Seize the Means of (Re)Production; Become Your Own Ant Queen

The mother-song rings chemical
The cutting time is nigh
Mandibles twitch, The Swarm is heaving
We are all one body.

Our backs haul the leaves Titanic
Green sails for fungal spores
Larvae hunger, The Swarm is leaving
The sap is running thick.

Stunted wings and gonads nascent
Regal dreams stir outwards
The Mother’s chosen grubs are feasting
For grace of queen go we.

Something stirs
Something breaks
The Swarm is doing what the Swarm is doing
The Swarm is closing in.

Wee bodies scattered hasty,
Deficits caloric
Shape us in the vortex-form
The spinning Swarm is weaving.

The fungal milk will curdle
In gasters ossified
Pupae split and chitin cracks
The hungry Swarm is grieving.

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Everything Stinks in the Jaw of the Beast

An arched red ceiling lies rigid above, a wet writhing carpet below.
Ivory curtains enclose the beast’s softness, speckled with scraps of dead friends.
Everything rushes towards the black sphincter, esophagal, anal, unwidening.
The roots of the curtains are pockmarked and reddened.
The roots of the curtains are bleeding.
The roots of the curtains are tender, soft, yielding.
Human faces embedded and raw.
The roots of the curtains reach out to the lips.
Sustained by the monster’s soft lineage.
Gingivitic, gingivivial, gingivital, generic bacteria creep and inflame.
Plaque erodes ivory, cavities emerge, and slime hunkers down in new darkness.
Cytoplasm trembles, enamel wears down, metastasis waits in the wings.
We have always been being eaten.
Some day a tooth may fall out.

15 Technically True Facts About Animals

An animal can chase the storm.
An animal can fly.
An animal can bridle fear,
and ride it off to gore.
An animal can spark a heat
to dwarf the risen sun.

An animal can wear a shell
An animal can lurk.
An animal can sprout new bones
where heart and lung should be
An animal can feel its web
of atoms growing slow

An animal can learn its name
An animal forgets.
An animal can twist its skin
with mutant colors bright.
An animal can carve its face
on sacred mountain sides

An animal can photograph the growing pains of time.
An animal can see with eyeball, schnoz, wet forking tongue,
antennae, skin, electropulse,
camera lens, long white cane,
Labrador with leather tether,
crystal ball, and hate.
An animal can smell your fear.

Review: Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny

At the end of the 21st century the rich are able to extend their lifespans up to three centuries with highly expensive medication. The cause of this expense is implied to be proprietary; the medication doesn’t require tremendous resources to create, but the patent is enforced with Orwellian fervor. Laurie Penny’s Everything Belongs to the Future is an incisive work of science fiction, exploring classic transhuman anxieties with a keen political eye.
 
Penny plants her readers in the world of Alex, an undercover agent in deep cover as a member of a radical art collective living in opposition to the life-extension procedure. He insinuates himself into the group, living in their colony, participating in their resistance efforts and even starting a relationship with one of the other members. The text and its afterword leave no room for ambiguity: Alex, by his actions, is a rapist. He manipulates a woman, Nina, into sleeping with him under false pretenses and violates her right to make her own choices in ways both subtle and overt. Penny is unflinching in her condemnation of her protagonist’s behavior and its real-world antecedents. While Alex may admit to feelings of guilt about betraying his friends and Nina politically, his narration still grasps to rationalize his rape. He convinces himself that he is betraying Nina for her own sake, in order to protect their love. This self-deceit only collapses when Penny’s female characters are able to speak up, dismantling his excuses with a few stark proclamations.
 
The stakes are high in Everything Belongs to the Future, and while Penny never lets her reader excuse Alex’s rape she does provide the tools to understand how a man like him would come to be. Alex is, at his core, a selfish coward. When his handlers offer him a 50-year life extension in exchange for his service, he’s unable to refuse. When he believes himself to have fallen in love he tries to secure the same deal for his ‘partner’ (a term he uses only grudgingly, as a sop to Nina’s notions of equality). He claims that once the deal’s made clear she’ll “have to” forgive him. Never mind the fact that Nina is radically opposed to the life extension procedure, never mind that his end of the deal requires him to double-down on thwarting the activism that gives her purpose. However much he may think in terms of love, Alex ultimately sees Nina as an item to be possessed.
 
I can’t cast myself as an expert on Laurie Penny, but she is a journalist whose work I’ll always make time to read when I come across it. It’s thrilling to see her branch out into the world of science fiction, and I came into this book with high expectations. If you’re a fan of Penny’s generally, then Everything Belongs to the Future should not disappoint. If you haven’t checked out her non-fiction, consider giving some of it a peek if this book appeals to you.
 
Everything Belongs to the Future is a quick read, and while some of its thematic territory is well-trod the characters are believable and well realized. While it devotes most of its time to the process of radicalization, the injustice of medical inequality and the leverage of the state into an apparatus of rape culture, it also takes time to explore the worth of art in human life and the immeasurability of time. Penny’s journalistic background feeds seamlessly into her fiction as the text repeatedly signals the real-life seeds from which her story is grown. As far as I understand this is Penny’s first major work of fiction, but it’s clear that her political insight will make her a major asset within the Sci-Fi genre for as long as she cares to dwell there.

Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

“Every man’s got a little bad in him.”
 
Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw is a brisk noir novel crammed with secret cults and Lovecraftian monsters. More importantly, it’s a story about domestic violence and toxic masculinity. It opens with a haunted 10-year-old boy hiring one Mister Persons. Mister Persons is an ancient, psychic thing wearing the body of an aged PI. As the young man plants his piggy bank on Mister Persons’s desk he drops his bomb-shell: his step-dad is a monster, and he wants to hire another monster to kill him.
 
The job takes Mister Persons through the decaying homes, restaurants and factories of working-class London. Every step of the way he’s confronted with body-horror mutants and rebuffed by scared bystanders. An infection is worming through the homes of London, one that warps human mass into a shifting soup of eyes, fangs and spores. Throughout the novel people look the other way, too weighed down by daily life to fight the beasts living in their husbands and fathers.
 
Khaw does a beautiful job of infusing Mister Persons with reluctant menace. It becomes clear early on that his hardboiled persona is like a sort of memetic cage, channeling his impulses into a fascimile of humanity. Mister Persons internal world is described in smooth, hard-boiled prose, slightly at odds with the modern vernacular of the people he runs into. He deviates most when describing human body language, viewed with the alien precision of an entomologist dissecting a spider. The other monsters in Khaw’s London are less refined, their language degrading into some eldritch tongue as they lose their grips on the identities they’ve stolen.
 
Mister Persons is more eloquent, more refined, and perhaps more conflicted, but he’s no less dangerous than the beasts infecting London. Khaw shows this in distressingly familiar terms. We see him loom over abused women, violate strangers with a casual touch, and pick up other people’s kids at school, with bystanders whispering at the edges. His very presence is invasive, opening up telepathic streams. He’s tempted to write this telepathic violation off as something natural, like breathing, but even he knows that’s a weak excuse. Persons doesn’t rationalize his existence so much as fantasize about a better one. He returns again and again to fantasies about heroism without ever really indulging. “I’m not one for a fine touch,” he tells himself. “I’m a man.” But he’s not a man. He’s some kind of thing– a psychic parasite warping the flesh of its host body. Unless, of course, that’s all a ‘man’ is.
 
I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for media that reworks Lovecraft’s mythos into something more personal. While the uncaring gaze of the cosmos isn’t without its charms it loses its punch once you’ve digested a bit of existentialism. Khaw’s horrors are different. The Abyss may still lurk in the background but its pointy, scary bits are not just human, they’re familiar. If anything, the bubbling body-horror scenes help take the edge of the nauseating subtext of gnawing capitalism, domestic abuse and useless bystanders.

Lesser Evils: Supervillain Presidencies as Rated in Units of Trump

Magneto:
magneto
Cons: repeated flip-flops with regard to exterminating the human race, mixed record as leader of the mutant nation Genosha, hangs out with a weird little Toad-man
Pros: First Jewish president, might be the only force capable of fixing America’s gun problem, dashing purple cape
Rating: 0.5 Trumps. Magneto has exhibited a murderous streak at times, but he’s also demonstrated a willingness to work across the aisle and cooperate with the X-men to take down greater threats such as the mutant pharaoh Apocalypse and Ted Cruz.
The Penguin
penguinbatman
Cons: Extensive ties to organized crime and Tim Burton, raw fish breath is off-putting to other heads of state,
 
Pros: Executive experience in his role as mayor of Gotham, accomplished negotiator, classy dresser
 
Rating: 0.4 Trumps. As a craven one-percenter with an unhealthy fixation on his weird hands, The Penguin shares many of Trump’s insecurities. On the other hand, he’s much more likely to take aggressive action against climate change in order to preserve his supply of exotic birds.
 
Krang:
krang
Cons: Rocky relations with Dimension X, aggressively interventionist approach to interdimensional relations, running mate is some kind of obese mute robot in a speedo
 
Pros: genius-level intellect, hypnosis powers could benefit international diplomacy, owns a badass technodrome
 
Rating: 0.7 Trumps. A Krang presidency would arguably be pretty good for America, but disastrous for the cosmos. As an evil brain in a robot body, Krang outpowers Trump in both intellect and physical prowess. He’s likely to transform the country into an interdimensional super power, but there’s going to be at least a couple alien genocides in the process.
 
Bane:
bane_breaks_batman
Cons: Venom addiction can lead to erratic behavior, gives undue access to lobbyists from the League of Shadows, tiny American flag pins cannot penetrate his rippling pectorals
 
Pros: classic Jesuit education, rags-to-riches background, capable of out-wrestling Vladimir Putin
 
Rating: 0.15 Trumps. As a drug-addicted authoritarian with a propensity for violence, Bane falls well within the political norm. As president he’d be one of the great showmen of American history, and while breaking the backs of one’s political rivals makes for a bad democracy, it makes for great television.
The Red Skull:
red-skull
Cons: Sworn enemy of America, Literal Nazi, lipless visage makes his ‘b’s sound weird, alt-right followers responsible for some truly disgusting red Pepes
 
Pros: Uh… Nah.
 
