Publisher: Random House
Author: Ernest Cline
Recommended? Probably? Just be prepared for 80s gender politics nostalgia.
It’s midnight on a Monday. I’m logged into no less than 9 different social media/email accounts, with a browser holding 12 open tabs. It’s a calm day. I’m not sure if I spent most of the evening distracting myself from reality in the OASIS of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, or if it was the other way around. The book follows Wade Watts, a poor nobody of a teenager on a virtual adventure in the ultimate video game, fighting against the evil multinational corporation, IOI, competing to win the largest company in the world and save us all from their corruption. A real rags to riches story, complete with a token queer black woman, an underdeveloped and honor obsessed (cliché) Japanese sidekick, and a beautiful (but not too beautiful, she’s got a birthmark) love interest who uses her superior knowledge and ability to help our hero win the game, because what’s a nerdboy story without the manic pixie dream girl? Especially in a world where one’s best friend’s dead wife should OF COURSE be the password in the game winning puzzle. Duh. It will teach the boy to tell the girl he likes her in real life so he doesn’t wind up pining for her in the virtual world for the rest of his days.
Continue reading Ready for Player One to Not Be a Hetcis Boy
by Margaret Killjoy
Disclaimer: Margaret Killjoy is a dear friend of mine, and someone I care about very much. This may bias me in favor of her absolutely great fiction. She is also the founder of the AGR, the website that is hosting this review. She did not, however, write any part of this review, ask me to write any part of this review, or otherwise influence it in any way, besides having written a fucking great book that got me excited enough to write this.
Margaret Killjoy is an astounding writer, and her latest, The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, is an astounding book. Her work is intriguing, thought provoking, and enjoyable as hell to read. Killjoy is absolutely amazing in her ability to combine realism, imagination, idealism, and storytelling. In that way, her stories are perfectly anarchist. She seamlessly combines an understanding of, frustration with, and love of the forms of anarchism expressed by academic theory essays, crust punks, black blocs, punk shows, endless meetings, and squatted homes to show a thoroughly realistic, thoroughly idealistic enactment of her politics, perfect primarily in that she refuses to portray perfection. What makes her stories work so well, narratively and politically, is that her anarchist societies are messy, and the people are fully human. This forms the basis for some beautifully creative, dark, and ultimately hopeful speculative fiction.
Continue reading The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion
by Stacy Wakefield
2014, Akashic Books
In The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory, author Stacy Wakefield sets out to capture the spirit and energy of the squatters community in New York City in the mid-1990s by way of a novel. Over the course of the novel, readers get a good snapshot of what squatting was like, with tales of punk shows, squats, battles with the cops, evictions, and the joy of living rent free. It does an excellent job of portraying the experience of squatting and the surrounding scene.
Continue reading The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory
Tarzan of the Apes
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
1914, A. C. McClurg
Recommended? Not as such
Every time I sit down to write for the Anarcho-Geek Review, I think about how limiting it is to say “Recommended?” and then answer in the binary. But, I suppose, a reader comes to AGR wanting a recommendation from the point of view of “can an anarchist recommend this politically.” And with Tarzan, no, I cannot in good conscience recommend it. It’s a story of its time, with all the evil black men and damsels-in-distress that entails.
It’s a well-written, well-paced adventure and romance the likes of which we don’t see too often anymore. So what’s good (a little bit) and bad (a hell of a lot) about old Tarzan?
Continue reading Tarzan of the Apes
Fairy Tales From the Brother’s Grimm
by Philip Pullman
2012, Viking Press
Content Warning: This review mentions fairy tales that have themes of incest, femicide, and assault.
I love Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, about a pair of youngsters who wander through parallel universes, make friends with armored bears and cagey harpies, and fight in an epic battle against God. I also love fairy tales — I study them. So when I came across Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm, I picked it up excitedly. And flipped to the table of contents. And discovered that my favorite Grimm’s tale, Fitcher’s Bird, isn’t included (Pullman selected fifty out of hundreds of stories). I hemmed and hawed and waited a few weeks, but I couldn’t resist: I’m a sucker for Pullman’s narrative voice.
Pullman’s voice — however lovely — is not the crux of the book. He set out to produce a clear, readable rendition of the Grimm’s classics, and his changes are light-handed. Still, the voice seeps through. Pullman smoothes over abrupt transitions and narrative holes with inventive details (I must admit, I love the awkward gaps in folk tales, and don’t always like how Pullman explains them away). He sprinkles the text with his signature anachronistic details (the devil’s grandmother reads a newspaper and Briar Rose’s parents go on special diets to help them conceive) and has fun playing with dialogue: Snow White’s speaking-in-turn dwarves turn in to a gaggle of overlapping voices.
