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Archive for the ‘dystopian literature’ Category

How to Be Brave: The “Divergent” Method

In dystopian literature, feminism, YA on August 15, 2014 at 7:57 am

Sarah Todd

Too many girls grow up learning that they should be afraid to live in the world. Female action heroes offer us a different vision. When Ripley punches a slobbering alien queen, we see what it’s like to fight back. When Buffy defeats a pack of vampires with witticisms and a series of neatly executed roundhouse kicks, we can imagine our own unlikely victories. When Katniss aims her arrow at a shimmering window in a force field and lets it fly, it seems possible that we too can take oppressive systems down.

Inspiring as these characters are, their heroism can seem a little inaccessible–their ferocity inborn and therefore difficult to reproduce. Ripley is already a tough, no-nonsense warrant officer when she encounters her first slimy spider-creature. Buffy has the physical strength and superb fighting skills necessary for taking on the Hellmouth. Katniss has a rebellious spirit, fleet feet and perfect aim long before she enters the Hunger Games arena.

But for many real-world women, being brave takes practice. After all, women aren’t wrong to be afraid sometimes; the world really can be a dangerous place, and fear can be a life-saving instinct. But our culture is wrong to instill fear in women and then stop there, encouraging us to stay at home with all the lights on rather than empowering us to try to make the world safer for everyone.

That latter possibility forms the core of Divergent, a young adult film starring Shailene Woodley and based on a popular dystopian trilogy by Veronica Roth. The story—a blander, declawed version of the Hunger Games—isn’t going to set anybody’s world on fire. That said, I’ve read the whole series and expect to see all the movies. This is not because they are actually good, but because I’ve yet to encounter another story that engages so directly with the idea of a young woman who teaches herself courage.

Divergent is set in a bombed-out future version of Chicago that’s walled off from all that lies beyond city limits. Society is divided into six factions, according to the quality most prized by each. The Erudite are smarties in lab coats, while people in Candor are honest enough to tell them that lab coats are really unflattering. Abnegation members practice the art of selflessness; Amity types are peace-loving hippies. And then there’s Dauntless—a group of people who pride themselves on being brave, and will do pretty much whatever dumb thing to prove their mettle. Read the rest of this entry »

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In the Sky, Lord, in the Sky: Historical Guilt and Bioshock Infinite

In class, dystopian literature, games, gender, race, spoilers, technology, time travel, Uncategorized, violence on April 4, 2013 at 9:30 am

brian psi

Irrational Games’ latest opus, Bioshock Infinite, was released last week, to universal acclaim. Creative director Ken Levine has been making the kind of upscale promotional rounds usually frequented by novelists or filmmakers—rare air for someone who has just made an ultraviolent first person shooter, the most reviled (and most lucrative) subgenre of the most debased popular art form. Like other games of its type, the new Bioshock features plenty of gunplay and gruesome melee finishers; unlike other games in any genre, Infinite’s storytelling, setting and themes explore the most troubling aspects of American history, providing a fairly scathing commentary on the interplay of American exceptionalism, racism, religion and labor exploitation. What really struck me is the way that the game evokes—in its narrative and mechanics—two very different responses to historical guilt, responses which make the game’s politics both fascinating and contemporary.

WARNING: massive spoilers below, including major plot twists and ending!

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GLG’s 2012 Picks: Brian’s Top 3 Books

In books, dystopian literature, misogyny on December 18, 2012 at 9:56 am

brian psi

The books I was most surprised by this year—Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Secret Confessions of a Justified Sinner—are8 and 188 years old, respectively. But here are some of my favorites from the last year (and a half, sorry).

