Tag Archives: Dystopia

On Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s “V for Vendetta”

10 Mar
The Guy Fawkes mask has become a global phenomenon thanks to Alan Moore and David Lloyd's V for Vendetta.

The Guy Fawkes mask has become a global phenomenon thanks to Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta.

What do you do when your government controls every aspect of your life? When propaganda replaces education? When art and culture and autonomy are slowly but surely stolen away? Well, we know from history and literature that there are quite a few ways to deal with totalitarian oppression. Winston Smith commits thoughtcrimes. Katniss Everdeen starts a rebellion (and put a bird on it). Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament. Most of us, though–admit it–would probably just let it happen. In Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, Evey Hammond is willing to live out her whole life under the thumb of England’s new, fascist government, until she comes to a rude awakening through an encounter with a masked vigilante. The criminal/terrorist/vigilante/hero/Codename V rescues Evey from dirty cops who are about to rape and murder her, and from then on takes her under his wing (read: “awesome cape”). In the Shadow Gallery, V’s home, Evey’s eyes are opened to the horrors of the world she lives in, and she learns of the beauty of a reality filled with books, paintings, love, and anarchy. She also learns how to dismantle a tyrannical government V’s way. It isn’t with flowers and protests, but with blood and fire.

Although Moore and Lloyd made a splash in the graphic novel community with their modern classic, the story of V and his violent dissent became popular after the film adaptation was released in 2005. The adapted the screenplay by The Matrix‘s Wachowski siblings and lead roles played by Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving drew huge crowds and a reinvigorated cult fandom for the masked vigilante.

Thanks to V, everyone, and I mean everyone, remembers the fifth of November.

Thanks to V, everyone–and I mean everyone–remembers the fifth of November.

At first I thought movie Evey had a little more autonomy and personality than the graphic novel Evey, but it became more and more apparent that Moore’s incredible character design had plans for our heroine. She metamorphosed from a shallow, uncultured teenager to an educated, passionate, robust butterfly. Or person. Whether you agree with Moore’s anarchic politics and whether or not you agree with using violence as a means to a peaceful end, you must admit that Evey’s change is as satisfying as it is traumatizing. The film’s Evey experienced less transformation, since she was seen to be relatively competent in her pre-V life.

In the  E2005 film adaptation directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowski siblings, Evey is portrayed by Natalie Portman, who actually shaved her head on camera during her imprisonment scenes. I appreciate the film's adherence to Moore's simple but powerful imagery.

In the 2005 film adaptation (directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowski siblings), Evey is portrayed by Natalie Portman, who actually shaved her head on camera during her imprisonment scenes. I appreciate the film’s adherence to Moore’s simple but powerful imagery.

While Codename V has garnered all the attention, started a cult following, and probably made Guy Fawkes the most popular mask of the century, Moore really shows us (whether intentional or not) that this story is all about Evey. V is her mentor, and while he has fascinating back story, he is less a character than idea and the instigator of Evey’s growth. His growth happened in another story and at another time. V for Vendetta is Evey’s story. She is the real protagonist and the real hero. She is the Every(wo)man who steps up and takes responsibility and takes action and takes back control from the oppressive government, sadistic prison guards, and indoctrinating propagandists. At one point, V begins calling Evey by a shortened nickname (or perhaps her real, adult name): “Eve.” She is the first woman, the mother of all, the one who, to some, brought sin into the world, and, to others, reintroduces morality into this universe. Because of V, Eve begins the education of the world to teach right from wrong and defies the deified government. I’ll be honest: I started reading V for Vendetta fully expecting a shallow, air-headed protagonist that some of my friends convinced me I would find, but Moore and Lloyd surprised me with excellent character development and story-telling, not to mention their fantastic artistry, though they fell short in converting me to anarchy.

Read it if … you have a thing for masked men or anarchy or weird graphic novel fonts. The book is not as action-packed as the film adaptation would have you think, so come to this novel looking for political exposition and solid character development.

Don’t read it if … you wanted to read a superhero comic, or if anarchists killed your family. This book is preachy in some parts, and some of us can’t turn off the constant internal (or verbal) criticism of preachy books.

This book is similar to … other books written by Alan Moore. He’s a singular guy, and there certainly aren’t an abundance of talented graphic novelists who use their chosen medium as a political standard.

Alan Moore is famous for V for Vendetta and Watchmen, his work with DC's Batman. He identifies as an anarchist, a ceremonial magician, a father, a writer

Alan Moore is famous for his graphic novels V for Vendetta and Watchmen, his work with DC’s Batman, and just being a general bad-ass. He identifies as an anarchist, a ceremonial magician, a father, a writer, and probably a lot of other things that aren’t on his Wikipedia page.

