Little Moments of Normal
As a lot of people have already commented, Anti-Gone is a weird book. It is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever read. It treats the strange as commonplace, abruptly changes scene, sometimes without regard for the previous scenes, and overall doesn’t care much about making sense. For me, this made the few moments of normalcy it did give us stand out all the more.
Several instances of normalcy really stood out to me. The most obvious one is when the little Salesman character reappears and we get to see his normal life. He drinks coffee, forgets which remote is which, and has awkward exchanges with his doorman. It was so surreal in this strange story, to see this cartoon character have a normal night, after seeing the bizarre “The Readers” movie, and seeing Lynxia get caught up in a random riot.
Another moment that, while not exactly normal, stood out to me, came just before the start of “The Readers,” when Lynxia and Spyda have a genuinely nice moment for once. Throughout much of the story, Spyda and Lynxia are usually fighting or disagreeing. Other times, Lynxia seems entirely disinterested in, and even fed up with, Spyda and his antics. It made me wonder why they were together in the first place. However, when they share a moment laughing over some popcorn, one can almost see why these two people would be traveling the post-apocalyptic wasteland together.
Drugs as Augmented Reality in Anti-Gone
The scene with the drug dealer in Anti-Gone made me think about how we use drugs in the real world to augment our realities. However, while alcohol, weed, and other drugs can change how we see the world and how we act, they have nothing on the crazy and creative drugs being sold in the story. From a drug that induces nostalgia, to a drug that gives you the feeling of acceptance of a near death experience, the drugs on sale in Anti-Gone sounded incredibly interesting. By exaggerating their effects, and making these effects super specific, Willumsen is drawing attention to how drugs in the real world work to change our reality.
I also thought the type of drugs each of the main characters were interested in was informative for their characters. Spyda, who is laid-back, positive, and want’s to experience things, ends up buying a bit of everything. The girl (now that I’m thinking of it, I don’t know her name yet) is only interested in the N.D.E. Throughout the story thus far, she is uninterested in her fantastical surroundings, even saying how she is “deeply bored.” She often seems exasperated with Spyda’s antics, and even reads Senate reports in her spare time, rather than interact with him. For her, a near death experience would sound great. She would welcome a strong, overwhelming feeling, since she doesn’t seem to feel much of anything toward the world in the rest of the story.
A Masterclass in Discomfort
Reading The Handmaids Tale made me quite uncomfortable, and at times angry. This is exactly the feeling that Margaret Atwood was going for when she wrote the book, and it works incredibly well. There are any number of factors in the book that contribute to this feeling of disquiet. The way that those in power in this new world use such familiar rhetoric is one example. We have all heard people victim-blame rape victims, and Atwood alludes to this, but also dials it up to its extreme in the scene where all the other Handmaids chant that it is Janine’s own fault that she got gang-raped, that she led her rapists on. This scene was horrifying to me, and was made even more so by the fact that we have heard these opinions before in real life.
The structure of the story also contributes to my unease. Atwood throws us right into the middle of the story, into a world already conquered by this ideology. This world is vaguely familiar, but horrifyingly different all the same. As time goes on, flashbacks reveal more of Offred and the world that she is living in, while the story is still going on. This creates a sense of confusion in the reader, as we try to piece together what happened to create this world, and keep track of what is going on in the story. As we discussed in class, this method was far more effective at creating an atmosphere of dread and hopelessness than the movie, which moved chronologically.
Other ways the story made me feel uncomfortable include not using quotation marks during the flashbacks, making me constantly question what is actually being said, the strange, at times detached writing style, and the feeling of resignation and hopelessness that everyone seems to exhibit toward their roles in society. Atwood masterfully used all aspects of her story to make a male reader, such as myself, uncomfortable with the conflict between the familiarity and foreignness of what we were reading, on top of the disturbing, horrifying subject matter. Even if I don’t always enjoy reading it, I believe this is a superb piece of literature.
Virtual Reality in ‘Facade’
When I initial read the last Sandman short story, Facade, for this class, I did not think it connected to the class theme of virtual reality all that well. I took the story at ‘face’ value, and thought only about Urania’s dream sequence as relating to our class. However, after further reflection, and our discussions today in class, I realized that there are several other aspects that reflect the themes of our class. To look further at the dream, I believe this works as an exploration of virtual reality in two ways. On the first level, it is a dream, a flashback, it is not really happening. On the second level, even within the dream, things don’t play out in exactly the way they did in reality. Urania remarks that “This didn’t happen. It was just the stone. It didn’t happen like this.” when dreaming about the sun god Ra confronting her and grabbing her. It is a virtual reality within the dream itself, a representation of how Ra forced her to change and ruined her life.
