The Death of Persephone: Reviewing “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown

Red Rising2

Review by Curtis Cole

Empire: it is a dirty word and for good reason. It stands for violence, oppression, exploitation and, perhaps most of all, lies. This is something the protagonist of Pierce Brown’s science-fiction debut knows all too well. Coming from the subterranean passages of Mars, male lead Darrow and his fellow miners, “Reds”, toil all day long in the dark, expecting their labor to propel humanity forward into the future by enabling the terraforming of Mars thanks to the precious Helium-3 gas they struggle to extract. But, as Darrow discovers, not all is as the ruling class claim: Mars was made habitable hundreds of years ago.

Darrow and all of Red kind are slaves. They are the lowest of cogs in a vast classist regime dedicated to the accumulation of wealth, of capital. The surface of Mars is littered with thousands of cities, all of which loudly proclaim the inebriation bestowed upon society through the machinations of capitalism; the romanticization of war, the subjugation of women as sex slaves, the unfettered consumption of alcohol enslaving the working class, while those who remain sober become bought with the super-profits reaped from those Reds who remain ignorant of the truth, all of which is heaped upon the single pivotal cornerstone of bourgeois society—that of obedience to those “higher” than yourself and of the overriding importance of class and caste in maintaining the power structure of the elite.

Darrow, recruited by a guerrilla organization called “The Sons of Ares”, quickly finds himself caught in the middle of a vast power-play: one ultimately between domination and emancipation. The Sons of Ares ask him to undertake a near-impossible mission: infiltrate the testing grounds of the imperial elite, the so-called “Golds”, best them at their own games and secure a place in their decadent society so as to one day use his power to support a Red uprising.

Brown’s text here is radical in content. It is the telling of a coming of age story through the lens of vicious class warfare; combining the best parts of a host of influences, from Ender’s Game, the A Song of Fire and Ice series, Divergence, The Hunger Games, and more, Brown moves beyond his literary contemporaries by offering a leftist take on alienation and class society. His fusion of Greek myth, and history (both military and socio-economic), and the accompanying layers of homoerotic subtext, create multifaceted layers to be explored, while his representation of a non-commodity based barter system (the underground society of the Reds, of whom over a billion are counted) act as a stand-in for a primitive communism in decline, one impacted with vices of bourgeois culture and ultimately on the precipice of revolutionary change. Darrow’s (anti-)hero’s journey into the belly of the beast isn’t merely one content to parrot dusty platitudes of peaceful reform: the central issue, after all, is one of class consciousness and of overcoming internal divisions inflicted upon one’s class in an effort to enforce weakness. Violence, in other words, and how it is used to liberate or oppress, is the theme which runs throughout. In this sense Darrow’s story, his journey into adulthood being refracted through the prism of social struggle, is a pure coming of age story, one which hits the heart of what such stories are about.

Red Rising is riddled with tension, anger, and frustration. Darrow’s campaign is not merely one of directionless angst but of focused discipline, one which can easily be extrapolated from contemporary society. All of which is to say that Brown is likely heavily preoccupied with socially pressing issues and perhaps has written this book at least as a partial lashing out against society’s ills. The pages overflow with emotion. Each chapter brings a new development and, more often than not, heralds an approaching twist (of which the plot has several which pull no punches). Characters are not merely alive or believable but filled with vibrancy and attitude; while at times platitudes appear too prevalent, Brown has a style of writing which repurposes clichés and archetypes into characters which you have not seen before or have, in the very least, not seen this way. The author’s skill with a pen shines through with each and every page: the tone, atmosphere, the world-building, the cast, the social critique… all is cast in stunning realism, if not one of a dark, gory nature.

For what it is—a piercingly violent assault on contemporary morality and values—Red Rising is something any fan of dark sci-fi/fantasy will want to read. While it will not hold up to the classics of the sci-fi genre, in terms of the young adult audience which is its target consumer, Brown’s story presents cogent and mature themes; while there are of course weaknesses in the thread, such as Darrow’s conflicted personage and many of the building blocks being recycled from other sources, in the end, Red Rising depicts a dystopia which is only just: one which is a distorted reflection of modernity.

Red Rising

Pierce Brown

382 pages. Published by Del Ray. $8.86 (Paperback), $16.77 (Hardcover), $6.99 (Kindle), $29.95 (Audible)[1]. 2014.

[1] Prices taken from and were accurate at the time of writing.