Rating: 1.25 Trumps. While the Red Skull has demonstrated greater restraint with Weapons of Mass Destruction than Trump is likely to, he was also the direct protege of Adolf Hitler. This is the kind of guy who lives in a place called The Skull House.
Image Attributions:
Art from Uncanny X-Men Vol 4 #5, Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Nolan Woodard
Art from the Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition, by Brian Bolland
Screenshot Teenage Mutant Turts (1987 Series)
Art from Batman #497 by Jim Aparo
Art from Uncanny Avengers #1 by John Cassaday

Stranger Things and MK Ultra: Digesting an American Atrocity

America, like most nations, is built from conspiracy and atrocity. Our history, like more histories, attempts to fit these bloody materials into a shape that makes them coherent, even necessary. Of all the known chapters of American history, the Cold War is one of the most surreal. From exploding cigars to cats with radio-skulls, CIA documents from this era read like cartoon fever dreams. Project MK Ultra, one of the most infamous dips into the surreal from this era, has recently found a new audience in the form of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things. By pushing these events into the realm of the fantastic, Stranger Things allows us to better digest them, dissolving historical shame with nostalgia.
 
The MK Ultra project is an essential component of paranormal activity within the Stranger Things universe. For those unfamiliar, MK Ultra was a government investigation into mind control using sensory deprivation and surreptitious doses of LSD. Many test subjects had limited or outright fabricated knowledge of what was happening and why. It has been alleged that at least one man involved with the project was later assassinated to keep its secrets. Though the project itself is mentioned only briefly, its DNA is evident across the activities of the series’ central conspiracy. Dr. Brenner’s lab is more than willing to mistreat its subjects and to assassinate anyone who gets too close.
 
Stranger Things also mediates huge portions of its story through the characters’ and audience’s fantasies. The topography of the kids’ world is written in cultural references to D&D, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and that world is depicted to the audience through allusions to the works of artists like The Clash and Stevens King and Spielberg. The Upside Down itself seems to be a dark mirror of our world, with many of the same pieces shaded by unearthly falling ash and eternal darkness. We access it through the deepest parts of our minds, and sometimes something terrible can break through to wreck us.
 
Armored in layers of nostalgia, the Stranger Things kids are the perfect foils to the shady conspiracy of The Upside Down. In their conflict we see the struggle between two different views of our history. On the one hand we have the threatening atrocities of our pasts, pointedly represented by government agents and disappearing friends. On the other hand we have our own idealized childhoods, rich with levels of adventure, camaraderie and competence rarely exhibited by actual children. These are the latch-key kids Baby Boomers dream of having been, up against nakedly evil, basically faceless enemies.
 
Anyone paying attention to the populist rhetoric of the American right should recognize some of these themes. The Duffer brothers beautifully illustrate the tension between the narrative that the American government is innately evil and the narrative that America was once great. I doubt anyone involved in the production of Stranger Things is a Trump supporter, but the show does play with one string on the right wing’s Fascist banjo. When Trump’s most immediate prototype, Sarah Palin, refers to “real America,” many in her audience likely picture a place similar to Hawkins, Indiana. To whatever extent they think of America’s historical atrocities, they either simplify them to justify the resulting status quo, or castigate them as unAmerican intrusions into a patriotic ideal.
 
Ultimately, Stranger Things’ depiction of the past mythologizes it. Wicked and maddening events, like MKUltra, are sublimated into science fiction, blending seamlessly with the paranormal elements invented by the creators. Regular citizens are depicted as plucky heroes in natural opposition to the corrupting influence of the outside. Crucially, the audience is allowed to imagine itself as innocent, and to quarantine any disruption of that innocence within the fantastical realm of The Upside Down.
 
Now, it would be silly to allege that the Duffer Brothers are intentionally trying to obfuscate the reality of the MK Ultra project. Their own claim, that they wanted to root their fantasy in something plausible to give it weight, rings true. But narrative, and fantasy in particular, performs many functions in our minds and one of those functions is to ease anxiety and structure a world of conflicting inputs. This gives us clarity and comfort at the expense of smoothing over some of reality’s rough edges. It’s perfectly natural that this narrative catharsis would mirror the rhetorical catharsis offered by the right wing. In both situations the audience has a need to see itself as pure and good while dwelling in the shadow of history.
 
We must transform our past into narrative in order to contain it in our minds. This is a dangerous opportunity; writing history requires  us to rewrite the past, just as accessing a memory corrupts it. In this transformation, we can pretend our childhood friend groups were more capable, more charming, more loyal than they actually were. We can tell ourselves that we listened to all the coolest music right as it was coming out. We can rewrite our histories until we emerge as their heroes, and reclassify as fantasy those atrocities that we cannot accept.