The other part of the story I though related to the theme of virtual realities was the masks that Urania wears to appear normal. These masks give the illusion of her being normal, as though the accident never happened. Although this is the reality she prefers, it cannot last, since the masks inevitably fall off and reveal her true self. This adds to the tragic nature of the whole story.
Neil Gaiman has, over the years, become one of my favorite authors, and the Sandman series was my introduction to his works. Rereading Dream Country now that I have read the rest of his catalogue, it is impossible not to notice some of the common Gaiman themes and ideas in these stories. The first is his use of myths in a modern setting. In his books American Gods and Anansi Boys, and in the story of Calliope, he takes gods and creatures out of classical mythology and twists them to fit into todays world. Another aspect I noticed was Gaiman’s love of storytelling. This is evident in pretty much all of his works, including the two we read for class on Wednesday. The first story is about writers, and offers a twisted look at how they get their ideas. Furthermore, A Dream of a Thousand Cats features one of Gaiman’s favorite writing devices: characters telling stories within his own story. This is a classic example of this idea. In Gaiman’s story, the kitten is listening to an older cat tell a story, in which Morpheus is telling that cat yet another story. This is classic Gaiman, and brought a wry small to my face when I recognized what he was doing. I am looking forward to seeing what other classic Gaiman tropes I will find in the last two stories in this work.
An unlikable protagonist
While much has been made of how unreliable the narrator in “The Invention of Morel” is, I also found our paranoid fugitive to be, at times, a distinctly unlikable protagonist. This made it all the more impressive that I still found myself sympathetic to his plight, and interested in the story.
The narrator is a bit crazy, which is understandable, but does not make him easy to relate to. He is trapped on an island, hunted for a crime he didn’t commit, and surrounded by fantastical projections of people. Anyone would be a little loopy. However, it is the way this madness accentuates common human characteristics that most affected me. The narrator is extremely paranoid, believing at several points in the story that the people throwing a party on this deserted island are part of some elaborate ruse by the police to catch him. Although this doesn’t make any sense, if the police knew he was there, why would they waste time throwing this strange party for weeks on end to catch him, he brings up the possibility several times throughout the story. The most striking was immediately after he heard Morel’s explanation of his machine. Even after hearing the reason for all the strange happenings around the island, he still believes that it is about him. This reflects people’s natural self-centeredness. We often believe everything revolves around us. So when this point is brought to its extreme in “The Invention of Morel”, it annoyed me, but also made me think.
I also didn’t like the narrator’s treatment of Faustine, and women in general. Obviously he was projecting onto her throughout the story. He very much objectified her, and, even if she turned out to be a projection, indeed, almost an object, it still did not endear the narrator to me.
Despite all of this, I still found the book a fascinating and fun read, and was especially interested in our main character. This shows how well written “The Invention of Morel” was.
Hackable Brains as Virtual Reality
I recently watched the original animated Ghost in the Shell movies, and found that the themes they explore are very similar to the themes of this class. These movies take place in a world in which humanity has, to a great extent, merged with machines to become cyborgs. Since humans have become so intertwined with computers, it is possible to hack into peoples brains and install false memories or experiences in order to manipulate them. The films basically questions whether or not these implanted memories can help define who a person is. They never really happened, but to the person who has been hacked, they seem as real as any other memories, and influence them just the same. Even if they find out which memories were implanted, they often have no way of recovering their original memories. This connects to the course, since the characters have experienced a virtual reality that became their actual reality, and this virtual reality may have irreparably changed who they are.
The Wicked Witch of the West
The Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most iconic villains in movie history. Her green skin, black clothes, and cackling laugh have terrified children for generations. She even has a hit Broadway musical about her backstory. Therefore, I was very surprised to find what a minor and unthreatening character the Wicked Witch of the West actually was in the book. She appears in only one chapter of the book, and seems quite cowardly and weak. She relies on her animal servants to capture Dorothy and her friends, and when this fails, has to make use of the Flying Monkeys. Even after capturing Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion, she is too afraid of the charm on Dorothy to harm her, and too afraid of the Lion’s roar to go near him. She is even afraid of the dark! Finally, she pulls her grand trick of having Dorothy trip in order to steal one of the Silver Shoes, and is promptly melted when Dorothy throws some water on her. It was a very anticlimactic appearance for such a memorable and important character from the movie.