Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen

For readers of fantasy, novels, and YA lit: we have an interview with the great Roshani Chokshi, author of this year’s highly anticipated novel “The Star-Touched Queen.” Check it out!

Today, we’re very pleased to feature Roshani Chokshi, the amazing young woman who authored this year’s highly anticipated YA fantasy novel, The Star-Touched Queen.

Continue reading “Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen”

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Summer Reads: Love Is Weird

This is an ode to my first summer love. The one that made me realize that my imagination made me powerful. It taught me that there were whole worlds rippling underneath the surface of my everyday life, that creativity, bravery, and love for others were the highest of all virtues. When school let out for the summer, it became my constant companion and I visited its house on Library Ave. several times a week. It was during these sweet summers that I developed my love of narrative and imaginative worlds that has informed every career-related decision I’ve ever made. With great pleasure I offer this post, an ode to the Fantasy Novel, to share and honor all the lessons it’s taught me about love and the real world.

This is an ode to my first summer love. The one that made me realize that my imagination made me powerful. It taught me that there were whole worlds rippling underneath the surface of my everyday life, that creativity, bravery, and love for others were the highest of all virtues. When school let out for the summer, it became my constant companion and I visited its house on Library Ave. several times a week. It was during these sweet summers that I developed my love of narrative and imaginative worlds that has informed every career-related decision I’ve ever made. With great pleasure I offer this post, an ode to the Fantasy Novel, to share and honor all the lessons it’s taught me about love and the real world.

Love is always sacred and profane, human and divine, real and illusionary: the best love is often tinged with the pain of impossibility. Fantasy shows us the sweeping cosmic romance and the bounded, earthly erotic, the everlasting friendship sealed with sacrifice. But, let’s not forget the most important lesson that fantasy teaches us about love: it’s freaking weird.

2015-07-25 14.50.18

Rhinegold by Stephen Grundy:

Love is apparently very hard to distinguish from lust and it can definitely happen on first sight. This whole distinguishing process is made more difficult when the object of your affection is an all-powerful god who walks the earth in human form, planting his seed in the wombs of strong women in the hope that they will raise a hero of epic proportions (physically and metaphorically). Also, sometimes you love yourself and the idea of continuing your genealogical line so much that you accidently/kind of knowingly have sex with your twin sister. Though while this is usually grounds for a plague on your houses, that is not always the case.

Brunehild_Rackham
Brunehilde, a strong woman, throwing herself into the flames, (but it’s fine, she’s a Valkyrie).

It’s clear that this book is also a labor of love, as Grundy (who studied English and German philology) produced a careful retelling that is part epic, part sexy romance novel. It’s got the best of the fantasy genre: dragons, rituals, heroes, sex,  dwarves, failed marriage plots, witches, shaman,  wolves, war, gods, religious tension, murder, and most importantly, mead.  For me, this book will always be the perfect embodiment of the fantastic, the epic, and the shamelessly erotic.

“The circus arrives without warning” | Instagram @erinmorgenstern
“The circus arrives without warning” | Instagram @erinmorgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern:

“Place me like a seal over your heart, for love is as strong as death.” Forever and ever amen.

When I think of this book, my mind conjures images of textures, smoothly rippling silk, plushy velvet, pebbly mounds of popcorn, and smells: caramel, cider, smokey late-autumn bonfires. This book has served as boredom buster, fantastic escape, and sartorial inspiration.

I have my husband’s ex-girlfriend to thank for this contribution to my list of books about love–she was working at a bookstore with this gem first hit the shelves.  Morgenstern’s playfully surrealistic novel traces the story of two young and gifted magicians who are competitors in an ancient game using the travelling Night Circus as the arena for their battles of imagination. Set in an ahistorical Victorian world, it’s everything I want in a romance: an intricate story of larger-than-life proportions supported by a cast of unusual, endearing characters who make me wish that I could be part of the circus.

The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind

Love is never simple and sometimes your biologically or magically induced physical body is  not compatible with the body of your one, true love–but this can often be overcome especially if you are an exceptional man who is determined to go until the ends of space and time in order to conquer all obstacles.  Also, you can love peasants, too and because you love them, you want them to become better than what they are and so you apparently decide the best way to do this is by quietly invoking the teachings of Ayn Rand.

Confession: The only reason I read these books is because I became obsessed with their TV series incarnation, Legend of the Seeker, my first year in college and I couldn’t wait for the second season to come out on DVD. The novel traces the adventures of Richard Cypher and Kahlan Amnel as they fight to restore balance and order in their universe (often with help from some badass dominatrices!)