Ernest Cline – Ready Player One

The future sucks. So people stay inside, create avatars, and log into OASIS, an enormous virtual world—think Second Life if it was fun. The simulation’s eccentric, dead creator James Halliday has hidden a number of easter eggs inside, and so those with the requisite time, resources, and encyclopedic knowledge of the 1980’s pop culture Halliday loved search for them. These ‘gunters’ compete or cooperate in their quest to win the game, billions of dollars, and control of OASIS itself, now threatened by a corporate takeover. The plot follows Parzival, a high school kid from one of the teetering ‘stacks’ of trailer homes inhabited by the residents of 2044 Oklahoma City, and his online friends/rivals (frivals?) Aech and Art3mis. Together they obsess over the minutiae and meanings of the Duran Duran lyrics, Dungeons & Dragons modules, and John Hughes movies presumably also loved by first time author Cline (and many of his readers, including this one). Ready Player One was certainly the most joyous book I’ve picked up this year, even if I couldn’t shake the feeling that on some level it was always pandering to me. When it works—and it does more often than not—it’s because Cline makes an unabashed claim for the value—nay necessity—ofhit records and bad television. Artifacts of pop culture, like OASIS itself, provide an escape from our problems and those of the big bad world outside. But their playful scribbles, adorning our inner landscapes, also make us: building us up and breaking us down and giving each other things to share and argue about and just overall making life, well, livable.

Halloween Eve Cover

Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder – Halloween Eve

I have already written a little about DC Comics’ 52 relaunch and some of its representations, so now I’ll shovel out some coal for their increasingly puzzling relationship with their female creators. It’s already been something of a dark December, with the great Gail Simone relieved of her duties as writer of Batgirl, and the killer Karen Berger—arguably the most important comics editor of the past 25 years—has announced her departure from the Vertigo imprint that she created and ran. Earlier in the year, the amazing Amy Reeder was forced off of Batwoman apparently at the behest of its new writer, J.H. Williams [alliterative deleted].

Shortly afterwards, Reeder (art) and Brandon Montclare (words) financed Halloween Eve through Kickstarter, and had it published by creator-owned Image Comics just in time for the holiday. The comic is a retelling of A Christmas Carol, with the titular Eve as the Scrooge of Samhain: she works in a popular costume shop but hates Halloween, dressing up, and unseriousness generally. Forced to work late the night before the big night, she is startled to find that the costumes are coming to life. They whisk her away to Halloween Land where Eve discovers the real reason for the season… which after a couple of reads is still somewhat unclear: at 40 pages, Halloween Eve is long for a single issue of an ongoing, but rather short for a self-contained work, and so the character relationships and development has to occur very quickly. Montclare’s script works within these limitations, but the book largely relies on Reeder’s art and layouts to tell its story. Luckily, while Halloween Eve is not as strong as the best issues of their collaboration on Madame Xanadu, it is neverthelesss a fantastic showcase for Reeder. Eve herself is a wonderfully realized character, and the monsters and demons that populate the other realm are perfect subjects for her (somewhat-manga influenced) art style: does anyone draw more expressive, almost three-dimensional eyes?

I should also say that there are depressingly few mainstream comics with black women as protagonists, so let’s hope that Halloween Eve’s success can help address this inbalance. Finally, at $3.99 this was the value of the year, pick up a few for next year’s All Hallow’s Read.

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Sci-fi author Scalzi probably received more attention for his blog than for his novels in 2012. His piece “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is,” –which used the form and rhetoric of video games to explain privilege and how it operates without actually using the p-word—generated  thousands of comments, shares, tweets, reblogs, hatEmails, and  academic attention. In July he initiated a minor war with CNN contributor Joe Peacock over an opinion piece about how cosplayers—primarily women—weren’t ‘real’ geeks. Comic book artist Tony Harris made a similar post later in the year, which Scalzi also obliterated. (A brief aside for those unfamiliar with one of 2012’s most irritating trends, the best response to the ‘fake geek girl’ manplaint is still albinwonderland’s video, also a response to Harris).

