Into the Forest, by Jean Hegland

Into the Forest, Jean Hegland

Into the Forest

by Jean Hegland

1996, Dial Press

Recommended? Yes.

I was lying in bed sick.

“Hey,” I said to my friend, “what book should I read?”

“Have you read Into the Forest?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Read that,” he said. “Post-apocalypse.”

“Is it going to be like The Road?” I asked. I was sick. I didn’t want to read something as doom and gloom as The Road.

“Not really,” he said.

I’m glad I decided to believe him, even if I’m not sure he was telling the truth.
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Vikings, Season 1

Vikings Season 1

Vikings, Season 1

2013, The History Channel

Recommended? Yes

It’s a show called Vikings. It’s a drama. The protagonists are vikings. They hit people with swords and axes and they sail around in longships and kill Christians and take slaves. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and the acting is remarkable. The writing wavers from good to great. The historical accuracy is not particularly high but is better than some people are giving the show credit for.

And it’s about vikings.

You’re either going to want to watch the show or not based on that. There’s little I would want to do to convince you otherwise.

What’s the show about? As I watch it, it’s a show about death. It’s not gory like a war film. The death in it is not by large glorious, not even gratuitous. But the show is about death, and the emotional toll of death, viewed from outside the Christian/Atheist lens chosen by most of the media we’re presented with.
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Legenderry #1, by Bill Willingham

Legenderry 1

Legenderry #1

by Bill Willingham

2103, Dynamite Entertainment

Should I read? Nope

Steampunk is situated in an interesting place for radicals: it can, as the Catastrophone Orchestra put it, offer a “non-Luddite critique of technology,” and sites like Beyond Victoriana use steampunk as a platform to combat racism and orientalism. This, plus its ability to explore colonialism, class, and gender while looking oh-so-very-cool in the process has attracted more than a few radical authors to the genre, from those that are explicitly anarchist like Alan Moore to socialists of various stripes like China Miéville.

The genre has also seen a large recent growth in popularity, its aesthetic making appearances in mainstream television shows like Castle and that terribly embarrassing Bieber Christmas music video. One of the most well known steampunk novels, Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, is currently being adapted for a major motion picture.
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Dredd (2012)

Dredd (2012)

Dredd

95 minutes

Director: Pete Travis

Recommended? No.

Problematic: Protagonizing the police; protagonizing fascism; villainizing drug users; villainizing sex workers; misunderstandings of class and crime; etc.

Bechdel Test: Pass.

When it comes down to it, this is a film about some white cop who runs around a projects building killing poor people because some of them might be dealing drugs (drugs that honestly look really fun and aren’t presented as having any negative side effects). It’s one of those non-stop-action movies that’s light on complexity but high on moralizing. The protagonists have body armor and high-tech gizmos and the opponents are impoverished. It’s somewhat entertaining, has strange moments of beauty, and tries but fails to be anything but a feature-length accolade of how great the police are.

It’s hard to imagine that this film was written by and for anything other than suburban, middle- and upper-class Americans.

The character Judge Dredd comes the UK comic series 2000AD and is intended to be a black-comedy satire of authoritariansm. This film adaptation, however, seems to entirely miss the point. And, according to the screenwriter Alex Garland, intentionally so: it was written as he understood the comic as a ten-year old boy. So there you go. Unfortunately, while I’m all for black-comedy and satire, this film is direct proof as to why those things are dangerous when they go over people’s heads.
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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

146 minutes

Director: Francis Lawrence

Recommended? Yes

Problems: Racial, mostly to do with casting white actors to play roles that were written as POC

Bechdel Test: Pass

So, firstly, this is good movie. It’s got great acting, great writing, works as a YA film without condescending to kids OR adults, and it’s a damn good adaptation of a really good book. Incidentally, this review will contain no major direct spoilers, but it will kind of assume you’ve seen the first movie, or read the first book. If you haven’t, you might want to get on that.

Just to get it out of the way, fuck the whitewashing of characters in this whole series. Jennifer Lawrence is terrific as Katniss, but the fact that the casting call was limited to white actors is egregious, and the fact that the cast in the movie is, overall, whiter than the cast in the book, just sucks.

Apart from that, though, this is a really solid movie, and is consistent with the book (by Suzanne Collins) in terms of putting forward a revolutionary storyline. It picks up a short time after the first one left off, with Katniss Everdeen tentatively safe after having won the Hunger Games. She learns of how she embarrassed the Capitol of Panem in the process, thus unintentionally becoming a symbol of resistance for the already discontented people of what is usually described in summaries and reviews as a “futuristic dystopia” but might better be referred to as a “fascist state,” since there’s nothing particularly unrealistic or speculative about the levels or means of oppression it employs. More on that in a moment. In an effort to destroy her and her fellow victor, Peeta, as revolutionary symbols, President Snow arranges a Hunger Games in which Peeta and Katniss will fight again, this time against an assortment of hardened killers and experts, and hopefully be killed.
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The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner

The Oregon Experiment

The Oregon Experiment

by Keith Scribner

2011, Knopf

Recommended? Sure, why not.

I’m going to cut this review into two parts. The first part, the shorter part, is just my “why you might like to read this book, why you might not.” The second part is a longer analysis of the ways in which mainstream sympathetic fiction is portraying anarchists.

So, The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner. Scanlon and Naomi are a middle class couple that moves to small town Oregon, and soon their American dream crashes into the rocks of anarchists, secessionist hippies, and the repression thereof. Scanlon is an academic who studies radical social movements, Naomi is a depressed “nose” who was forced to retire from the perfume business when her mental health destroyed her ability to smell. Scanlon gets mixed up with Sequoia, a sexy hippie mama who wants to peacefully secede from the US, while Naomi spends too much time a Clay, a depressed, angsty anarchist who hates everything. Hijinks ensue.

It’s a short, entertaining novel with interesting enough characters. I read it, I enjoyed reading it, and it left me awake thinking after I’d put the book down for the night. While the plot focuses on the gulf between academia and radical action, the themes of the book are much more about parenting and relationships, which I appreciated quite a bit. I appreciated the often-realistic and incredibly flawed characters, though the intensity of male desire directed at mothers—on the basis of them being mothers—is kind of intense. Overall, the book made me nostalgic for early-aughts Oregon.
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