Shermeyer_HouseofLeaves
House of Leaves

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski:

Sometimes love is messy and convoluted and growing together sometimes means growing apart. But sometimes love can be transcendent and bodies moving together can speak in “two dark languages” that “rarely survive. As quickly as they’re invented , they die, unable to penetrate much, explore anything or even connect. Terribly beautiful but more often than not inadequate.”

Love is convoluted.

A long list of people recommended this book to me, but the most convincing pitch was from one of my students who told me that she thought it would really relate to our class’s discussion of Freud’s essay on the uncanny (the term “unheimlich” is featured in the novel). House of Leaves is a triplicate narrative that is, most simply, about a house that’s curiously bigger on the inside than it appears and/or measures on the outside. In many ways, the book resists traditional summary by its labyrinthine, multi-genre nature—there are many ways to read the novel, many of them decidedly non-linear (kind of like love, right?).

Adult Fairy Tale Anthologies: Black Swan, White Raven;  Snow White, Blood Red, (both edited by Datlow/Windling) and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, etc.

Sometimes love can be really fucked up, but there gets to be a point where love is so fucked up that it’s actually not love anymore. Also, Stockholm syndrome is different from love, although they look suspiciously similar. But lust can totally lead to love. Sacrifice and violence are often intertwined with love and lust, and if someone goes through massive amounts of bodily harm for you, then they probably love you. Anyone who says they are killing you because they love you doesn’t actually love you and you should probably kill them before they kill you. Ogres are actually viable sexual  partners. Also, stepmothers never love you, no matter what.

Hagan creepin'
Hagan creepin’

Tithe by Holly Black

Sometimes love can be relatively predictable: an exceptional girl who grows bored of her lame-ish friends meets a mysterious man with a dark secret. She tricks the mysterious man into maintaining a contact with her, thinking she can manipulate him with her exceptionality like she does all the other men in her life. But the exceptional girl quickly finds out that out she may be in over her head as she is thrown into a world that she never knew existed.

The greatest and most enduring pleasure of reading Tithe was the introduction of a fantasy-world aesthetic that still resonates with me: a kind of “Alice in Urbanland” amalgamation of a mystic faerie world with the lives of ordinary people living in rather ordinary towns

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

Because sometimes we all get by with a little help from our friends (especially when our friends are powerful wizards, able to command armies of dead warriors to fight on your behalf, or remember to bring spices in case you find taters on your journey to Mordor).

Acro Collective Greatest Hits: Celebrating 100 Posts!

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe that this little project has already reached 100 posts! Thank you so much for continuing to grow with us and for supporting this community of thought, discourse, and love.

To celebrate our first major milestone, I highlight some of our most popular and beloved posts, in case you missed them or feel like revisiting the ideas they present. Stick with us! We love having you, and the best is yet to come.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe that this little project has already reached 100 posts! Thank you so much for continuing to grow with us and for supporting this community of thought, discourse, and love.

To celebrate our first major milestone, I highlight some of our most popular and beloved posts, in case you missed them or feel like revisiting the ideas they present. Stick with us! We love having you, and the best is yet to come.

What We Mean When We Talk About Responsibility: Romance, Pleasure, and Politics

The question I want to ask, then, is this: what does it mean for pleasure to be politically correct or not? Romance as a genre has historically been the subject of a lot of angst over this very question. Its investment in normative gender and sexual politics is right on the surface. Its sub-genre ghettoization of stories about POC and simultaneous exoticization of white women—heroines with exotic raven hair and milky skin are common staples—is well documented. And its fetishistic fascination with class performance and historical moments that were less than kind to non-white, non-rich people is nothing to dismiss. And, unlike Tarantino, romance doesn’t get the cover of an avant-garde aesthetic that can justify the pleasure romance readers get from the genre…Romance is smut, and the women who read romance read it specifically because it scratches a particular itch. They are self-conscious consumers of the fantasies in these books even if the fantasies they consume are shaped by cultural forces that are less than politically correct. Just hit up the romance lists section of Goodreads, and you’ll find women and men who know exactly what their fantasies and desires are and discuss the mechanics of the smut they read in savvy and precise terms.