Finding Wildness: Author Dave Gessner Visits UMF for Visiting Writer’s Series


David Gessner reads from “All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.”

After a year and a half of planning, Dave Gessner, author of nine successful books, visited UMF to read from his latest non-fiction “All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West.” UMF Student Nathaniel Duggan gave Gessner an elaborate introduction, mentioning his other books, Return of the Osprey, Sick of Nature, My Green Manifesto, and The Tarball Chronicles, which won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment and the Association for Study of Literature and the Environment’s award for best book of creative writing in 2011 and 2012. He has published essays in many magazines, including Outside magazine and the New York Times Magazine, and has won the John Burroughs Award for Best Nature Essay, a Pushcart Prize, and inclusion in Best American Nonrequired Reading.


UMF English Student Nathaniel Duggan introduces Gessner.

Gessner has taught Environmental Writing at Harvard and currently teaches at University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Also a fan of blogging, Gessner and Bill Roorbach write for Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour; a fun website full of reviews and non-fiction accounts.

Technology is destroying us. Nature can restore us.

That’s how Gessner starts off his forum. A topic of conversation that many college students can relate to, even me, as I type these words on my laptop computer and check my phone. Gessner shares his experience of growing up in Worchester, Massachusetts, a place where nature is hard to appreciate. Only later in his life when he was accepted to University of Colorado in Boulder and traveled west towards the Rocky Mountains is when nature started to dominate in his writing, reading, and overall outlook on life.

What is it about nature that inspired us humans so much? Gessner tells us: WILDNESS. Our primal instincts are alive in places where organic beauty is a reality. But then he turns around to argue that our most wildest moments can happen right at home – where domestic and family life is most crucial. He gives crushing examples of life and death experiences where he holds his father’s hand while he exhales his last breath or when he watched his wife through giving birth to his daughter.

There is nothing tame about a C-Section. Life and death experiences take us to our primal selves. These are the wildest places I have ever known.

He moved on to another topic dear to his heart: Ultimate Frisbee. Clearly UMF students can relate. According to Gessner, Ultimate Frisbee is one of the wildest actions that humans can be involved in. My favorite quote being:

Playing Frisbee is like being a writer: you’re throwing yourself into a passion that most people find ridiculous.

Reading from one of his books, Sick of Nature, he retold the moment where his father was hit straight in the temple with a frisbee from one of his teammates. A moment of unleashed passion, directed right at his father’s head. Humorous and profound somehow – it works.

IMG_6732After moving to Colorado, Gessner was blown away by the authors and literature of the area, most importantly Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner. Abbey and Stegner were both environmentalist writers with completely different styles both in writing and lifestyle. Although not familiar with them myself, they had an incredibly impact on Gessner as he toured the American West and seeked out the places that were the most important to these authors. All the Wild that Remains is the account of this trip. My favorite example that Gessner gave was from Edward Abbey who was describing the moment he first witnessed the Rocky Mountains, being like a young boy’s first time witnessing the naked body of a woman – magical beauty.

All in all, it was an incredible performance for UMF. Gessner is a man passionate about his work, environmental and political literary work, and the environment around us both in nature and in the home. For more information on his books, click here for his website.

Dan Gunn’s “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Children in Jane Austen’s Novels” Forum at Emery

In the English Department’s recent forum on Jane Austen’s perception of young children in her novels, Professor Dan Gunn presented the research he had been compiling about Austen’s attitude throughout her works of literature. Originally presented in Le Mans, France last March, Gunn gave UMF an extraordinary lesson on Austen’s background and an analysis on her minor characters: children.

Where was there room for children in Austen’s time period? Certainly not in literature. According to Gunn’s research, many times the children in Austen’s novels were used for comedy or plot devices. Her depiction of them were generally awful, tiny, selfish human beings. These examples are found throughout Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice where children are described as “full of monkey tricks” and “thumping and hallooing” and “pushing the maiden about.” Their constant noise and disorder prevented ordinary social intercourse from happening.

So why did Austen depict children in such a negative light? Gunn explained that Austen had no children of her own, yet adored her nieces and nephews. Austen thought children were incredibly selfish and if not taught properly, turned into problematic adult characters–present in her novels. These types of characters are examples such as Kitty and Lydia in Pride and Prejudice and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility.  With this, Gunn concluded that Austen actually had a great deal of affection for children but also a frustration with parents who did not raise their children correctly as she might have.

