I’m in the process of reading for review the Superversive Press anthology To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity. I plan on writing both an Amazon review and a much more detailed one on this blog when I finish.
But I can’t wait. I’m going to create a wee preview highlighting one of the short stories enshrined therein.
But first things first. Why an anthology about “celebrating masculinity” when so much of what has been traditionally defined as masculine (for good or for ill) has been deemed toxic, not the least of which by third wave feminists and progressives?
Here’s an answer I found in the descriptive “blurb” for the book on Amazon:
Tired of stories about men as bumbling idiots? Of fathers as incompetents? Of masculinity as “toxic”? Tired of misandry? Ready for some real masculine role models? Stories about heroes and men who do the right thing? Stories about real men? The kind that provide for their families, love their wives and children, and make sacrifices. And save the world. A collection of seventeen stories and two essays, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity pays homage to men and masculinity. Fun. Action-packed. Thought-provoking. Whatever your tastes, you will find enjoyment in these pages.
In other words, as I wrote about here almost a year ago, Not All #menaretrash.
Today, I’m going to review a short story written by Richard Paolinelli called “The Last Hunt.”
I chose this one to preview because, over the last few years, I’ve reached out to several of the Superversive authors, and Richard is one of those who has been gracious enough to engage me on both his blog and mine. He’s also currently living in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and even though I don’t believe he was born a midlander, we Nebraska guys have got to stick together.
Oh, “To Be Men” was published just about five weeks ago, and out of the six Amazon reviews so far, all of them are five stars. Pretty impressive.
About me as a reviewer. I can like you. I can like you a lot. I will still do as fair a review of your story or book as my sense of impartiality allows. It’s nothing personal. Even if I found a few flaws in your work, I still really like you.
For instance, I’ve reviewed a number of stories and novels written by Irish mystery author Aidan Reid, and although I like him and his work and think he’s getting better all the time, he’s only gotten four stars out of me so far. He told me once, he continues to seek that fifth star, and perhaps his upcoming sequel to Sigil will win the day.
Spoiler Alert: I’m going to spill my guts about “The Last Hunt,” so if you don’t want to know, stop reading now. Remember, you have been warned.
First of all, it was shorter than the other stories I’ve read thus far, which surprised me, especially given the topic and plot, which I think could have been developed a lot more than it was.
Second, there were a lot of questions about a very complex dynamic that probably should have been addressed and would have added to the overall reality of the universe Richard created.
Here’s the deal. Based on the world as we know it, and Hillary Clinton labeling a good portion of the United States’ population as deplorables, I think a lot of us get a sense that there is a growing divide between the urban and rural areas of our country, especially in terms of politics, values, ethics, morals, and religion. I don’t think it’s a total “black and white” dichotomy, but at least in the news and social media, it certainly seems to be approaching that.
Richard created a world in which that dichotomy reached a vicious tipping point, prompting the mega-metropolitan areas of North America (Canada, the United States, and Mexico), and ultimately the entire populated world, to literally isolate themselves from the rest of the nation or “flyover country” by building forty-foot tall walls around their cities topped by razor wire. Then they sealed off all of the access points. The mega-cities are connected by an underground series of hyperloop trains which cannot be accessed except inside mega-city walls.
Somehow, food, fresh water, and other supplies are shipped in, but it’s never made clear how.
Anyway, the metropolitan people are happy for the most part, and so are the people in rural America, and it seems like some sort of balance has been reached. Really, there are now two Americas based on residence, value systems, and socioeconomic class.
This raises a ton of questions, but it’s not really main part of the story line.
At some point, a deadly plague develops in the mega-cities and is carried to all of them by the hyperloop system. Worldwide, the cities are all dead of dying. Fortunately for the rural population, the city walls serve not only to keep them out (and few if any rurals want to get in), but to seal the disease in.
There is no cure. Soon, the entire human population of the planet will live only in the free air of the rural landscapes, in small towns, and on farms and ranches.
But one hundred people escape from the cities in the U.S. and eight Hunters are assigned to track and eliminate them in order to keep them from infecting millions more.
The story is told from the point of view of one of the Hunters. We never learn his name. He has killed seven men and four women. Between him and the other seven Hunters, they have killed all of the one hundred…except for one.
We learn that he is a farmer and longs to have this grisly but necessary task done so he can go home to his wife, his children, and his farm.
The Hunter waits at a lake for his prey, since it represents the only clean drinking water within miles, and finally the last infected person shows up…and the Hunter kills him, just like that. After a 72 hour waiting period to make sure he wasn’t accidentally infected, the job is done and the Hunter goes home. End of story.
Please understand that any criticism I have is based how this interesting concept could have, and probably should have, been expanded. For example, how did these people from urban environments manage to survive in the wilderness? They (probably) can’t hunt or trap, so where did they get their food? What about shelter? Did any of them try to approach a town or small city (which would have meant disaster, but it would have been the logical thing for these people to do)?
Also, if the plague is invariably fatal, wouldn’t all of the one hundred have eventually died off?
And I would have loved to see some sort of conversation/confrontation between the Hunter and the last infected person, including some angst at killing him, having gotten to know the urban escapee as a human being.
These are only a few of my questions.
I live in a small suburb near Boise, Idaho. Mid-sized cities wouldn’t have been absorbed in huge mega-city complexes, so what happened to them?
Really, there’s a whole series that could be created out of Richard’s concept.
Now here’s the real kicker, and why I like this story so much. It mirrors what’s happening right now in San Francisco, and what is likely to happen to New York and other urban centers in the near future. By enacting laws and policies that are designed to assist the homeless, but in fact have resulted in rampant drug abuse, used hypodermic needles littering the streets along, with piles of human feces, I can see a future where all of these metropolitan areas really do drown in disease and filth, walled in or no.
I’ve lived and worked in rural America and know too much about it to believe it is a paradise. They have ignorance, poverty, drug abuse, and a world of other ills, at least some of them. I also know that Big Agra and the GMO pushers are the ones who actually feed the cities, not the “Mom and Pop” farms the Hunter represents.
All that said, I think the physical as well as philosophical schism between rurals and urbans is something that was only touched upon by Richard.
I hope he decides to expand on his creation in the future. It deserves a much wider universe for us to explore.