 Today I want to talk about romance, that much-maligned literary genre that conjures up images of Fabio’s pecs and housewives with a password-protected kindle. As a genre explicitly dedicated to pleasure, women’s pleasure in particular, romance occupies a vexed position. It is both wildly popular and easily sneered at, impugned publicly, often, by the same people who consume it in private. Romance reading is thought to signal a certain lack of imagination and intellectual laziness which is rarely associated with the kinds of smut thought to be consumed by men. This probably has to do with the fact that romance is a literary genre and is therefore held to standards that don’t apply in the world of Brazzers, but it also has to do, I think, with the standards that women’s genres and pleasures are held to more generally.

Frequenters of Acro Collective know that we believe that political work and vital thinking cannot be sustained without a corrective measure of self-care and a diligent investment in our own pleasure. That, in fact, a fervent yet critical celebration of pleasure in many forms—both our own and that of others—is central to the type of intellectual space we’re interested in creating. We not only believe that the kinds of communities that form around a shared pleasure can be deeply affirming and potentially transformative, but we’re also aware that pleasure itself can get lost in the work of critique. We sometimes forget that ideology does not meet people on an intellectual level but is embedded in layers of aesthetic and affective experience which cannot be discarded indiscriminately simply because of their proximity to political content.

But precisely because so many of our most crucial pleasures are intersected by politics, we also know that we cannot responsibly affirm those pleasures without an equal measure of critical engagement with them. This is not to say that we cannot enjoy difficult or ideologically impure things, but simply that it’s important not to split the cultural landscape into the politically correct and the politically compromised because nothing would ever land on the correct side.

Yet the angst over this problem is real, especially in young politically-conscious circles. A quick Google search for “liking problematic things” returns almost half a million results, most aimed at social justice types, reassuring them that it is, indeed, possible to enjoy all sorts of representations which we would not be so complacent about in real life.

It’s depressingly common in social justice and academic discourse to accuse a piece of culture of being “problematic” with a fantasy ideal in our minds of a cultural artifact that is pure, purely responsible. But purely responsible culture does not exist, and if it did, it would feel hollow, sanitized, and deeply unsatisfying. Think of those midcentury anti-communist propaganda films. Their attempts to hit all the appropriate political talking-points make them feel farcical in a cult-film kind of way, but render them pretty uncompelling otherwise. I am not saying that we should not bring political critiques to our culture, but rather that it feels massively unproductive, not to mention exhausting and joyless, to speak in terms of enough—is Lena Dunham feminist enough? Is GOOP vegan enough?

Because culture is an aesthetic project as much as an ideological one it can never be purely responsible. The waters are muddied from the beginning by pleasure. Our experience of a painting as beautiful or ugly or a film as dazzling or dull bears on, indeed produces, our experience of its ideological content. I find myself deeply uncomfortable with artists like Quentin Tarantino for this very reason. I recognize the stunning, sensational, ravishing allure of his aesthetic project and I recognize the pleasure I feel at its hands, and I see how the brilliance of his experiments can obscure the ickiness of his politics while standing in for something more progressive.

Once more, I am not suggesting that aesthetics exist beyond or without the political, but just the opposite. I want to point to the ways in which the political is overlaid and infused by aesthetic experience—the ways that pleasure complicates and challenges our ideological commitments. Why do so many ostensibly politically responsible people feel the need to ask Google if they can like problematic things? It’s because, I think, they can recognize the dissonance between how they envision their politics and how they experience their pleasures.

The question I want to ask, then, is this: what does it mean for pleasure to be politically correct or not? Romance as a genre has historically been the subject of a lot of angst over this very question. Its investment in normative gender and sexual politics is right on the surface. Its sub-genre ghettoization of stories about POC and simultaneous exoticization of white women—heroines with exotic raven hair and milky skin are common staples—is well documented. And its fetishistic fascination with class performance and historical moments that were less than kind to non-white, non-rich people is nothing to dismiss. And, unlike Tarantino, romance doesn’t get the cover of an avant-garde aesthetic that can justify the pleasure romance readers get from the genre.

There is apparently nothing to redeem the romance reader. They are condemned from both sides as both politically naive and tasteless. The pleasure they take in the romance genre is bad pleasure not only because it is incited by ideologically compromised representations, but also because the generic aesthetic does not justify or forgive that pleasure like it might for something like prestige TV (which is definitely not immune from squicky politics).

It doesn’t help that romance readers are exclusively thought of as women. Women’s genres have always, since the high/low culture split at the end of the 19th century, been accused of bad aesthetics and facile thinking. Meanwhile Jonathan Franzen, noted curmudgeon, can write any number of hacky neoliberal novels and his readers can still be contributors for the New Yorker.