Any questions or comments can be directed to Professor Dan Gunn at

Mission: Flight to Mars (A Review)

Cover of book.

Cover of Jeffrey’s book.

Review by Curtis Cole

                Remember Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon? No? Of course not, you are probably too young; I will jog your memory: Buck Rogers (and others) was the campy sci-fi of yesteryear, the kind with an everyman protagonist and special effects which, let’s just say, “stood out” (re: sucked). This was the kind of science-fiction which acted as a precursor to Star Wars; of depicting space as the new Wild West daring humanity to tame it against the alien hordes. Mission: Flight to Mars author V.A Jeffrey takes such a canon as her inspiration. Unfortunately such grandeur seems to have missed its mark for Jeffrey’s first installment in her epic sci-fi series is sorely deprived of every cornerstone of enjoyable sci-fi: believable characters, a coherent and well-written plot, and interesting technologies… none is to be found here! But let me explain.

The protagonist of the novel is a quality assurance agent working at an android construction assembly line. Bob Astor is his name and he’s sticking to it (unfortunately)… along with everything else, for you see, Bob is a severely lacking protagonist. He is a spinelessly confusing lead and is among the most naïve lead characters I have ever read (including those purposefully written as naïve by their authors), as he leaps into situations which he has no business being involved with, all for reasons left largely unexplained by the author. I associate Bob’s attitude to that of an absent-minded child wandering the aisles of a toy-store—he doesn’t know why or how he ended up looking at the baseball equipment but while he is there he minus well try out a few bats. Bob displays the exact same level of ignorant arrogance in his actions.

The plot heaps onto this deeply underworked character (who, in all honesty, appears as lifelike as Mac’s speak and spell function) by running far ahead of the crawling pace which should be attempted. The plot begins with Bob being disciplined for supposedly stealing from the company he works for; however, at the last moment he is saved by a mysterious benefactor who not only saves his job but places him on a delegation to the grand opening of the moon city Langrenus. When there he encounters a desperate man at the end of his rope who prattles on about a vast conspiracy involving alien technology. Bob tries his best to help the man, but the man is murdered before anything is able to be done: before his death, though, the desperate man sends Bob a file detailing everything he knows. A key factoid is that Mars holds the key to everything.

So what does our brave Bob do? Ignore the message and return to his daily life? Inform the police and let the authorities investigate? Hire a mercenary to track down the murderer and enact justice? Nope! The correct answer is: ignore his family, job, laws, and inability to defend himself— he rushes off in a spaceship not of his own, all the way to Mars, so as to investigate the strange ramblings of a depressed cowboy. Good thing he did too because as it turns out there is an alien city on Mars settled by colonist dissidents from an intergalactic superpower called ‘The Realm’ which is not only building up its forces AND technology but also intends to launch a surprise attack on Earth so as to enslave humanity.

A huge swath of the writing at this point is terrible but before I sprinkle on more blame, I want to give credit when credit is due: Jeffrey, if it is to be said did anything correct in this messy manuscript (which to me painfully reads as a first draft), did succeed in making an intriguing Neo-Wild-West: the aliens on Mars are different, unique, and possessing enough “old school” and “new school” vibes to keep them at the center of the show. The customs, rituals, religions, lifestyles, evolutionary, social, and political values and structures which form the basis of the Martian society are—by far—the most interesting thing in the novel. This is no to say they are particularly informed by the author’s writing (because the explanations are sloppy) but that of everything written, the alien civilization is the most cogent literary facet expounded upon.

Unfortunately, that is the only thing done even partially right: to list the deficiencies, (1) the dialogue between characters is nonsensical; whether it be between aliens and humans, or children and adults, everyone reads like the same monotone personality; (2) explanation of technology is brushed aside, leaving the reader confused as to the capabilities of the protagonist at any given time and why certain events transpire as they do; (3) Small segments of the book read as though they are missing: characters discuss something, then something happens, then something new—seemingly unrelated to the first happening—happens. Part of this issue lies in the author’s rushed writing; (4) Aid comes to the protagonist at an unbelievable pace. Every step of his journey, from the moment he lands on Mars to the second he departs, sees him aided by friendly natives whom just so happen to support Earthly autonomy. The accomplishments made by the protagonist are then, understandably, absurd parodies of actual plot developments, something which even when it is referred to by the characters themselves, does not manage to touch upon the profundity of the problem; (5) Poor writing, grammar, and punctuation. Characters fail as characters and very little makes sense.

