The dystopia envisioned in singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe’s third album, Dirty Computer, provides the backdrop for her first story collection, The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer (12 hours).
New Dawn, a totalitarian regime that rules through surveillance and memory erasure, has deemed that only the “clean” are worthy. Others—particularly members of the LGBTQ community, people of color and their allies—are labeled “dirty computers” and must be reprogrammed or destroyed. The five stories of The Memory Librarian, each written in collaboration with a distinguished speculative fiction author (Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore, Eve L. Ewing, Yohanca Delgado and Sheree Renée Thomas), describe the fear of living under such a regime as well as the joy and courage that can be found in a community of resistance.
Monáe’s narration of the preface and first story is elegant and measured. Her reading of “The Memory Librarian” is particularly taut, reflecting the balancing act that the librarian Seshet must perform between her duties under New Dawn and the hidden memories and desires of her inner life. Voice actor Bahni Turpin’s performance of the remaining four tales is electrifying, particularly in the finale, “Time Box Altar(ed),” in which three children learn to dream of a better future, and then fight for it.