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On Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”

4 Feb
Go watch WarGames, play Pac-Man for nine hours straight, and the read Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.

Watch WarGames, play Pac-Man for nine hours straight, and then read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.

I remember going to Tilt, a cramped mall arcade in Boise, Idaho, as a kid. I remember the feel of a greasy joystick in my hands and the smell of unwashed children and anxious sweat in the air, the sharp scent of quarters, the music of a million lasers and virtual car engines and whirring lightsabers filling my head. I also grew up on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, old anime like “Space Battleship Yamato” and “Mobile Suit Gundam.” I grew up playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. on the NES, and catching 151 (yes, just 151) Pokemon on my GameBoy. Obviously, I loved all of it. But no one loves their childhood more than Jim Halliday, the maker of Ready Player One‘s central setting, the immersive video game OASIS, which has become both the guilty pleasure of and the primary economic platform for the world in the 2040s. When the multi-billionaire video game creator dies, he leaves behind his entire fortune to the winner of a worldwide competition: the player who can complete three hidden challenges–all dealing with trivia of the 1980s–wins it all. Ernest Cline bases Ready Player One primarily inside this game that everyone and their mom plays, and the game itself seems to be no more than a platform for Halliday’s (and Cline’s) nostalgia.

In the same way Halliday wanted OASIS players to idolize the ’80s the way he did, Cline wants his readers to fall in love with (or already be in an unhealthy relationship with) all the John Hughes movies, Atari games, arcade classics, heavy metal, and Japanese giant robot anime. If readers don’t take up the standard of ’80s admiration, they won’t fully appreciate the extreme geek happening in RPO. I’m a child of the ’80s, but Cline’s pop culture obsession left me feeling alienated many times. The rest of the time, Cline manages to atone with entertaining characters and an epic, if completely predictable, plot.

Thank goodness I watched this movie a few weeks before reading RPO, otherwise I would've been clueless through a third of the book.

Thank goodness I watched this movie a few weeks before reading RPO, otherwise I would’ve been clueless through a third of the book.

Our hero Wade Watts, better known as his avatar Parzival, takes up the challenge for the ultimate gamer Easter egg against all odds by immersing himself in OASIS and in Halliday’s many loves of the ’80s. Wade watches all the iconic movies, listens to the iconic bands, plays the iconic, pioneer video games, all in an effort to crack the biggest competition the world has ever known. The thing is–while Cline creates a darkly poignant and realistic future, and a fascinating premise based on an open world virtual reality–you can read those first two lines of this paragraph and you already know how this book ends. Ready Player One doesn’t bring anything new to the table. In fact, everything and everyone in the book is mired in the past, in the old, in the familiar. The novel is entertainment, pure and simple, and entertainment that follows a very traditional, predictable formula.

Cline's real life dystopia seems pretty cool, but takes the back seat right away. (Pic from ReadyPlayerOne.com)

Cline’s real life dystopia seems pretty cool, but takes the back seat right away. (Pic from ReadyPlayerOne.com)

While it was a fantastic read, and I’ll probably talk the ears off of any who will listen telling them to pick this up, it’s not a book I’m that interested in rereading. At least, until they announce the movie release date. Then I’ll obviously need to read it again so I can be accurately disappointed in the adaptation. (Who will play Parzival? Who will play Sorrento?? Who will play Art3mis???)

On Chaeng-rae Lee’s “On Such a Full Sea”

23 Jan
Check out Chang-rae Lee's newest novel, On Such a Full Sea.

Check out Chang-rae Lee’s newest novel, On Such a Full Sea.

I haven’t posted a review in a couple of weeks now, and you can all blame football for that. My beloved Seahawks are going to Super Bowl XLVIII, and they need my full attention during post-season to make it. In fact, you can all thank me and my absolute devotion for the win against the 49ers this past Sunday. After all, I own a Richard Sherman jersey. That being said, I have been as distracted as one of Chang-rae Lee’s fictional B-More residents in On Such a Full Sea, with their vids and shows and mind-numbing routines. Lee’s dystopian sci-fi veers slightly from the fare of his previous novels and reminds me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: both set in a futuristic, dystopian, American setting, and both written with a straying, almost whimsical style. But through a futuristic, crumbling America, Lee addresses familiar issues: human resilience and the art of story telling.