At the end of the day, the author needed to take far longer to write this installment. Although there is some socially progressive references, such as lamentations on the demise of labor unions and the right of entities both national and biological to self-determination, something which shows a level of class consciousness on the part of the author, thereby elevating—just a tad—the text itself (when we consider it in relation to the inspirational sources), I still cannot overlook the glaring issues associated with the bulk of this book. Jeffrey is writing a series and with the next three installments already out, it is clear that though she enjoys penning tales of adventure, she needs to take a breath, step back and spend more time brainstorming, editing, and revising. This project has potential but only if she spends more effort writing and less effort at churning out the literary equivalent of vitamin pills. As it presently stands. I cannot recommend this text to anyone; but hey, it is free on the Amazon Kindle store, so if you are either intensely bored and forgot that you can go to a library, or want to judge for yourself, the price for admission—ignoring the time investment—is positively low.

Mission: Flight to Mars

V.A Jeffrey

189 pages. Published by Epistle. $0.00 (Kindle)[1]. 2014

[1] Prices were taken from and were accurate at the time of writing.

Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome

The Lectures in the Arts and Humanities Series, a forum for research and scholarship at the University of Maine at Farmington, kicks off this semester with a lecture by Professor Daniel Gunn, “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Children in Jane Austen’s Novels.”

The lecture will take place Wednesday, October 28, at 11:45 in the Emery Arts Center Performance Space. Admission is free, and the event is open to the public.

“Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Children in Jane Austen’s Novels” is a discussion of the representation of children in the interstices of Jane Austen’s novels. Children are generally presented in a manner consistent with Austen’s moral thematics but may also serve as a site onto which sexual feeling and other repressed desires and impulses are displaced.

Daniel Gunn is Professor of English at UMF, where he has taught since 1980.  He has published scholarly essays on the history and theory of the novel in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Narrative, Studies in the Novel, Eighteenth-Century Fiction, James Joyce Quarterly, the Georgia Review, and other journals.

Taking a Midnight Swim: A Review of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki” by Haruki Murakami


By Curtis Cole

International sensation Haruki Murakami is back with his latest book “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage”. After his magnum opus “1Q84”, a delightful science-fiction-fantasy concoction spanning three volumes, Murakami’s latest effort is a return to more humble origins; recalling the emotional turmoil of novels such as “After Dark” (2008) and “South of the Border, West of the Sun” (2000), Colorless is a return to the every day: self-esteem, love, and friendship. The ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships all weigh heavily on this work’s threads. A fabric whose very fiber exudes rich philosophical meditation.

It is a tale of existential crisis; in high Murakami fashion, Colorless begins with a poignant musing: suicide. The protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki, is cast out of his group of friends during his sophomore year of university—perhaps giving new meaning to the term ‘Sophomore Slump’—and enters a deep depression. Losing great swaths of weight, drinking regularly, and faring poorly in school, Tazaki barely survives apostate status. Describing his struggle as though being “hurled into the night sea” (302)[1], without anyone knowing of his misfortune, the plot of Colorless is one in which anyone ‘on the outside looking in’ can appreciate.

For years, Tazaki attempts to bury his intense feelings of hurt. His group of high school friends was his whole world—a perfect, closed circle which gave him everything he needed. So when he was excluded, later discovered due to a false accusation, the novel’s threads give credence to existential philosopher Martin Heidegger’s preoccupation with what he calls chatter (Gerede[2]) as forming a Fallen discourse which acts as an obstruction to Dasein’s ability to interpret the world, since Tazaki can only muddle on through life, trying his best to cover up old wounds, while his Dasein, his human-ness, as Heidegger would conceptualize it, lives an inauthentic existence due to its inability to get ‘ahead-of-itself’ and begin to interpret the world around itself in order to decide what path to next peruse. With Tazaki’s emotional scars affecting a semi-permanent despondent mood, the following sixteen years afford Tazaki nothing but trouble with friendships and dating; something seems to be holding him back from truly being himself, of establishing what Heideggerians dub as ‘care’, that metaphysical condition in which Dasein ‘wonders what to do next’. Enter Sara, a romantic interest who convinces Tazaki to allow her to research and locate his old friends—restoring the role of discourse to its proper realm as talk (rede), enabling a new multiplicity of options for Tazaki to existentially consider—so that he will be able to confront his old compatriots and finally heal those wounds from so long ago, just maybe giving himself a shot at a normal relationship with another person: his emotional chains no longer obstructing his authenticity.

