Really? You’re joining me for another instalment of my journey through MAGA 2020 & Beyond, an anthology of Trump-themed science fiction and fantasy stories put out by a right-wing publisher in 2017? Even after the first, second and third posts in the series? You brave souls, you…
“The Magic of MAGA” by David Harr
In a fantasy kingdom, a prophecy states that a certain princess shall grow to overthrow the villain and end a war. A wizard sends the chosen infant to an alternate world where she can be mentored in the magic arts without danger, but a traitorous wizard sabotages the spell and causes her to be sent to a world without magic. There’s absolutely no point in me continuing this summary as you’ve all figured out the twist ending by now. This clearly isn’t a story that anybody would read for a surprising plot, but you can content yourself with the finesse of its prose (“that slimy whispering voice whispered in his mind”).
“Six Grandfathers” by Dawn Witzke
Two new heads have been added to Mount Rushmore: one is Red Cloud, representing America’s indigenous peoples; the other is “the golden face of Trump, the face of the future”. The story’s protagonist is a Lakota youth who has been brought up to hate and resent white people for appropriating tribal lands and sees the Rushmore carvings as desecration.
His reservation is attacked by the Six Grandfathers, nature spirits associated with Mount Rushmore, who begin killing not only whites but also Natives on the grounds that they did too little to protect sacred lands. The youth realises that his hatred of white people was misguided (“it’s wrong to kill everyone”, he proclaims). The day is saved by the depictions of Red Cloud and Trump, which turn out to be giant robots capable of fighting off the six rampaging nature spirits.
This story was possibly inspired by a notorious episode of the seventies anime series Gatchaman in which a carving of Jesus is added to Mount Rushmore and then stolen to adorn a giant rampaging lava robot. It’s also rather similar to the collection’s Jon Del Arroz story about Barron Trump piloting a mecha suit against a giant mutant Kim Jong-Un – except that while Del Arroz clearly knew he was being silly, Dawn Witzke’s take on the theme appears to have been written with a straight face.
“The New Wall” by Molly Pitcher
I looked at the blog belonging to this story’s author and found the marvellously Tinglesque image which I’ve used at the top of this post. I’m not sure where it originated; I think it might be one of Dawn Witzke’s interior illustrations, but since I’m basing my review on the audiobook I can’t verify this. Well, anyway, the story itself is – like Justin Robinson’s “Free Falling” from earlier in the anthology – a visit to dystopian Canada.
The year is 2047, and New Kanada (I think that’s how it’s spelt, as the border patrol is referred to as NKBP) is suffering from the devastation wrought by Justin Trudeau. Apparently, Trudeau – “the final white hetero man to hold power in New Kanada, and he was eventually shot” – instilled a point-based system for all citizens allowing minority groups to get an advantage while straight white males are deprived of jobs, housing, education and food. It’s illegal for straight white couples to have children, and parents who violate this rule are forced to use skin-darkening make-up on their kids to evade capture; this is easier with girls, as all female residents of New Kanada are obliged to wear burqa-like garments. There’s also mass unemployment because New Kanada is replacing its workforce with robots; things are different south of the border, of course, because Trump supported nanotech instead. There are so many refugees fleeing the dystopia of New Kanada that the US has had to construct a second border wall.
The main characters are a mother-son team of guards on the border wall, who have various items of futuristic technology at their disposal including spider-like vehicles that can operate in snow, the son’s nanotech robot arm, and even the wall itself (which is actually a force field). The antagonists are three members of the terrorist group Antina – Weasel, Rancid and “a gorilla of a woman” – who have some sophisticated tech of their own which they use in an effort to hack into the wall and deactivate it.
Okay, in terms of social commentary this story is oan a par with your average Chick tract, but in terms of plot it’s actually got some fairly good ideas. Get beyond the ranting about Justin Trudeau and what we have here is a piece that uses the setting of a border-wall to tell a story about the uses, and the weaknesses, of various hi-tech gadgets. That’s a solid premise for a science fiction story. Meanwhile, the fact that the reader is encouraged to empathise with the refugees fleeing the dystopian Canada – the refugees being halted by the story’s protagonists – adds a much-needed touch of complexity and nuance to the story’s political backdrop.