So, Redshirts. Scalzi’s latest novel is a loving satire of Star Trek, in which three new junior crewmembers of the U.U. Intrepid discover that lower-ranked officers are dying off with alarming frequency: disintegrated by weapons fire, mauled by killer robots, eaten by space oozes, etc. Meanwhile, the bridge crew seem to live charmed lives, healing from devastating injuries overnight and surviving attacks that would emulsify ensigns and liquefy second lieutenants. Naturally, there is a conspiracy afoot, but not the kind that the characters and most readers expect. There is a highly metafictional plot twist about halfway through, after which much of the gallows humor fades and the book becomes something else entirely. Some readers will likely not follow the leap that Scalzi makes here, his attempt to go for bigger emotions in the book’s “three codas.” I’m of course a super sappy emo kid, but a couple of the endings made me cry. If Frankenstein asked us what responsibility the creator has for their created; Redshirts raises (or perhaps lowers) the stakes by suggesting that even fictional creations deserve our respect and care: these literary lives, too, are worthwhile, and we should not be so quick to discard them (or subject them to lazily-written transporter accidents).

Brian Psiropoulos is a dad and PhD candidate in English literature. He likes stuff, especially gothic Victorian novels, superhero comics, and video games. Also tennis.

DARK SECRETS, Genre, and Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

In adaptation, dystopian literature, Film, spoilers, technology, Uncategorized on July 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Sarah S.

If you have not read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, I recommend that you go out, pick it up, and read it immediately. Better still, if you do not know the underlying premise or “twist” of the novel, I highly recommend you stop reading this post right now. Which is to say, this post contains spoilers and, while I acknowledge that anxiety over “spoiling” may be overrated in many circumstances, I really believe that Ishiguro designed his exquisite novel so that the twist be revealed with agonizing slowness and that you’ll enjoy the novel more if you don’t know. I didn’t know. I knew that the novel focused on three students who had grown up in a seemingly idyllic, British boarding school that had a DARK SECRET but I had no inkling what said DARK SECRET was. If you are similarly ignorant, please, stop reading this post and go read the book.

Phew. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

Never Let Me Go features Ishiguro’s achingly beautiful and slow style as likewise exhibited in The Remains of the Day and An Artist of the Floating World (one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read). But what particularly fascinated me about Never Let Me Go was its mingling of genres. On one hand, it’s a coming-of-age story, a Bildungsroman, about growing up and accepting one’s place in the order of things—albeit with a bleak, postmodern twist. On the other hand, and much to my surprise, Never Let Me Go is science fiction of the dystopian/utopian variety (see footnote below).* Or, if you prefer the more literary term, “speculative fiction” that asks “what if?” in order to question our current cultural trajectory.

The narrator of Never Let Me Go, Kathy H, is a clone—born and bred for her vital organs and other relevant parts, along with her friends Ruth and Tommy and every student at their boarding school, Hailsham. The clones’ existence creates a disease-free golden age for all of the world’s “normal” people. In the book, however, the reader only discovers this fact in bits and pieces scattered throughout the novel; indeed, Ishiguro forces us to work for the information, to read into and around what scraps Kathy gives us as she relates her story.

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GLG Responds to The Hunger Games: Terrifying Technologies

In dystopian literature, environment, Hunger Games, technology, violence on March 30, 2012 at 8:14 am

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So, this week we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. Read on, for thoughts on Katniss as badass heroine, terrifying technology, Hunger Games violence, and much more! And, if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Last up: Phoebe B. on HG & Terrifying Technologies

One of the most striking things about The Hunger Games on the silver screen is the terrifying ways technology comes to life. This is not to say that technology itself is terrifying, but rather its destructive capabilities as wielded by the gamekeepers. The pristine and technologically advanced all-white nerve center of the gamesthe arena where the gamekeepers operate—stands in direct opposition, visually at least, to the technology-starved districts and even the arena, which it controls. In the film, visions of dystopian technology rise from iPad-like screens and are then wielded by the simple movement of a hand. A gamekeeper’s quick whisk of her hand sends panther-like mutants into the arena to attack the last contestants. Another hand flutter makes two more appear out of thin air. While the arena is both produced by and at the mercy of very advanced technology, that technology is virtually invisible from within it, save for the shots of the faces of those lost to the games. And, this faux-natural world is incredibly threatening to those who enter into it.