Without spoiling details of the novel, which would ruin most of the book, I can say that Colorless took me by surprise in more way than one. It seems to be Murakami’s most mature work yet; many of his fans recognize his works from his wry humor, the multitude of pop culture references, and musings of a deep nature which just so happen to utilize thinkers from Voltaire to Star Wars. For the majority of Colorless, however, humor and pop culture references are few and far between. Yes, there are some amusing inclusions late in the novel but for the majority the reader is left with a piece of literature on the borderline of “pure”, or “high”, literature.

Colorless refines Murakami’s style. One still reads meditations on sex, (in)authentic living, all while finding philosophy transcribed as conversation within the margins, but it has been reoriented toward a deeper cause than his previous, largely casual effort; the majority of the book reads as a conversation, switching off between an omniscient narrator and Tazaki’s own inner monologue. The existential dilemma of living according to the “they” takes center-stage and fuses with the profound emotional conceptualization of the protagonist’s efforts to set himself right and take account for his life. Done with Murakami’s usual poetically minimalist grace, these Pure literary aspects easily dislodge the so-called “low cultural” aspects, which show up only rarely (those self-referential moments concerning popular culture which Murakami is so known for), and convince the reader that Colorless is a work announcing to the world that this project was of a deep value to the author, and so foregone the mass marketed plots and sub-plots which make for easy dollar fodder.

Needless to say, there are no car chases.

At its core, Colorless is about self-discovery and healing. With a plethora of red herrings, (possibly) interrelated themes and motifs, and a few simple backstories to augment the primary thread, a student of literary criticism would have their fair share of topics to grapple with should they delve into untangling the nature of this text. Perhaps Colorless is a signal that Murakami will be shifting his writing style for future books, or maybe he just needed to tell a tale that had been echoing in his mind for some years. Either way, any fan of Murakami’s writings should not hesitate to pick up a copy and decide for themselves.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Haruki Murakami

384 Pages. Published by Random House. $10.88 (Kindle). 2014.


[1] Page citations refer to the Kindle version of the novel.

[2] Words in parenthesis denote the original German.

BFA Faculty Reading

An annual reading occurs at UMF where the BFA Creative Reading Faculty read selected pieces from their written work to students, faculty, and members of the community. On October 25th, 2015 four faculty each had fifteen minutes to give voice to the stories they’ve worked hard on to express.

Professor Gretchen Legler, who is currently on sabbatical, read a powerful, moving essay from All the Powerful Invisible Things, entitled “Wild Flowers”. Professor Teal Minton succeeded with a fictional piece titled “Our Man in Moscow” based on the real-life Lee Harvey Oswald. Professor Patricia O’Donnell shared a piece from titled “Gods for Sale”, a piece inspired by her trip to Kruger Park in Cape Town, South Africa. Jeffrey Thomson ended the evening with selected poetry from his book, Blind Desire and a short essay he wrote this summer entitled “Why I Write”.

Although this is a university comprised of students writing and editing their work, it’s so valuable to hear the words of our faculty’s hard work outside of the classroom. Every writer faces the challenge of creation, even our ever-talented faculty.

Spring and Summer 2016 Topic Courses in Literature

The literature faculty at the University of Maine-Farmington will offer several special topics courses for Spring 2016. Please see below for descriptions of those courses.

Spring 2016 Topic Courses

ENG 277H/01 Emily Dickinson.(Case)

This course will be an intensive study of the work, life, and writing practices of the

poet Emily Dickinson. While grappling with Dickinson’s poems will be the main

focus of the course, we will also investigate her fascinating biography, her unique

approach to publication, and the role of gender and religion in her work and its


No prior experience with poetry required.

Prerequisite(s): ENG 100; for students in CWR, ENG, SEN, or ELE-Language Arts,

ENG 100 and ENG 181.

ENG 377/01 Worlds of the Victorian Novel. (Darrohn)

How do British Victorian novels evoke complex worlds and welcome readers into

them?  How did the diverse kinds of novels that were popular in the Victorian age

enable writers and readers to understand themselves, their minds, their relation

to others, and their place in the world?  We will explore the multifaceted worlds–

physical, social, and, especially, psychological–created in a wide variety of

Victorian novels, such as the sensation novel, the multiplot novel, and the

adventure novel, by some of the following writers: Mary Elizabeth Braddon,

Charlotte Bronte, Lewis Carroll, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, H.

