In 2017 everyone was talking about The Power. The sci-fi novel topped bestseller lists, was featured in book clubs and on morning talk shows, and Barack Obama named it one of the best books he read that year. In the book young women are able to control electrical currents and even emit electricity. The satirical novel explores how systems of power work to create and maintain oppressed classes of individuals. The author, Naomi Alderman, is currently on a press tour for the Prime Video adaptation of The Power starring Toni Collette, Auli’i Cravalho, and Toheeb Jimoh.
Her first question for me, when we got on the phone, was whether or not I liked the series—I had, at this point, watched eight of the nine episodes. I told her the truth: I liked it quite a bit, but I had a couple critiques. What critic doesn’t? We riffed for a few more minutes and then she said, “I want to hear your critique because now you’ve said it. It’s going to be in my head.”
So I told her: the medical and political parallels that the people who have the power experience (who are, for the most part, cis women) are also of deep, real-world concern to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-diverse folks, and throughout The Power, it felt like that aspect of political commentary was overlooked. For what The Power is—a feminist satire of power and control—it was still an effective critique of misogyny in contemporary America, and offered a small glimpse of some struggles that occurred throughout the world.
Alderman agreed. The only thing she wanted to note was that she cared about what trans people were going through, and she stands in support of the trans community. She also asked if I had seen episode nine. Alderman explained that there’s a moment in episode nine—which I will not describe in detail—where she hopes that trans people will feel seen. The biological essentialism of the show is reflective of the assumptions within world we live in now, but the story, she says, affirms lived experiences.
“Do you know what my favorite music is?” Alderman asks. “It’s the sound of the rage of women and non-binary people. That’s my favorite soundtrack for everything.” This anger, this resentment, is apparent in The Power. There’s a moment in episode two when Toni Collette smashes a little china bird that Alderman thinks about “all the time.”
Anger is easy, but for many marginalized people, anger can be an invitation for harm. People end up “squashing it, squashing it, squashing it,” says Alderman, and so much of that repression is explored in The Power, for better or worse. The cycles of violence do not fundamentally change, after all. The oppression just changes sides. She mentions that in the UK, there were suffragists and suffragettes; the former believed in peaceful methods working within the system to get votes for women. The latter decided they weren’t willing to wait for the government to catch up to their demands. “You need both,” Alderman said. “Rage and change go hand in hand.”
The Power had an all-female writer’s room, and Alderman had a hand in the development of the show. When I asked what she was most proud of, she related more than one example. She was so happy to have cast Daniela Vega as the soft-spoken and fiercely loving nun, Maria. Alderman was also proud of the work that went into portraying the women’s uprising in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, saying that she received a lot of critical feedback at many stages during the production. “All the writers and the cast came together. We were changing things up to the very last minute so it would be able to deal with stuff that is happening in the world right now.”
I asked about the big change between the book and the series: the loss of the frame. The novel itself is a frame narrative, told from the perspective of a young male writer 5,000 years in the future. He has a meeting with a respected female writer and presents an account of the events that occurred in the past, around the time that skeins activated in high-estrogen and female bodies. “We talked about it a lot in the writers room,” Alderman explained. “We had some thoughts about whether you could potentially do something with Amazon’s X-Ray.” (The X-Ray is the opt-in pop-up frame around many Prime Video shows, typically showing cast and crew as well as trivia.) “We fiddled with it a little bit, but it felt slightly irritating rather than enjoyable… But, you know, if Amazon gives us five seasons, I think there’s a good chance that season five is the future.”
There was another reason: the medium fundamentally changed how people were going to see and feel this story. “The satirical immediacy of the frame became a little unnecessary,” said Alderman. When you can clearly see the misogyny at play, you don’t need to reverse it quite as hard in a meta-addition. The frame, she eventually said, wasn’t helping tell the story.
One of the last questions I asked was a little tongue in cheek. Would Alderman give girls the power? Right now. In this world. She paused for a second. “It is very hard to write a book [like The Power] and not come to the conclusion that you just would give them the power. Just for something different.” She’s not gleeful, she’s measured talking about this. “The power imbalance has been this way for so long that having a change might just not rub on our shoulders in the places that the backpack has already made us sore.”
This is fair enough; the way things have been going has not been working. “But, The Power is also an exploration of how introducing more violence into a system doesn’t make it more utopian,” Alderman continued. “Introducing a greater capacity for violence is not how you get to equality. That’s how you get to another set of problems. I think it’s probably the idea that we can get to a point where everything’s solved is itself a problem.”
She turned it around; would I want the power? No, I said. I have enough problems. Alderman nodded. Maybe it’s good, she chuckled, that it’s all just a story.
The first three episodes of The Power premiered on Prime Video on March 31. Episodes will be released every Friday afterward.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.