It’s much easier to disavow a pleasure in which one does not partake. I, for example, cannot affirm the kinds of pleasures that many people experience in patriotism. In fact, I find those pleasures altogether unsavory as simply an affective mask for the kinds of violence perpetrated in the name of (white, masculinist) nationalism. So, then, why do I insist that the pleasures offered by romance are different than those offered by patriotism when they can undoubtedly be symptomatic of racism and rape culture? Partly, it’s because women’s pleasures have historically been dismissed as unintellectual, backward and perverse. Partly because people tend to be able to recognize and compartmentalize sexual fantasy as fantasy in a way that they cannot for fantasies of nationalism.

This combination of taste and politics makes the romance reader an easy mark. She is simply too stupid to know what she’s doing. And this is why I am an unrepentant apologist for books like 50 Shades of Grey. The women who read books like that one aren’t idiots—or, at least, there are no more idiotic romance readers than there are Franzen fans. They didn’t accidentally stumble upon 50 Shades and decide to swallow the gender politics uncritically.

Look at this pesky New Woman soaking up scandal via her novel-reading! | Painting by Albert Ritzberger, image via jamesjoel (Flickr)
Look at this pesky New Woman soaking up scandal via her novel-reading! | Painting by Albert Ritzberger, image via jamesjoel (Flickr)

Romance is smut, and the women who read romance read it specifically because it scratches a particular itch. They are self-conscious consumers of the fantasies in these books even if the fantasies they consume are shaped by cultural forces that are less than politically correct. Just hit up the romance lists section of Goodreads, and you’ll find women and men who know exactly what their fantasies and desires are and discuss the mechanics of the smut they read in savvy and precise terms.

I’m willing to believe that the overwhelming majority of people who read 50 Shades of Grey are well aware that the kind of consent represented in those books is imperfect and acceptable only within the world of fantasy. And I propose that instead of talking about romance and other politically incorrect culture as a zero-sum game in which representations are either “good” or “bad,” feminist enough or not, we spend more time talking about how our pleasures are solicited and elicited, and how to mobilize our politically incorrect pleasures towards a more progressive cultural landscape.

This might mean making room in our politics for self-conscious experiences of pleasure as well as using our pleasure as a critical tool to examine our political commitments.

Summer Reads: Dystopian Dreaming (Mad Max-Inspired)

Some consider the original Mad Max films to be the originators of the current post-apocalyptic aesthetic that’s now a familiar theme in film, literature and video games: the world becomes a dirty, gritty place and the real villains are the humans running amuck in the wake of large scale catastrophe and institutional collapse. If you’re like me, the adrenaline rush of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road left you with the desire for more dystopian action and it’s going to be a long wait for Mad Max: Wasteland. Since you’ve probably already seen Divergent and The Hunger Games, let me humbly suggest another way to get your apocalypse fix: a few great summer reads that share in the Mad Max spirit by being gritty, raw, or beautifully self-conscious of their own genre (and all the campiness, hokeyness and playfulness that comes with along with it). What a lovely day!

Some consider the original Mad Max films to be the originators of the current post-apocalyptic aesthetic that’s now a familiar theme in film, literature and video games: the world becomes a dirty, gritty place and the real villains are the humans running amuck in the wake of large scale catastrophe and institutional collapse. If you’re like me, the adrenaline rush of seeing Mad Max: Fury Road left you with the desire for more dystopian action and it’s going to be a long wait for Mad Max: Wasteland. Since you’ve probably already seen Divergent and The Hunger Games, let me humbly suggest another way to get your apocalypse fix: a few great summer reads that share in the Mad Max spirit by being gritty, raw, or beautifully self-conscious of their own genre (and all the campiness, hokeyness and playfulness that comes with along with it). What a lovely day!

 

1. If you loved the gritty, violent world of Mad Max: Fury Road:

City of Bohane

by Kevin Barry (Graywolf)

Post-apocalyptic wasteland fraught with feuding factions of dandies? A technologically retrogressive world full of violence, intrigue, and romance? A shit-ton of awesome futuristic sartorial choices? Check, check, and check. City of Bohane takes us through the lives of people in 2053 Ireland as they contend with their pasts while trying to carve out a future for themselves in the the barren city none of them can seem to escape.

