American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia
Editors: Paul Brian McCoy and Jennifer King
Publisher: PDI Press
Format: Kindle (paperback available)
Full disclosure: I’m friends with one of the editors who worked on this project, and I learned about the book through her. I received the book as a gift from my friend (not the publisher), but opinions are my own. I am not being compensated for this review.
Note: the underlying theme of this book has the potential to become controversial. Please be respectful when commenting on the review and any future interviews with the authors and/or editors.
Another note: because of the topic, this book is quite likely going to be a love it or hate it book. Be forewarned!
Warning: possible spoilers. I try not to include spoilers, but I’m going to put this here anyway.
Okay, now to the actual review. (Ha!)
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia is a short story anthology from indie publisher PDI Press. (PDI Press is the publishing arm of website Psycho Drive-In.) My understanding of the anthology is that it was developed with a sort of punk rock dystopian theme, centered around an apocalypse brought about by the current US administration. (Let’s face it, anything apocalyptic is bound to catch my attention — the musical part just made it more interesting.)
Five stories are included in the collection; there are a couple of longer stories, but the other three are fairly short. It’s a super fun read, though; it’s been an interesting “what if?” exercise. (Okay, so some of it is less likely than others, but I guess anything’s possible. Or something.)
The five included stories are: What Kind of Monster Are You?; The Day the Earth Turned Day-Glo; None But the Brave; Where Eagles Dare; and Big Takeover. The stories are all quite different in tone; some are more serious than others. The writing in all of the stories was solid, and they all follow the same basic theme. It was really interesting to see how each writer interpreted the anthology’s theme and premise — I can honestly say that no two stories are anywhere near alike.
The opening story, What Kind of Monster Are You?, is the longest, but it’s also the most fun (and, um, the goriest). For me, this one captured the musical part of the anthology’s theme the most — it also has its own soundtrack since the main character listens to a quite a bit of music throughout the story. It’s got an alien invasion of evil space octopi who regrow tentacles like a president-faced Hydra. It was very…splatter-y. And absolutely bananapants bonkers, but in a totally fun way. The best part of this story is the dialogue: the writer used actual presidential quotes for the Trump-alien’s dialogue, and it is hysterical in the context of the story. It was also a brilliant idea to use actual, existing quotes. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
My favorite story, though, is the much “quieter” When the Earth Turned Day-Glo. This story is set in the near future, after the current administration has ended. Humans have colonized the moon (well, sort of), and have found a way to profit from the sun. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this story more than the others — maybe because it has a touch of realism to it? (Call me cynical, but I could totally see someone profiting from the sun by making people pay for sunlight.) Whatever it is, the story’s quiet thoughtfulness won me over completely. It’s the second story in the book and follows the alien octopi invasion story, so it had a really tough act to follow because that first story is just so much fun (in my opinion, anyway). But I really liked it.
The other two middle stories, None But the Brave and Where Eagles Dare, were well-written, but I didn’t quite connect with them as much. Regardless, they were still good stories and they presented two completely differing views of a Trumpian dystopia. In None But the Brave, special agents are able to extract thoughts from the dead (but only those who commit crimes against the state) and see their last moments. In Where Eagles Dare, a man pretends to be the sheriff and interrogates another man who dislikes the president — until the real sheriff shows up. (I can actually see these stories becoming reality in some way, which is alarming. But… it may just mean that I’m more cynical than I thought. Heh.)
The last story, Big Takeover, seems to be part of a larger universe, so I was a bit lost in terms of the worldbuilding. The world itself was interesting, though, and to me it was a little bit Matrix and a little bit Inception. (There was also a demon. Demons are fun in stories. Um, but not in real-life.) I might have to go track down some of the author’s other work, because the story’s universe is intriguing.
Overall, I loved this. It’s a collection of super fun stories written by a group of good writers. And I actually enjoyed each story (which isn’t always the case for anthologies). Yes, it may be a bit controversial because of the anthology’s theme, but it was really fun to read. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian anthologies (especially ones rooted in punk rock), but with the caveat that they should probably also be mindful of the underlying theme.
Keep an eye out for interviews with the anthology’s contributors over the next few days!