An unnamed narrator begins weaving the story of Fan, a young B-Mor resident who raises stock fish, and her quest to find her missing boyfriend, set in a landscape of a ruined America. The narrator is presumed to be some distant relative of Fan’s (being that B-Mor is a whole city built on massive family clans, it’s safe to say), and the story that he/she tells begins to grow to an epic scale. Fan leads a quiet life with her boyfriend Reg and a house full of cousins and uncles and aunties. Even on a day-to-day basis, though, the narrator sees something of a hero in her, and when Reg suddenly disappears, Fan trades the protective walls of the city for the open, dangerous counties and the citizens she leaves behind turn her into legend. They idolize her and her lost boyfriend. While Fan only dreams of the fish tanks where she felt most at home, all of B-Mor dreamed of her heroism.

To Fan, diving in the fish tanks is an act of self-control, and depriving herself of air for minutes at a time is a kind of transcendence.

To Fan, diving in the fish tanks is an act of self-control, and depriving herself of air for minutes at a time is a kind of transcendence.

On Such a Full Sea is strongest in its commentary on story telling, the development of legends. Fan is only known through the eyes and ears and speculation of the narrator and B-Mor’s Fan-atic (you like that?) residents. As I read, I realized everything I knew about Fan, her odyssey across the impoverished countryside, the various strangers–good and bad–that she meets along the way, even her love for and devotion to Reg, are all fabrications and projections of the story teller. Because of the reader’s distance from Fan, however, I never felt attached to her in any one or truly invested in her plight the way B-Mor’s Fan fans clearly were. Her character, while interesting, wasn’t easily understood or empathized with, and by the end of the book (no spoilers) I felt the need to go read something more captivating. The beginning of Fan’s quest is exciting, gruesome in some parts, and absolutely entertaining, but this mood tapers off in favor of more speculation, and Lee’s attempts at more shocking futuristic features falls short. This is book for people looking for a gentle read or something to spark no small amount of discussion, but I couldn’t bring myself to add a fourth star on Goodreads, if you know what I mean.

Author Chang-rae Lee graduated from University of Oregon and now teaches creative writing at Princeton, so I guess you could say he's doing well for himself.

Author Chang-rae Lee graduated from University of Oregon and now teaches creative writing at Princeton, so I guess you could say he’s doing well for himself.

On Jeff Noon’s “Vurt”

23 Aug
Take a look at Jeff Noon's Website, and make sure to pick a copy of Vurt from your local bookstore.

Take a look at Jeff Noon’s Website, and make sure to pick a copy of Vurt from your local bookstore.

Hello, my kittlings! Have you ever ridden the Vurt? Ridden that sweet, bloody, feathery, hallucinogenic descent into the twisted mind of Jeff Noon (not to be confused with the equally twisted mind of Jeff Koons)? Well, I just did, and oh, boy! What a trip!

From the first page, you’re thrust in over your head–kind of like the way some parents dunk their infant children in the pool, and supposedly it’s better this way because it’s like the amniotic fluids of the womb, and the little babies are just floating and confused but alright, and that’s what reading Vurt feels like. It’s sink or swim through a dangerous current of slang, drug paraphernalia and a terrifying landscape of the dystopic future, but there’s something utterly natural about Noon’s writing style. It’s cozily colloquial. It’s a stream of consciousness that’s easy to ride.

Vurt reads a lot like William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer and, “they” tell me, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (I’m afraid to say I haven’t read that cheery book yet), but it has influence of its own. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was published the same year, and I see Noon’s alternate reality drug trip show up in Sci-Fi novels of the ’90s (like Greg Bear’s Slant), and go figure: everyone was still riding the decades-long popularity of heroin. Vurt is the heroin of Noon’s future Manchester.

No one can forget this creepy seen from Danny Boyle's film adaptation of Welsh's Trainspotting. So, imagine this scene and multiply its horror by five times. Now you've got Vurt.

No one can forget this creepy scene from Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Welsh’s Trainspotting. So, imagine this scene and multiply its horror by five times. Now you’ve got Vurt.

This is the story of Scribble–an unlikely hero, a young vagrant just trying to navigate through a world too painful to live in–and his Stash Riders–Scribble’s unlikely sidekicks, a team of damaged kids trying to escape the traumatic landscape by riding any high available, whether its Vaz, cortex jammers, the alcoholic Fetish, or vurt. Vurt, a shortening of “virtual,” comes in the form of color-coded feathers and transports its users into shared dreams, alternate realities with varying degrees of risk, pleasure, and pain. It’s into the rarest and most dangerous vurt, the English Voodoo, that Scribble loses his sister and lover Desdemona (yeah, allusion much?!). Were we speaking of allusion? Scribble follows in the footsteps of Orpheus as he descends into the hellish English Voodoo to retrieve his love. Noon wins me over with the complex, colorful characters that Scribble meets along his harrowing journey, but the even greater triumph is the story: age-old and still powerful, tragic and beautiful.