Rider Haggard, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Bram Stoker.

Prerequisites: For ENG majors following the catalogs of 2014-2015 or later, ENG

300; for all other students, one 200-level ENG literature course.

ENG 377/02   Ancient Epics. (Brown)

A study of four texts in their entirety–Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the

Aeneid–fundamental to the western literary tradition.  We will consider the epic

as a (lost) genre, conceptualizions of epic theory from Aristotle to the present

(Bakhtin, Frye, etc.), and consider various adaptations and subversions of the epic

mode, including the mock-epic.

Prerequisite(s):   ENG 300 or one 200 level course.

ENG 477/01 Popular Genres. (Johnson)

This course investigates the field of popular genres through examples in a variety

of media (fiction, film, television, comic books, etc.) and through critical readings

in the theory of genre, focusing primarily on the western, superhero, zombie, and

romance genres. For each genre we examine, we will be attentive to the

narratives, character types, conventions, and iconography typical of the genre as

well as to innovation and variation in those forms. We will also look at

intersections between the literary and the popular through books by established

literary artists (such as Cormac McCarthy and Colson Whitehead) who adapt the

conventions of popular genres. As we will see, the line between the literary and

popular is a blurry one, as is the line between one genre and another, and as the

semester progresses we will be increasingly interested in hybridized and

experimental approaches to genre. In the later part of the course, students will

develop independent projects that further the exploration of a popular genre,

either building on the genres studied earlier in the course or branching off into

other popular genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, melodrama, etc.).

Prerequisite(s): One previous 300-level literature course.

ENG 477/02     Jane Austen and Contemporary Culture. (Gunn)

Reading and discussion of four Austen novels (Pride and Prejudice, Emma,

Mansfield Park, and Persuasion), followed by consideration of Jane Austen as a

presence in contemporary American and European culture, not just in the many

film and television adaptations of the novels, but also in texts like Clueless,

Austenland, Lost in Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, young adult novels

based on Austen, graphic texts, parodies, fan fictions, and the like. Students will

have the opportunity to do independent research into these latter phenomena,

following their own interests.  Our goal will be to come to terms with the

explosion of interest in Austen since the mid-1990s and to see this interest in the

context of the reception of Austen’s work since the early nineteenth century.

Prerequisites: One previous 300-level literature course.

Summer 2016 Topic Courses

ENG 277H Jane Austen’s Adolescent Angst (Krueger)

Do you think that you know Jane Austen? If you haven’t read her early writings, you will be surprised at what you will find. Long before Pride and Prejudice was published, Jane Austen had written three volumes of juvenilia (including parodies, poetry, plays, and short fiction), submitted a novel entitled “Susan” for publication (posthumously published as Northanger Abbey), and published a novel (Sense and Sensibility). This course explores Austen’s pre-Pride and Prejudice works in order to give students an understanding of the young, developing writer’s body of work. Readers will encounter a writer who can be immature and sarcastic at times, yet witty and clever at all times. Students will consider both what Austen’s early work shows about the author’s range of style, subject matter, and characterization, and how a look at the younger Austen’s writing produces a full image of the famed writer.

Prerequisite: ENG 100

What do Students do in a UMF English Class?

One answer to that question is: create their own adaptations of literary works. Check out Dr. Misty Krueger’s article on the work her students did in her upper-level literature course (click on the abstract to go to the article):

Abstract—The essay explores a pedagogy of adaptation that focuses on examining intertextuality and engaging students in textual production through the creation of an adaptation. The paper discusses the success of assigning an adaptation project in an upper-level, third-year literature course taught at a small university. It examines student adaptations of writings by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Mary Shelley, and Ben H. Winters and of existing film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Frankenstein. I link student projects to critical concepts such as re-vision and multimodality, and disciplines such as literary studies and the digital humanities. I also analyze how the projects reflect students’ interests in popular culture and fandom.

“It’s Better this Way”, or, Malthus Reprised (A Review)

It's Better this Way (Cover)

Review by Curtis Cole

Post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen. Alien invasion stories are also of a dozen. Between the two sub-genres it is difficult to do anything original; that is until you infuse your plot with four-armed, multi-eyed bull-like creatures from outer space. It may sound like a bad—or really good—“B”-sci-fi film from the 80s but it is more nuanced than that (you will be pleased to know). It is actually a tale of an ambiguous moral quandary and the ruins of a civilization rebuilding from the wreckage of an alien invasion.

