These days politics is a dirty word. A slur. A reason to yell, pick a side or exit the room, but on the eve of elections in the US, it is a fact of everyday discourse in America. It’s easy to forget that the word political means related to the ideas and strategies of government, governance, or public affairs. It can be related to a political party or an individual’s point of view on a subject. Nowhere in there does it say you have to yell. The point is to have a (hopefully informed) stance on the state of your government and how you would like it to operate on your behalf. No one is ABOVE or BELOW politics because it affects your daily life, like it or not. The question is do you drive the process or does the process drive you?
This is a sci-fi question. A fundamental, hit you in the gut, reality check question. What should we do when the aliens invade? Politics. Will we have clean water in 2121? Who will rule the Confederation of Intergalactic Planets? You get the idea… The answer depends on the strategies and ideas we employ today – the politics we apply today. The silver lining here, and in the books and movies we explore in this issue, is that it doesn’t have to be a froth-faced affair. Politics is about how you show up for the world you live in and create the world the future inherits. Choose wisely or some dude you don’t know will choose for you. Vote. Here’s a link to info on voting (and registering to vote) in the US and info on provisional ballots by state, just in case. We hope the selections this month inspire you to make your voice heard.
All Indie. All Awesome.
GB Hajim and Shelley Doty’s film Strange Frame (sometimes known as Strange Frame: Love & Sax) is an animated futuristic sci-fi indie which first released in 2012. Aside from its top-shelf voice talent roster – which includes Tim Curry, Claudia Black, Cree Summer, and Alan Tudyk, to name a few – it’s a melting pot of far-reaching ideas, tackling topics as detailed as class rebellion, slavery, corporate media control, sexual freedom, gender fluidity, mass-produced pop music, and modern warfare. Lesbian musicians Parker & Naia meet by chance during a violent political protest and instantly fall in love, with Naia becoming the new front-woman singer in Parker’s funk/reggae fusion band. The manner in which Strange Frame continuously rolls out new ideas and weird concepts within its cyberpunk motifs can be overstimulating, but there’s a sensitive, well-observed love story positioned underneath the beautiful noise. The animation is a little unusual, with a cut-out style that might take some getting used to, but it’s no reason to miss out on the frequency and density of its revolutionary ideas. You can pick up the film on Amazon, or directly from Wolfe Video.
Moving backwards in time to our present century, we have Sion Sono’s Suicide Club from 2001, a satirical shock-horror film about Japanese loneliness and pop-icon worship. Something of a divisive piece of agitprop and a (literal and figurative) cult film, Suicide Club is a memorable but impenetrable experience, which takes place in Tokyo during an inexplicable suicide epidemic. As police begin to investigate the heinous and sudden mass suicide of 54 teenage schoolgirls, they uncover an extensive array of puzzling evidence and red herrings, most of which seem to connect to a rock group called Dessart. It’s a movie more concerned with positioning disturbing imagery and ideas than delivering a coherent narrative, but there is something compelling in its depiction of contemporary Japan through haunting, sketch-like episodes; of these, the infamous bowling alley scene is potentially the most brutal, and features a (somewhat non-explicit, but no less powerfully disturbing) rape and murder scene that will undoubtedly trouble many viewers. Director Sono is leveraging the language of exploitation horror in a way that seems to leave little room for nuance, but Suicide Club retains the feel of a cultural allegory, even if its conclusions are inexorably unpleasant. If the tone puts you off but your interest remains piqued by Sono’s chaotic cinematic spirit, I’d recommend his more recent madcap Yakuza meta-film Why Don’t You Play in Hell? You can stream the film on Amazon, or purchase the DVD directly (note that the unrated versions are considerably more expensive at time of this writing).
Visual artist Shirin Neshat began her foray into film with 2009’s Women Without Men, which takes the Iranian coup of 1953 and uses it as a canvas for a feminist, magically-realistic cultural drama. Co-directing alongside Shoja Azari, the film is based on a novel by Shahrnush Parsipur, and is centered on four women in Tehran, all of whom are affected by pre- and post-coup Iranian society in different ways, based on their class; for instance, one is a sex worker while another is a military general’s wife. These women’s lives are unified through a mystical orchard that serves as a kind of sacred, protected space, offering them connectivity and succor while a complicated political theater rampages in the near distance. The combination of the historical with the fantastical gives Women Without Men a somewhat surreal, unpredictable atmosphere, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. While the film received something of a mixed critical response on release, I recommend it highly, especially for its sumptuous framing and poetic script, appraisals I would similarly grant to Neshat’s recent Looking for Oum Kulthum. You can stream the film on Amazon with an Indiepix Unlimited subscription, or purchase the DVD directly.