the technological center of the Games

Yet in the course of the film we learn to tell the difference between real nature and constructed nature. The film figures the presumably real natural world as a safe haven, outside technology. For example, Katniss’ life and hunting outside the boundaries of District 12, or Gale finding solace in those same woods while Katniss is in the games, suggest an area outside of the Capitol’s technological grasp. For Gale, nature provides comfort and cover. But inside the arena, the visually similar nature threatens Katniss’s or Peeta’s life via deadly tracker jackers, panthers, and more generally the game itself.

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GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: Without Hunger, It’s Only Games

In dystopian literature, Food, Hunger Games on March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And, if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Guest Contributor Jeni R.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for survival stories. Starting with homesteading in Little House on the Prairie and the lost-in-the-wilderness Hatchet, I’ve been intrigued by the way they force us to reexamine the tools of power and privilege in our own lives. Perhaps that background is why I loved reading The Hunger Games series so much, and it also might be one of the reasons why the movie adaptation left me so disappointed. In the books, the problem of hunger is a primary concern. It determines relationships: Katniss and Gale become friends while hunting to feed their families; Katniss differentiates herself from Peeta who grew up with “the smell of baked bread”; Katniss dismisses Prim’s cat Buttercup as “another mouth to feed.” What the characters eat is described in sensory, specific detail: eating an egg-sized portion of lamb stew with prunes sent by parachute; learning to dip bread in mugs of hot chocolate on the train; sharing strawberries, goat cheese, and bakery bread in the woods; admiring Greasy Sae’s latest soup concoction. Katniss’s “hollow days” in the Seam are an asset in the arena, and a stark contrast to the on-demand decadence of food in the Capitol. Food metaphors pervade even seemingly unrelated aspects of the story, such as the arena’s “cornucopia” of weapons, naming conventions (“katniss” root and “Panem” itself), and the description of sexual desire as a kind of hunger. At various times throughout the books, food is power, currency, privilege, barter, control, temptation, celebration, art, and connection.

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GLG Responds to the Hunger Games: The Erasure of Violence from The Hunger Games

In dystopian literature, Hunger Games, PG-13 Ratings, violence on March 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

Like many of you out there, the GLG folks could not wait to see The Hunger Games on the big screen. And this last weekend, we did! Given our serious fandom of The Hunger Games more generally, and Katniss specifically, we thought we would do a little HG response fun. So we asked the GLG folks to pick a particular topic from the film and respond to it. This week, read on for thoughts on HG and violence, terrifying technology, Hunger Games fashion, and much more! And if you have a topic you want to discuss, post away in the comments or send us a question at girlslikegiants@gmail.com.

Melissa S.

When it became public knowledge that the film adaptation of The Hunger Games was earning a PG-13 rating, I spent a lot of time speculating about how the film would accomplish scenes such as Rue’s death or Cato’s battle with the muttations. These violent battle scenes would certainly have to be limited, sanitized, or changed in order to avoid an R rating. The only way I could imagine such scenes taking place was off-screen; this would allow the emotional impact of the scenes to remain but limit the blood and gore we saw as an audience. When I saw the film this weekend, what surprised me was how the film went a different route: sanitizing, downplaying, even erasing the violence from these scenes so that they felt more like typical action movie fodder. Instead of being slowly eaten by muttations throughout a torturous night, Cato suffers for only a few seconds before Katniss gets a shot off and ends his life. And instead of being skewered by a giant spear while cowering in a net, Rue is killed by a lethal yet tiny blade while Katniss exchanges fire with the District 1 tribute. As a result, neither death had nearly as much emotional impact on me as it did when I read the book. I felt sadness or relief, but not revulsion, horror, or outrage. My muted emotional response had me thinking about the use of violence in this novel, one of the savviest I’ve read about how the media manipulates emotions in order to achieve certain political effects.

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