unnamed Midwife was, they had all studied it and the stories had been told all their lives. This book was four years older than what they knew.

“The Book of the Unnamed Midwife is actually these nineteen journals,” she began. “What we have taught to you boys is called the canon. It holds the story of the Dying. The Book of the Dying is very hard to read and terrible things happen in it. Some of you might cry or feel sick. That’s ok, I felt sick too when I came to read it. Almost all the Mothers did. You boys are just as strong as we are, and you might feel it, too.

“You have all learned the Hives and the Book of Honus. The Book of the Dreamless Ones is what you’ll finish with when your training is complete.” She gestured back to the stacks of books on the desk. “These are the rest of her story. The canon is short, but the whole story is longer, and messier. Each year, a group of scribes is chosen to recopy the entire cycle. This year that group is you.”

There was excitement in the room. The boys felt pride at having been chosen, and were fairly bursting to know that there was more to this book than what they had been taught. Their faces twitched like the whiskers of rabbits. But they had been trained their whole lives to be silent and obedient to the Mothers, and so the room was a quiet hum.

Mother Ina was pleased.

“You’ll begin today. These are the originals. The people trust us that much. So we must be worthy of that trust. That means washing your hands frequently. Senders will bring warmed water and clean towels. That also means we’re going to have to close the shutters. Paper this old cannot be exposed to sunlight all day. We will work extra carefully, and preserve these books. Won’t we?”

As one, they answered. “Yes, Mother Ina.”

She nodded. “Get into pairs. Each scribe must start his own copy, but you will share and help each other care for the book.”

She walked the first volume over to a pair of boys who had quickly pushed their desks together. They waited with the palms down on the wood. She put the book down and their eyes dropped to it. When she opened the cover, a loose leaf of hemp paper sat on top of the pages.

“You may begin.”

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