Like Mad Max, the environment of this novel is bleak. Characters consistently refer to the Bohane river and the way it “taints” the city, suggesting that the book has major eco-critical potential. The novel is set in the fictional Irish town Bohane and follows the feud between the Hartnett Fancy and their rivals as they try to maintain control of the city. Logan Hartnett, leader of the Fancy, relies (at least superficially) on  his mother Girly to authorize the Fancy’s wargames, while actually relying on the murderous talents of three young possible successors, the galoot Fucker Burke, a lovestruck Wolfie Stanners and the fierce Jenni Ching. If you are into gritty, highly stylized, dystopian novels with a unique, rich, storyworld, then this is your new read.

Though he deftly uses description, the real meat of this novel is its unique dialogue, which Barry  has said he based on “working class speech in the cities I grew up in, Limerick and Cork”, noting that “Those kinds of voices have never really shown up before in Irish literature.” By combining Irish slang, new insults, slurs, and curses with the rhythm of the contemporary Irish accent, Barry has invented a new dialect that is at once completely understandable but also believably alien. Playing with the structures and functions of language seems to be one of Barry’s goals and he has commented that  “[The novel is] written in Technicolor…It’s intended to be a big, visceral entertainment as well as a serious language experiment.”

This is the debut novel by author Kevin Barry, who has also published two volumes of short stories and has been featured in the New Yorker and won various awards for his short fiction and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for City of Bohane.

 

2. If you were interested in the way that the “half-life war boys” were used as disposable bodies to serve the greater will of “society,” (read: Immortan Joe)

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro (Alfred A. Knopf)

Time Magazine called this 2005 novel by Ishiguro (who already has a Booker Prize under his belt for The Remains of the Day (1989)) “the best novel of the decade” and it was a finalist for the Booker Prize,  Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award (among just receiving general praise!).

*This section includes spoilers.

The novel tells the story of three friends growing up in a near-future dystopian England where humans are cloned so that these clones–who are not regarded as fully human–can donate their organs to increase the healthy life of the “real” humans. The novel explores the experiences of Kathy (our narrator and protagonist), Ruth, and Tommy as they pass from boarding school, to young adulthood, to “completion”. The novel transports us to their early days as they attend a boarding school that focuses on keeping them healthy and teaches them to produce art–which in this society can be used to denote the presence of a soul. Art, especially when created by those clones who will donate their organs until “completion”, perhaps not only indicates humanity, but also can represent a piece of the clone that lives on after they have “completed” (much like how George Miller has explained that “the “half-life war boys” who are doomed to die young, and they worship cars because “the machines endure when they know they themselves will not.”)

Critics have apparently debated what genre to put this book in, but I’m willing to side with horror writer Ramsey Campbell who said in an interview that this books is horrific precisely because the characters don’t see the horror of their situation. I think this sentiment also applies to Fury Road—part of the reason that Immortan Joe is so terrifying is because the half-lives don’t see their situation as negative, even though they, like the clones in Never Let Me Go, have no real agency over their futures. As the clones are told, “Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you’re old, before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do. You’re not like the actors you watch on your videos, you’re not even like me. You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided.”

3. If you were fascinated by the disgusting, yet powerful system of authority set up by Immortan Joe

Zone One

Colson Whitehead (Anchor Books)

There’s no way I could make a dystopian book list and not include a novel about zombies, since the undead often operate as a catalyst of the apocalypse. This setting asks us to observe the way that authority reasserts itself in times of disorder, be it through webs of interpersonal microaggressions and community organization or authoritarian or military-style takeovers. Therefore in a book list that is Mad Max-inspired, I would recommend Zone One, where the desolate wasteland is not a parched, stormy desert, but the empty and barren shell of New York City.

Zone One imagines the emergence of a post-apocalyptic dystopia in the portrayal of the American Phoenix government (located in Buffalo) which tries to use the symbolic capital of New York City to promote its own authoritarian ends. The novels gives us a personal account of trauma, narrated by a black man who remembers his life pre-apocalypse and continues to make cognitive adjustments to the new world as he realizes that his mediocrity in the old world makes him the hero of the new.

The tie-in to Mad Max is in the way that the powers-that-be hoard resources and modify/sacrifice bodies as a way to further their own authority. In order to earn their keep, survivors like our protagonist (Mark) are required to do some sort of work—for example, Mark volunteers to be on a sweeper unit to clear NYC of its last remaining zombies. “We make tomorrow,” says the American Phoenix  in a call back to the puritanical work “ethic” that is responsible for humans being seen only through the lens of their labor efforts. The authorities in Buffalo are always sending along new rules and regulations to the sweeper teams: looting for example, is prohibited.  Buffalo even tries to regulate the responses that humans have to the trauma of apocalypse, categorizing all of their sensible psychological reactions to trauma as part of the “Post-Apocalyptic-Stress-Disorder,” a disease that can and should be fought. Suicide is a forbidden thought—new empires need to find some backs to build upon.