So, no, there are not any ‘little green guys’.

Rather, the plot is one of Evan Greggs, a scout for a commune called The Farm, whose stability has crafted a sphere of influence in an otherwise sordid wasteland. Gregg’s job is to scout—and perhaps violently deal with—disturbances on the fringes of The Farm’s territory; keeping the peace when all of Earth’s electrical and technological infrastructure was destroyed, after all, is no easy task—someone has to do it. And so Gregg is introduced to the reader while scouting the debris of an alien craft.

Returning to base, Gregg and his scouting partner pontificate upon the significance of the wreckage; while doing so Gregg reflects on his life: how during the post-invasion world he lost his sister, father, and everyone he called friend or family. Once back at the commune the reader is introduced to the whole cast of characters—the council, lovers and fighters, and the benevolent dictator Mom. After a surprise move on the part of the council concerning Gregg’s labors, an event is announced—representatives from the (new) United States Army show up requesting an audience with the commune, their hopes pinned on recruiting soldiers in order to wage war against the alien menace.

From here political maneuverings and uncertain futures arise. Beyond generalizations, I will only say (to avoid spoilers) that there is some conflict between the commune “hippies” and the “military”.

While the technical aspects of the novel, such as punctuation and grammar are well done and though some of the scenes could have used more polish, the odd political edge of the novel leaves much to want; the domineering thread is that the alien (“Bull”) invasion made the planet, as well as humanity and civilization, better, improved.

Obviously this is a deeply reactionary statement.

In a monologue near the end a character rants about the nature of the invasion: how the Bulls removed methane from the atmosphere, (safely) shut down nuclear power plants, and forced humanity to “co-exist” with nature without the “detrimental” effects of technology and media. Essentially what author Travis Hill is describing is Neo-Luddite, or Primitivist, ideology during its most revolting incarnation; there is even reference to how “hundreds of millions, maybe even billions have died [as a result of the Bull invasion]… but we were partial [to the belief] that there were far too many of us anyway” (Location 912[1]). Although the author makes numerous references to the “hippie” nature of the commune, this is a false conflation with the above-expressed sentiment: Hippie culture never endorsed holocaust, rather it promoted social and moral reform along non-militaristic lines; only the more reactionary extremists advocated for a wholesale “return to nature” position. Even the statement—“there were far too many of us”—is incorrect; clearly taking cues from Malthus’s population theories, which centered on the percentage of arable land in relation to the growing population, while ignoring how the land was utilized and the science of capitalist development, Hill appropriates Malthus’s bankrupt theory in a further estrangement so as to make a point. Although it would take far too long to delve into positions, it suffices to say that Malthus’s research was deeply flawed and had already been dismantled by Karl Marx within his lifetime.

Clearly the world Hill envisioned is a far-cry from a triumphant war of planetary liberation from the clutches of a vicious interstellar comprador bourgeoisie; shockingly it is close to the opposite: a literary apologia to the forces of international imperialism (clearly the Bulls are extracting resources from the Earth). This is not to say all alien invasion stories have to be cliché ridden affairs where a victorious human force emerges against all odds as the top-dog. There is room in science-fiction for unconventional plots and grey, or even pitch black, moments of originality; however, this habit of viewing humanity as a virus which must set the clock back on its own progress, by eradicating technology and great swathes of humanity, as opposed to capitalism itself, needs to be turned on its head and dismissed as the proto-fascist propaganda that it is.

Hill sees society contrary to conservatives: It’s Better This Way, with its prominent showcase of Queer lives and its overt hostility to the military industrial complex and soldiers themselves, clearly has more complexity to its writing than many of the self-published Kindle titles on the marketplace. Questions of sexuality, political rule, interpersonal relations, and social organization are all raised. Often times these issues are blended together and so when one takes into account the brief nature of Hill’s novella, it is a minor achievement he manages to put forward so many threads without, for the most part, tripping over his own feet. And yet… with his seeming endorsement of a Primitive post-apocalyptic (dys-)/Utopia, he ends up alienating supporters among the Left. Whether this is a thread you wish to read, I will leave up to you.

It’s Better This Way

Travis Hill

82 pages[2]. Published by Travis Hill. $0.00 (Kindle)[3]. 2013.

[1] The reviewed edition was a Kindle E-book and so utilized a “location” based citation system instead of traditional page numbers.

[2] Page estimates courtesy of

[3] Price(s) were accurate at the time of writing.


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