Lee O'Connor authored an aptly creepy comic adaption.

Lee O’Connor authored an aptly creepy comic adaptation.

Now I hate to ruin my reputation as a bad ass, but I’ve never tried hallucinogenic drugs. That being said, reading this book has got to be pretty close. I’m horrified as it is, so any curiosity I may have had has now been squelched. Thanks, Jeff! This trippy novel takes you to the brink with its strange language and alien landscapes, just barely recognizable human society. It immerses you in a world where shadowcops read your mind, robodogs mate with vurtmen, and the experiences inside the vurt are more tantalizing, more real, than experiences in the bland, grey world of the sober. People use the vurt world to escape their wretched lives, and the whole point is you don’t remember reality when you’re in the vurt. There is only the dream, the shared experience. Scribble is cursed with the haunting: he feels and hears echoes of reality during his trip. He’s jarred into context because of this. It ruins his fun but gives him unique perspective on a whole world that has everyone else beguiled.

Vurt is an adventure. It’s a novel that will suck you in and make you forget about reality, trap you in a world you would like to think of as your own. I think Noon is victorious. I think he achieved what I assume to be his goal. I’ll definitely be reading more of him, especially the other books in the Vurt series: Pollen, Automated Alice, and Nymphomation.

I leave you with these parting words of advice: watch out for yellow birds! These mofos will mess you up!

I leave you with these parting words of advice: watch out for yellow birds! These mofos will mess you up!

On Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

15 May

51ettPWhyFLI finally read Margaret Atwood’s dazzling The Handmaid’s Tale and got a bitter taste of how scary religion can be. From my comfy seat in America, looking through my blinders out at the world, I can safely say I feel pretty free in comparison, and that other extreme versions of religion (*ahem* Islam) have gotten a little out of control. But Atwood’s beautiful novel is more like a slap in the face: America, already a so-called Christian nation, is short skip and a hop away from a society mirroring modern-day Iran’s or Afghanistan’s, a society that forbids the interaction between men and women, that “shelters” women with thick cloth and heavy restrictions for their “protection” and “purity,” that uses indoctrination and propaganda to destroy hope, to remove all routes of escape. Atwood’s dystopia is, in the end, much more frightening than the dystopias I grew up with—1984 and Brave New World—because it’s infinitely more possible.

Can you imagine this on American women?! Atrocity! Only you can prevent burkas! No, but really, this book is a cautionary tale.

Can you imagine this on American women?! Atrocity! Only you can prevent burkas! No, but really, this book is a cautionary tale.

In a radically reformed America, now called Gilead, everything is about women’s castes: one for wives, one for maids, another for handmaids, another for “Unwomen” (the women who refuse to belong to a caste, the women who don’t fit, the women who lose the right to their gender for not fitting). Perhaps this is why THT may be more frightening to female readers. It elicited a gut reaction from me, a deep physiological sorrow, in a way that 1984 with its tragic romance and femme fatale didn’t.  Atwood’s leading lady, going by the unfortunate pseudonym Offred, is a handmaid, a woman who’s specific role in this society is to bear the children of older, affluent married couples beyond child-bearing age. The burden of saving society from death by infant mortality rates has been placed on this caste of women.

Offred, though, quietly attempts her escape. She savors the words she hears and every scrap of writing she comes across. In this imagined hell, it’s a sin for women to read. Language has been removed from public, reined into the private sector, which has become the male sector. Signs are replaced with images. Words captured on newsreels are censored out. The Bible is read aloud by the head of the household. Offred holds onto her literacy (and therefore her individuality and sanity) by playing with words in her head. Her narration of her tragic story is frequently interrupted with her wordplay, and when she finally comes across Gilead’s secret resistance, Offred learns the codeword for escape is “Mayday,” or “m’aidez” or “May Day.”

Because what better way to combat oppressive Christian patriarchy than a giant, gay, pagan pole?

Because what better way to combat oppressive Christian patriarchy than a giant, gay, pagan pole?

All I could hope while reading this was that Offred’s quiet resistance would pay off. That she would find freedom or at least peace through language. Atwood’s language, artistically and masterfully crafted, certainly did the job for me. And now I’ll feel like a raging feminist for the next few days, so be warned.

Just because.

Just because.