This book is an absolute trip.
I should preface my comments here with the reminder that I’m Australian. While cultural imperialism means I have a better knowledge of American culture than is probably appropriate, I don’t know all the ins and outs of American myth: I have heard of Paul Bunyan and Babe, for instance, but I have zero knowledge of their context, or what purpose they served, and so on. There is undoubtedly nuance that I missed, here, as a result; clever puns or narrative twists that passed me by.
Having said that, this is still a really fun and weird and clever book.
In case you haven’t come across it ‘anthropocene’ is a proposed name for the geological epoch in which we currently live: the time when humans are having a significant impact on Earth’s systems. The ‘rag’ in the title is mostly the musical version of the word.
The narrative takes place across an America that has been completely taken over by nanotech – the Boom. This tech is somewhat driven by a consciousness, but not entirely. What it is driven by is a fascination with story. And it will go to great lengths to recreate stories and historical moments – up to and including completely remaking places… and people. So there’s a whole new level of danger in living in America, never quite knowing whether the person over there is biological or a construct, and whether they might coopt you into their narrative.
The story itself centres around six individuals who have received Golden Tickets from… someone… to enter Monument City, which may or may not actually exist but if it does, it’s connected to the Boom. And at this point hopefully you, like me, are thinking: wait, wasn’t Roald Dahl English?? Yes he was, but I can only assume that Irvine is going with the idea of Willy Wonka having been so completely Hollywood-ised that he’s basically been subsumed into the American cultural myth. Anyway: essentially this is a set of road trips that showcase the weird things that have happened to America thanks to the Boom, and allow Irvine to explore American mythology.
Anthropocene Rag is a lot of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it does have some lovely lyrical moments, and its range of characters were always entertaining.
Everything about this film is wonderful.
I firmly believe T’Challa is one of the greatest MCU heroes. He is confident, without being cocky. He is humble when appropriate – in the face of Shuri’s genius, for example – and he is righteous; he wants the best for his people and he is willing to change when he’s shown a better option. He is a better man than Tony, or Thor, or even Steve (maybe he’s excused for having been wrenched 70 years into the future). I am devastated there will be no future Boseman Black Panther.
Of course, a great hero doesn’t automatically make a great film. Happily, everything else about this film is also excellent. Including – contrary to some other MCU films – Killmonger/ Eric Stevens, who is an amazing antagonist. He has an entirely appropriate personal reason to be furious at T’Challa and his family… and it’s tied in to an entirely understandable political reason, which makes everything that much more devastating. I think the notion of Wakanda never having intervened throughout history is troubling, and should be troubling. Eric’s bitter ‘bury me in the sea with my ancestors’ is a powerful strike at Wakandan serenity; at the idea they are righteous to have isolated themselves. Eric is one of the great opponents of the MCU because he is a genuine reflection of T’Challa: a product of his upbringing, a fearless warrior, passionate about what he believes is right… and he’s not wrong, about wanting to support oppressed peoples. Frame this slightly differently and Eric becomes the hero. And that helps make this film amazing.
Other things that make this film amazing: M’Baku. I love everything about him. Shuri, and Nakia, and Okoye, and Ramonda – fabulous characters, who exist in their own right. Shuri is probably my favourite; she’s a fearless Q-style character who knows exactly who she is and how she wants to be and I love her attitude. General Okoye is also fantastic; her loyalty to her nation and her fearlessness and her disgust with that wig. Plus, it was only on this viewing that I realised: the queen’s headdresses, but especially the one when T’Challa comes home, must be based on the Nefertiti bust now in Berlin. It’s glorious.
I love the costuming and the music and everything about the visual appearance of the film, too. Honestly if I had to choose between this and Captain Marvel… I would be in trouble.
The one problem I have with the film is that it promotes the idea of ‘might is right’. That’s the sole reason for fighting for the right to be king. Yes yes, you need to be a warrior to be the Black Panther… but it’s still a problematic way to confirm your ruler.
Also some of the fights are too long, but that’s not a surprise any more.