Back in 2017 a right-wing science fiction publisher by the name of Superversive Press put out a book entitled MAGA 2020 & Beyond. The volume offered a set of short stories by various authors imagining the rosy future to be brought about by the newly-minted President Trump.
The book has a tangled history. It started life at British publisher Horrified Press, which had previously released the anti-Trump anthology Trumpocalypse and intended to follow it up with a companion volume called Trumptopia. Publisher and authors had different visions for this project: while at least some of the writers were sincere in their affection for 45, editorial appears to have envisioned something more ironic and tongue-in-cheek – not to mention a bit twisted (Horrified Press does, after all, specialise in horror).
The breaking point came when Horrified Press unveiled the cover, which showed Trump admiring the severed heads of Kim Jong-Un and Fidel Castro. A number of contributors objected to this macabre vision of the POTUS’ interior décor (you can read an account by one author here) so they migrated from Horrified to Superversive. House artist Dawn Witzke slapped on a new cover, curiously showing a brick wall being built between Trump and the US flag, and MAGA 2020 & Beyond was born.
Since then, it’s aged like the finest mayonnaise.
Now that the book’s entire premise has been confined to alternate history, I couldn’t resist reviewing it. There was one small problem in that Superversive has since shut down as a publisher and took both ebook and print versions of the anthology with it. The audiobook version is still available, but it carries a hefty price tag of sixteen quid. Fortunately, though, I had not yet joined Audible – which means that upon signing up I was entitled to a free audiobook. My choice? MAGA 2020 & Beyond.
And so, I invite you to accompany me on a journey through the land of Orange Man Good…
Foreword by Milo Yiannopoulos
Here we have something that was dated even when the book was published. For those unaware, Milo Yiannopoulos was a rising star of the right-wing punditsphere in the run-up to Trump’s election. His employer Breitbart had even begun officially referring to him as “MILO” – not merely placing him on the level of Madonna and Cher, but one-upping them by putting his mononym in all-caps. But then it became widespread knowledge that he had argued in favour of adults having sex with 13-year-olds and his career tanked.
Superversive was one of the outlets that stood by his side, but even so, his presence here is just a tiny bit embarrassing. (In the years since then, he’s been reduced to moaning about the 2020 election on Parler).
Well, anyway. His foreword opens with the assertion that “once upon a time the left had imagination”, with Yiannopoulos citing Asimov, Orwell and Vonnegut as examples. “Where are the Orwells and Vonneguts and the Asimovs today?” he asks. “Are there no imaginative left-wing writers still around?” He then offers a brisk survey of modern leftish writers he deems worthy of recognition, while offering a caveat for each one.
He brings up Lionel Shriver, but claims that she’s been disowned by the rest of the left for questioning the concept of cultural appropriation. Next on the list is J. K. Rowling: according to Yiannopoulos the Harry Potter books ultimately affirm conservatism by having Harry settle down with a wife, kids and stable job in a “conventional middle-class arrangement”. He makes a similar observation about the Fifty Shades of Grey series and his presumed conclusion of A Song of Ice and Fire: “Even left-wing authors are often conservative by accident, then.” In the Trump era, he claims, left-wing writers are merely looking back towards past works (he cites the television adaptation of A Handmaid’s Tale) or indulging in cheap murder fantasies (he cites Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and the film Death of a President, both of which predate Trump’s presidency). Finally, he bigs up MAGA 2020 & Beyond:
All of this presents a golden opportunity for the right. With the rise of alternative media and alternative publishing, they can no longer be kept away from an audience by the commissars of literature. And with the left distracted by anger, the field is theirs. Now is the time to revive the spirit of Orwell and Vonnegut. To produce literature that actually makes people think and doesn’t come from a place of childish rage. This collection of short stories is a reminder of what political literature can and should be.
Does the anthology live up to these bold claims? Let’s take a look.
“Winning is What We Do” by Jon Del Arroz
Trump’s second term is nearing its end. A majestic border wall, bigger than the Great Wall of China, is pulling enough tourist revenue to offset the cost of building it (which was covered by Mexico anyway); the US has made a deal with China, the two countries aligning to take on North Korea; and world peace has been achieved. Adhering to the principle of peace through superior firepower, the Trump administration commissions a new weapon: a twenty-foot-tall robot suit that ends up with the moniker TrumpMech.
Then, an unexpected attack occurs on the border wall. There is no time to send in the army, and so it falls upon 17-year-old Barron Trump to pilot TrumpMech and deal with the crisis. The attackers turn out to be a horde of zombie-like monsters created by mixing human and alien DNA; thanks to his skills honed playing VR games, Barron is able to take on not only these “zombres” (as his father dubs them) but also the end-of-level boss: a giant Kim Jong-un.
“Winning is What We Do” follows a formula that has served South Park well over the years: take a genre (in this case, the sillier end of mecha anime) and filter it through references to a contemporary issue. One of this formula’s draws is that, even if the end result comes up short either as a genre parody or social satire, the audience will be forgiving because the very combination is inherently amusing.
In this story the vision of Trump as a hypercompetent businessman-statesman who is able to change the world for the better despite hostility from a now-impotent fake news media, partly because he is aided by God (manifesting here as a divine apparition of Mike Pence) is used as the paint-job on a structure that could just as easily have served any number of other satirical ends. For example, it’s easy to imagine the story being re-written so as to star Greta Thunberg piloting a bio-fuelled mecha to take out monsters unleashed by a fracking operation, or perhaps a utopian post-Brexit UK sending a giant robot to duff up Angela Merkel, with absolutely no loss of depth.
“The Last Hippie” by Scott Bell
A squad of soldiers traipse through a post-apocalyptic San Francisco looking for a lone terrorist armed with a nuclear weapon. The terrorist turns out to resemble “an old version of Jesus, gone to seed and left out in the sun for too long.” When one of the cops refers to him as a “dude”, he dismisses this as a “gender racist term”.
As the confrontation plays out we learn the backstory that led up until this point. America had a left-wing revolution that resulted in California seceding; the state was eventually allowed to rejoin the union, on the condition that its revolutionaries were deported to an island in the Bahamas where they could build a society along their chosen lines and leave the rest of America out of it. The story ends with the soldiers persuading the terrorist to surrender peacefully on the grounds that unleashing his nuclear weapon would hurt whales.
Once again, this story (which, incidentally, includes a character named General Yiannopolous – not the last cameo MILO will be making) is competently-structured but superficial. The concept of the failed Californian revolution would have provided plenty of meat for a dystopian narrative, yet the actual plot is simply a generic confrontation between cops and a terrorist: he could just as easily have been the Last Scientologist or the Last White Nationalist.
“Cleaning the Rolls” by P.A. Piatt
This is a short, comedic story in which the protagonist gets a job for a body that tackles illegitimate votes. It turns out that the dead are placing votes – quite literally, as a necromancer is tampering with the election.
Fraudulent voting using the identities of the deceased isn’t a new topic for comedy – off the top of my head, The Simpsons used it as a plot point in 1994, to start with – and I imagine that if you look hard enough you’ll find any number of past variations on this story’s “zombie voter” premise. The only moment specifically related to the Trump administration is a brief reference to the protagonist’s employer finding more work after 2016, as the previous president wasn’t interested in fighting voter fraud.
Not the best start, but as we shall soon be seeing, the worst of MAGA 2020 & Beyond is yet to come. Stick around for the rest of this review series and you shall witness horrors…