Cog, by K. Ceres Wright. We’ve all felt at some point that we’re nothing but machines to move some unseen juggernaut’s inner workings forward click by click. Pink Floyd sang about it in The Wall. The film Brazil (1985) illustrated this perfectly. And Cog, by K. Ceres Wright says we’re not only physical gears, but data meant only to run the machine’s myriad subsystems.
Wright posits a future where corporations and technology no longer adopt the pretense of serving consumers. People are literally products: personalities get swapped and bought as a matter of daily life, rendering the notion of the individual, in the political sense, obsolete. That the book frames this within a cyber who-dunit-slash-dynastic thriller (the protagonist, Nicholle Ryder, is the daughter of the world’s highest-ranking corporate entity) makes the reading refreshing and resonant.
The politics of money and consumerism are powerful drugs. When all the world’s addicted, will it still matter who rules who?
New Kings of Tomorrow, by J.M. Clark. Plague stories are always good fodder for political maze-running. When people are at their weakest they want help, and will accept salvation from nearly any source. Thing is, those sources aren’t always (or—as in the real world—rarely) operating with thoughts toward our best interests.
This book has traces of the biblical Book of Job to it. A young man with the world ahead of him loses everything. Before he can recover, the world itself loses everything: a plague sweeps the world like wildfire.
Protected, sealed communities are built around healthy survivors. A religious order (religion is politics, let no one tell you otherwise) becomes the de facto ruling body, and institutes policies of “rehabilitation” to eliminate the sins they saw as contributing to the plague’s retribution.
This first book in the series has been described as “The Handmaid’s Tale, Under the Dome, The Dark Tower, and The Maze Runner intertwined into a page-turning thriller”; what J.M. Clark has done is look under the skin of anti-septic Utopian salvation to show how easy it is to spread a different type of disease, that of thinking “the other” must be healed, cleansed, fixed, or eliminated.
The Future is Female, edited by Lisa Yaszek. Apropos of recent “discussions” (to be gentle; ongoing battle against a vindictive patriarchy to be real), this selection puts the contributions in science fiction by women writers undeniably and unabashedly out front.
There’s a contingent within the genre-community that continues to insist anyone but straight white men with decidedly militaristic leanings is not now, nor have been, writing real science fiction.
Lisa Yaszek (who knows more about science fiction than a sack full of fanbois) steps up and presents to us 25 classic stories by women sci fi writers from the 20s to the 60s, stories that range from “Space-opera heroines, gender-bending aliens, post-apocalyptic pregnancies, changeling children, interplanetary battles of the sexes” and more, from sci fi legends to little-known surprises.
Just looking at some of the titles lets you know you’re in for a socio-political ride: C. L. Moore, The Black God’s Kiss (1934); Leslie Perri, Space Episode (1941); Kate Wilhelm, Baby, You Were Great (1967); this is a collection that readers will find a universe of relevance in, and will come away with a greater knowledge of the history of science fiction in the United States and the world in general, and the politics of gender. Knowledge is not only power, but the road to truth.
1984. It’s not indie (although it’s nearly public domain by dint of its worldwide relevance and popularity). When George Orwell wrote this dystopian nightmare it was as a warning shot to those who were too complacent to heed a cry. Readers were horrified by a future where truth was whatever the State said it was, war was positioned to the masses as peace, and technological surveillance was not only a necessity but—for the watched—a service for their safety and convenience.
This book said that the ultimate act of political affront to the State was the simple act of loving each other. It said that politics, if unwatched and unguarded, was a tool in the hands of politicians to secure permanent wealth and status for themselves, while keeping those governed distracted by the daily motions to survive.
Orwell’s 1984 has been studied up and down, been made the subject of countless think pieces, films, and YA ripoffs; it’s inspired generations to fight against entropy, injustice, and social malaise…
…Although now it seems those who wanted entropy, injustice and social malaise very quietly and very sneakily realized they could use the book as an instruction manual.
But no matter how co-opted, this remains a book that will not be silenced. It proclaimed a message the first day it rolled off the presses and it proclaims it today: Don’t let this happen, don’t let this come.