The narrative oscillates between Mark’s past and present, spiraling around his telling, eventually giving us a full picture of him: his narrative constructs his being. While there’s a good deal of recounted action and moments of high drama that will pull on your heartstrings, what’s really significant about Zone One is the sophistication with which it handles its subject matter. Ultimately, its about the way that bodies (living and dead), institutions and the city interact as separate sites of power during the post-apocalyptic reconstruction, with a particular sympathy for the individual experience. Furthermore, the language is just gorgeous. Whitehead chooses to have Mark narrate in 3rd person–a jarring experience at first–but one you quickly get accustomed to since Mark is an entertaining, thoughtful, and powerful narrator.

4. If you were really into the way that Mad Max: Fury Road gleefully embraced the action genre while simultaneously doing critical work

Watchmen

Alan Moore and David Gibbons (DC Comics)

Watchmen is Alan Moore’s imagining of an alternative history where masked vigilantes work for the government. At once a powerful meditation on justice and power and a biting critique of the superhero, Watchmen is both action-packed and philosophically rich as it forces readers to confront questions about the duty of the citizen, the workings of power, and the value of human life. The narrative is told in a kind of zig zag, traversing both time and space as the now aging superheroes confront the actions of their younger selves.

This passage encapsulates the spirit of the novel–really the spirit of the aesthetic that this book list is built upon: “Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world.”

The character that utters these words, Rorshach, is complicated. In some ways we could argue he is the protagonist (if we can agree that Watchmen has a singular protagonist) because we have unfettered access to his mind through his detailed journal; however, this journal reveals the severity of his bigotry, but also his hopeless resignation in a world made dark by the threat of war. Rorshach’s staunch, legalistic moral stance seems to have been conditioned by his exposure to violence, violence that was then replicated in his behavior, making him too a victim of his dark world.

Admittedly, Watchmen is not without its problems. The novels shows us scantily clad female superheroines and uses sexual violence and abuses as a trope meant to signify that the world is corrupt; but both of these elements could be explained by the work’s inherent parody of the superhero genre. However, the fact that the female characters are not actualized outside of their relationships with men is less easy to write off. Despite these issues, Watchmen is still worth the read, mostly because of the grand scope of its critique. It explicitly asks us to consider whether the ends of peace justify even the most horrific means–a question that I still believe is relevant, nigh essential, for us to fully consider as we rise against institutions that disenfranchise its citizens.

Alan Moore has also written V for Vendetta (another great read if you’re into graphic novels),  From Hell (Jack the Ripper in Victorian London) and The Killing Joke (which apparently Heath Ledger used as source material for his widely acclaimed portrayal of the Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight).

5. If you were really into the feminist readings of Mad Max or the society of the Many Mothers

Egalia’s Daughters

Gerd Brantenberg (Seal Press)

I first read this dystopian critique/novel in a women and gender studies class I took while in college. If I am to be honest, I find it comically heavy-handed in its satire:  The world is populated by wim and menwim, the latter of whom are relegated mostly to the domestic sphere while the former tend to the affairs of state. A masculinist party forms and threatens the extant power structures of Egalia—but this is all a backdrop for the coming of age story of young Petronius, the son of one of the powerful wim, Director Bram. The book hits you over the head with its critique, and it’s more than a little silly, but as one reviewer put it, “If it takes this reversal of roles for men to finally understand how women feel, to walk a mile in our bruising, too-tight, ill-fitting, high-heeled stilletto [sic] shoes, then I implore every man to read Egalia’s Daughters twice. It’s a real eye-opener, and maybe then the sexes can finally reach an understanding and possibly even reach equality.” Though I agree that the novel certainly highlights inequities in society, its real work is in showing that the real problem isn’t gender: it’s the way the power uses gender to establish hierarchies.

When Mad Max returns to Furiosa and her badass companions as they begin their trek across the desert, he comes with a plan: escaping isn’t the best way towards lasting satisfaction, peace, or redemption. Those purposes are best achieved through elimination of institutionalized inequity, ie. taking down the Citadel. The catch of course becomes—aren’t all forms of power in some way abusive? For now, until a sequel tells us differently, we can live in the vague hope that the populist impulses Max and Furiosa bring back to Immortan Joe’s people will last. But I suspect we’ll get to see more intricate workings of power in the post-apocalyptic landscape in future Mad Max films.