dystopia

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 9.5.2014
Book from: Library

Fashion Beast is a 10-issue comic written by Alan Moore, Malcom McLaren [yes, that Malcolm McLaren – father-of-punk Malcolm McLaren], and Antony Johnston, with art and colors by Facundo Percio.

“Doll was unfulfilled in her life as a coat checker of a trendy club. But when she is fired from the job and auditions to become a “mannequin” for a reclusive designer, the life of glamour she always imagined is opened before her. She soon discovers that the house of Celestine is as dysfunctional as the clothing that define the classes of this dystopian world. And she soon discovers that the genius of the designer is built upon a terrible lie that has influence down to the lowliest citizen.”

Such a whitebread back-cover description! Some high-concept terms that get at it better: Beauty & the Beast in a rotting, faintly fascist retro-future city on the brink of nuclear winter, with a lot of gender ambiguity and sundry, Gormenghastly gothic touches.

Surprisingly, despite all those Emera-tuned keywords, I didn’t love this, and primarily because I didn’t enjoy the art. I quite liked Percio’s penciling (especially his pacing of gestures and facial expressions from panel to panel), but the colors are everything I dislike about digital color in comics: every surface airbrushed into metallic smoothness, plus periwinkle shadows for everyone’s skin in case they didn’t already look enough like metal. Also, for a comic that’s about clothes wearing people rather than the other way round, the fashion is disappointingly boring: all basic, flat Neo-Edwardian silhouettes. I wish it had exerted more visual seduction.

Otherwise, I found the comic to be an enjoyably rich text. In the days after I’d read it, I thought through its themes repeatedly. It’s a darkly cheeky satire on celebrity and image – very similar there to Watchmen, really, but more winking, a bit more knowingly confected, and targeted more specifically at myths of creative genius, and consumerism. The allegorical elaborations are anchored by characters who are developed just enough to read as prickly, human, and sympathetic.

I can’t seem to find this review anymore, but I had read one that mentioned the troubling erasure of the initially apparently queer characters: the girl who looks like a boy who looks like a girl, ends up clinching happily and heterosexually with the boy who looks like a girl who looks like a boy… I wish I could find that review to credit it, because it made the ending of the comic click for me: “But that’s the POINT!” The provocateur who seeks validation and fame by way of the establishment ends up becoming the establishment; the consumerist machine chews its way forward; the walls close in again. Also, everyone’s going to die in a nuclear apocalypse anyway.

A side note on said nuclear apocalypse that I loved: the creepy background notes riffing on the hollowness of fashion – the use of uninhabited, remote-controlled radiation suits to patrol and reclaim destroyed areas, for example. Who cares why they would be suits rather than just robots, when it’s such a great image?

All in all, Fashion Beast would easily have been a favorite if not for my feelings on the art. Do pick it up if you like Moore’s other work, or enjoy dystopias and dark fairy tales.

Go to:
Alan Moore: bio and works reviewed

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Date read: 6.11.11
Read from: Subterranean Press Magazine
Reviewer: Emera

Assorted thoughts on K. J. Bishop’s “The Heart of a Mouse,” which recently won the Aurealis Award for Best SF Short Story. All the other reviews I’ve linked below offer good summaries of the story, if you’d like more situational context.

First thought: This isn’t (just) post-apocalyptic, it’s a dystopia. The government just happens to be invisible, unless maybe one considers an amoral universe – strange, brutal, incomprehensible from the individual perspective – to be a “governing body”… But there’s an inflexible class system/food chain:

“Deros and trogs and dogs live in towns, cats roam. Dogs and cats hunt everything except angels and bactyls. Volk hunt big game, raid towns and hold rallies. Pigs eat anything dead except angels, and bactyls eat anything dead and anything alive that doesn’t move fast enough to get away. Dreams hunt everything, eat anything. Angels don’t eat, but they kill, which comes to the same thing for you and me. And that’s all. It isn’t so much to keep in your head.”

and the economy likewise boasts all the flexibility and diversity of the shop system in a low-budget first-person shooter (more on this later). (Also, irony alert re: the role of the “dreams” in the food web.) The system – “mom and pop” shops, pig farms that provide wages and canned pork – keeps running stably enough to keep alive the inhabitants who don’t get themselves eaten by something else, and we’re given no reason to believe it won’t keep working that way. The end of the story sees one of the last few wrinkles in the system being ironed out, in a brief, carefully affectless paragraph of description that I found one of the most moving in the story. Against the backdrop of mouse-dad’s macho sentimentality, it’s the mostly uncommentated incidents that stand out, cleanly foregrounding the story’s surreal horror/beauty. The last image in the story is unforgettable, especially since I’m always a sucker for the kind of monstrousness embodied in Bishop’s many-faced, many-eyed angels and dreams. What is it about nephilim, seraphim, the angels in Neon Genesis Evangelion, that is so uniquely sublime and unnerving?

Second thought: This is what life would be like in a video game, but one without even the comfort of an objective, let alone a glowing textbox at the end to tell you you can progress to the next stage. Just enough rules exist to make it clear how terrifyingly arbitrary it is that any rules exist at all – who’s setting and enforcing them? Weapons and supplies and what amount to NPCs “punch in” at apparently predetermined intervals, and again there’s that disturbingly cartoonish food chain, that reads much like a game manual’s bestiary…

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The New York Times interviews a bunch of notable YA/sff authors (and one academic) on what they think is driving the “dystopian trend” in current YA fiction.

It struck me as being a little bit silly that they didn’t interview any actual young adult readers, but it’s still interesting to see the varieties of cynicism and optimism represented.

– E

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