Credit where it’s due, I’ll be generous and place “The New Wall” alongside the Arlan Andrews contribution as a MAGA 2020 & Beyond story that actually has some kind of substance. Congratulations, Molly Pitcher, on turning your political rants into a solid story; if only more of the writers involved with this project had been able to do the same.
“45” by Brad Torgersen
A secret service agent protecting Donald Trump goes up against a strange assassin: a beautiful woman who claims to be a time-traveler from the future. At first the agent dismisses her as a crank, but she then takes him into the future to witness the nuclear holocaust which, according to her, is the fault of Trump. The agent now believes her story, except for one aspect: he is unconvinced that Trump really was the cause of the disaster.
Eventually, the agent persuades her that assassinating a president – whether Republican or Democrat – will only throw the country into chaos and ruin faith in democracy. The story ends with the two setting off to travel through time together on a joint mission to avert nuclear Armageddon – this time through the peaceful method of finding decent people and nudging them towards improving the world.
Brad Torgersen must surely be the highest-profile fiction author to contribute to the anthology (he’s had work published by Baen and Analog) and his story is a mixed bag, with flaws not hard to spot. While the premise of a romanticised Bond Girl-style assassin failing to impress an everyday-guy, clock-punching security guard has plenty of comedic potential, much of the humour falls flat, being too reliant on pop culture references (the protagonist compares the post-apocalyptic future to Mad Max, and then goes off on a rant about Hollywood reboots). Indeed, the dialogue in general tends to thud and blunder. At one point the assassin claims that “enough people have died at 45’s hands to fill ten million graves” – er, that would be ten million people, then.
A larger issue is that the concept relies on a strawman. The story is criticising people who condemned Trump before he had the chance to actually do anything as president, but the analogy chosen by Torgersen – people from the future blaming Trump for a nuclear war that may or may not have been his fault – is strained. This also means that the story possibly aged the worst in an inherently dated anthology: other stories made predictions that turned out to be wrong, but this one hinges on the assumption that Trump’s future can’t be predicted. Now that Trump’s presidency has been confined to the history books, a story with the message of “we don’t know what Trump will do” has nothing to offer,even as an alternate history.
But I’ll have to admit, the story does have its inspired touches. The general tone of reconciliation between left and right (notably, the protagonist said that he didn’t vote for either party in 2016 and happily worked under Obama) is itself novel in an anthology largely given over to belligerence, and using a variation on the old let’s-kill-Hitler plot to get these theme across is an interesting choice, even if Torgersen doesn’t really stick the landing.
Also, I’ll have to credit the story with pulling one over on me. Because the characters coyly avoid referring to Trump by name, instead calling him either “my boss” or “45”, I fully expected a twist revelation that the president wasn’t actually Trump – that the story was set in a timeline where some other candidate had won, and that the nuclear war would be averted by ensuring that Trump became the forty-fifth president. But just as I was giving myself a pat on the back for having the story figured out, it surprised me. I’m not sure if this trick was intentional, but it was a good red herring.
(Incidentally, I notice that Torgersen has since contributed a story to Divided We Fall: One Possible Future, which seems to be an anthology of anti-Biden dystopian stories. I can only wonder if he managed to keep up the let’s-all-get-along spirit of this story.)
I’m going to be generous again and count Brad Torgersen’s “45” alongside Molly Pitcher’s “The New Wall” and Arlan Andrews’ “M.A.G.A.I.” as stories that have had thought and effort put into them. Alas, having already slogged through the rest of MAGA 2020 & Beyond I can confirm that there are no other stories I intend to add to this list. I’ve still got nearly half the anthology left to review, and it’s all downhill from here.
Trust me, the worst is yet to come…