Category Archives: Reviews

Anarcho-Geek Review: The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner

The Oregon Experiment, Keith Scribner

The Anarcho-Geek Review is a new project that reviews pop culture media from an anarchist perspective as well as media created by or representing anarchists.

The Oregon Experiment
by Keith Scribner
2011, Knopf
Review by Margaret Killjoy

Recommended? Sure, why not.

I’m going to cut this review into two parts. The first part, the shorter part, is just my “why you might like to read this book, why you might not.” The second part is a longer analysis of the ways in which mainstream sympathetic fiction is portraying anarchists.

So, The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner. Scanlon and Naomi are a middle class couple that moves to small town Oregon, and soon their American dream crashes into the rocks of anarchists, secessionist hippies, and the repression thereof. Scanlon is an academic who studies radical social movements, Naomi is a depressed “nose” who was forced to retire from the perfume business when her mental health destroyed her ability to smell. Scanlon gets mixed up with Sequoia, a sexy hippie mama who wants to peacefully secede from the US, while Naomi spends too much time a Clay, a depressed, angsty anarchist who hates everything. Hijinks ensue.

It’s a short, entertaining novel with interesting enough characters. I read it, I enjoyed reading it, and it left me awake thinking after I’d put the book down for the night. While the plot focuses on the gulf between academia and radical action, the themes of the book are much more about parenting and relationships, which I appreciated quite a bit. I appreciated the often-realistic and incredibly flawed characters, though the intensity of male desire directed at mothers—on the basis of them being mothers—is kind of intense. Overall, the book made me nostalgic for early-aughts Oregon.

But frankly, I read the book because I care about the ways that anarchists are represented, and I was curious to see how we came across. I probably wouldn’t have given up on the book without that motivation behind my reading, but I probably wouldn’t have bothered to pick it up in the first place either.

I admit I took a weird sort of glee in studying the book. There I was, an anarchist author who researches the ways in which literature represents us, studying a book about an academic whose field of research is radical social movements. And of course, the book itself was written by an academic who researched radical social movements (perhaps getting tangentially involved just as our Scanlon did? I can only guess.).

So how did he represent us? Hereafter in this review I discuss spoilers.
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Review of Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

Pirate Cinema
by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow lets you download his novels for free, right off his website. Which is how I read his last novel, For the Win–which I also highly recommend. So when I saw his newest young adult novel, Pirate Cinema, in hardcover, I bought it. I set down to read it, and was blown away.

Most of what I loved about it falls into the realm of spoilers, but I’ll leave those out. The book takes place in a near-future London only the tiniest bit more dystopian than what we have now, and it’s about a young runaway who finds camaraderie, love, dumpster-diving, and meaningful ways to apply his talents to direct action social change.

Cory Doctorow has an amazing talent for making socially-useful fiction. And in this case, he’s written an immersive book that shows quite clearly the ways that legal and illegal activism work hand-in-hand. Of course, I personally found the direct action campaign more entertaining than the lobbying, but that’s how I feel in real life as well.

I’ve always known Cory to be a fellow-traveler to the anarchists, but we’re also given a bit of the limelight here: one of the central characters of the book works at Dancing Emma’s, an anarchist bookstore named after Emma Goldman (and, well, named after the real Red Emma’s in Baltimore). It’s not an anarchist novel, but it’s a novel that realistically portrays us as essential elements in social struggle.

And while the book takes the point of view of a straight male, it subverts the protagonist’s dominance, showing how he learns to be part of a team. I found the women characters to be strong and central to the story, and the way the book presented homosexuality to its young readers to be admirable.

But it’s also just an engaging book, a “stay up till 4am to finish it” kind of book. And a book I highly recommend.

Book – Liberation, by Brian Francis Slattery

Just finished reading Liberation: Being The Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America, and it’s a fine, fine book. Essentially a pulp adventure story, but quite politically aware, this book is about, well, the aftermath of an economic collapse of the United States. But one of the most interesting things about this book is that it avoids traditional novel plot structure. The protagonist is hyper-capable, and there appears to be very little conflict… it’s like playing a video game in God mode or something. And yet it pulls it off as quite entertaining… the conflicts arise in the subtexts: this isn’t a book about love, but the love interests are where the tension arises. Mostly, it’s just beautiful to read.

I’m a little bit disappointed by the authors portrayal of the anarchist character, who is described as a “militant anarchist” and whose single goal primarily revolves around blowing things and people up with bombs. There is an anarchist organization mentioned in the novel as well that appears to have a similar desire… despite the author name-dropping Bakunin, it is clear that he is not at all versed in modern anarchism. There is a similar slander portrayed against the anti-industrial folks, but it is a bit more interesting, intentionally outlandish, and doesn’t pretend to connect to anything that actually exists in the real world.