“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 Amazon.com.

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

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3 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on The Pop Culture Coup and commented:

    A review of Travis Hill’s “It’s Better This Way”.

    Reply
    • Heh, who is Thomas Hill? I already don’t like him. We should probably run him out of town before he writes any more books. It’s probably that Travis Hill guy whom we already ran out of town. =)

      Reply
      • Sorry for the typo, Travis! It has now been corrected; I will respond to your email as soon as I have a chunk of time to give a thoughtful response to the thoughtful email you sent me.
        -Sincerely,
        Curtis Cole.

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