Continue reading Fairy Tales From the Brother’s Grimm by Philip Pullman
by James W. Hall
2013, Minotaur Books
I came upon Going Dark by James Hall randomly on a trip to the library. Perhaps it was blocking another book I went to reach for, but for some reason, I picked it up and opened it. The blurb on the inside of the jacket began by explaining what the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is and immediately after that, I knew I was going to have to read the book. After all, what anarchist could turn it down the opportunity to read a thriller about the ELF taking out a nuclear power plant?
Almost three-hundred pages later, I can safely say that while Going Dark was interesting in terms of how it portrayed the Earth Liberation Front (more on that later in the review), it really is not worth reading. It’s a mystery/thriller, part of a series written by author James W. Hall featuring the South Florida-based private investigator Thorn. Thorn is your typical male detective type, he doesn’t say a lot and generally keeps to himself as a cynical loner on the outside of society with few personal relationships. He has a strong independent streak and a kind of knee-jerk skepticism of government and society, although much of his personality follows the more negative trends of masculine stoicism. I had never read any of the other Thorn novels and Going Dark didn’t really build on the previous books, aside from the fact that Thorn seemed to be in a bit more of a funk than usual because in the last book he found out that he had a son named Flynn whose existence he didn’t learn about until last year (his son is now in his twenties).
Continue reading Going Dark by James W. Hall
by Natasha Alvarez
2014, Black and Green Press
I study anarchist fiction. I read fiction that anarchists write and I read what other people write about what anarchists do. And in all that time, I can’t say I’ve read anarchist fiction that’s more deeply engaged and poetic than Liminal, a novella published by Black and Green Press.
To be honest, I’m cynical about activist fiction (or whatever you want to call it when people hoping to transform the world write fiction). I’m cynical for a bunch of reasons (most of which I learned by interviewing people who are much smarter than me). For one thing, fiction is generally more adept at asking questions than it is at providing answers. For another thing, writing fiction is really fucking hard to do well, and most anarchists and radicals and activists just haven’t put in the work required to create beautiful, compelling narratives.
Continue reading Liminal by Natasha Alvarez
“The Last of the Masters”
by Philip K. Dick
1954, Orbit Science Fiction #5
I like Philip K. Dick. I appreciate how earnestly weird he is. Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep meant almost as much to teenaged me as Blade Runner did. Dick was a pioneer of science fiction that explores the mental and spiritual landscape instead of just outer space.
“The Last of the Masters” is one of his first stories (technically a novellete, I suppose) and was published when he was 25. It’s also, in my research thus far, the only story he’s written that explicitly deals with anarchism.
Continue reading The Last of the Masters by Philip K Dick
by Robert Heinlein
1959, G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Recommended? Know thy enemy
I can’t talk about a Heinlein book, let alone Starship Troopers, without talking about my dad.
My dad’s a lot like I am. We look alike. We both have wanderlust. We both instinctively refuse authority and we both give to people flying signs by the side of the road. We’re both writers, and he raised me to read science fiction. In particular, he raised me to read Heinlein.
My father’s also a marine. He never saw combat—he was honorably discharged for medical reasons not too long after bootcamp. But, you know, once a marine, always a marine.
It’s hard not to imagine that, had I joined the military, my experience would have been similar to my father’s. And his experiences (as I understand them) entirely belie Heinlein’s glorious presentation of the armed forces.
Continue reading Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
Wolf in White Van
by John Darnielle
2014, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
After reading a pre-release review of this novel, I had to preorder it. When it arrived, I read the whole thing that same day and then sat down to write this review. That alone should suggest how highly I recommend this book. If you’d like to skip the rest of the review, then: just read this book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This is a book that will stick with the reader, and it’s deep enough that everyone will take away something a little different. I know it will be in my mind for a long time.
Wolf in White Van, written by The Mountain Goats songwriter John Darnielle, has already been favorably reviewed online, featured on NPR, and been nominated for the National Book Award. All the praise is well deserved. On the surface this is a story about Sean–the survivor of a terrible teenage tragedy, currently the game master of a play-by-mail role-playing game–and his reflections on life and the game. At its heart, it is a story about the power of imagination, about coming of age in a time when being a geek was far from cool, and about dealing with life-changing and traumatic experiences.
Continue reading Wolf in White Van, by John Darnielle