I love horror fiction.
My favorite book of all time is Max Brooks’ World War Z. It’s amazing. World War Z is not only the best horror fiction written in the 21st century, it sets a new literary genre: the post-post apocalypse novel.
That’s right. Not post-apocalypse fiction (which is a very well-established genre) but POST-post apocalypse fiction.
What is post-post-apocalypse fiction you ask? It’s fiction that takes place during a time after the apocalypse and after humankind was defeated and after humankind scrambled out of defeat, sort of got our shit together and managed to rebuild society back up to 80% of its previous capacity.
Bet you didn’t know humankind could do that, could you? Come back from disaster? Nah, despair and fear is what drives the clicks these days. If you feel any sort of optimism about the ability of humankind to succeed these days well then it must be nice to have your privilege Karen. Be depressed or fuck off.
Anyway, I digress. Yes, World War Z is one of my top ten novels of all time. So when I heard that a new example of horror fiction, Manhunt, was hitting the markets in 2022 I was intrigued. When I heard that Manhunt was causing all kinds of controversy because it claimed to be pro-trans and genderqueer but seemed to express its activist message through scenes of women (sorry, “TERFs”) being killed in horrible ways I thought “I need to read this.”
Full disclosure: I’m a huge TERF. Before I drag anyone over the coals for being misogynistic, however, I need to give that person a fair shake.
I had to read Manhunt.
Everyone on both sides of the trans culture war was talking about Manhunt. There is even a scene in Manhunt (allegedly) involving JK Rowling being burned alive in her castle while being torn apart by her girlfriend at the same time.
(JK Rowling in real life is actually straight and has been married to her husband for years but never mind).
After reading Manhunt I can now say that the book is horrifyingly misogynistic but also well-written. It would be a top-tier horror novel if it didn’t have such masturbatory woman-hatred oozing from cover-to-cover. If you are a woman who is not trans, and you are not a token mother-figure to trans people, you will be an enemy who deserves slaughter in Manhunt.
No middle ground.
I will say that Manhunt’s JK Rowling-burned-alive controversy is a bit over-inflated. We don’t actually see JK Rowling burned alive in the book and there is no real proof that happened during the apocalypse. The description of JK Rowling burning alive in her castle appears to be a tall tale told by a character around a campfire towards the end of the book. The reader never knows for sure if the story is true.
Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts about this book.
Brace yourself for Part 1 of my review of Manhunt
Okay, so in the first few pages of Manhunt we are introduced to Beth and Fran. Beth and Fran are two trans women in a post-apocalyptic landscape. A virus called “T-rex” has attacked all people with high testosterone (so all men and trans women unable to find estrogen supplements). Everyone has the virus but as long as your testosterone is below a certain level you remain asymptomatic. If your testosterone goes above the maximum necessary level to remain human, you turn into a ravening, rapey hyena with a barbed penis, fur down your back, scabbed skin, and the intelligence of a rabid dog. This has become the fate of half the human population of the planet.
Cis women are pretty well protected from turning into man-beasts. Trans women, however, need to hunt down the man-beasts and eat their testicles in order to keep their estrogen high enough to remain asymptomatic from T-rex. And yes, male testicles actual DO have high amounts of estrogen. I didn’t know that but apparently it’s true.
Learn something new every day.
The male brain also produces high amounts of estrogen but we don’t see the characters in Manhunt eat the brains of the man-beasts they kill. I’m guessing Gretchen Felker-Martin doesn’t have a kink for brain-eating. Not pervy enough.
As a horror fiction fan I have to admit that the setup for Manhunt is good.
Out here on the coast, the things that had been men were scarce at least. They couldn’t swim, so fish held little allure for them, and most of the big game had been killed off years ago. Still, sometimes one caught sight of you and before the echoes of its first scream faded there were thirty of the fucking things pelting after you on all fours through the rotting innards of a Walmart Supercenter like a pack of rabid dogs.
“And if I ever run out of spiro and E, I’ll be one of them a few weeks later, and then some other t-girl’s gonna put an arrow through my skull and slice off my balls. Oh well. So sad.”
I’m on board for this. A highly specific virus that turns half the planet into beasts? Awesome! Manhunt also avoids a lot of zombie movie tropes. Contagion from the virus isn’t a concern because basically everyone has it. The trick is remaining asymptomatic, and that involves the trans women main characters desperately scrounging up not-easy-to-obtain estrogen sources to keep themselves human.
The tension is there and it’s real.
I do have a lot of questions about this universe, which is a credit to how intriguing Gretchen Felker-Martin’s concept is. Did men with testicular cancer survive T-rex? How about older men or men with naturally low testosterone? New fathers also experience a huge drop in testosterone. Did they also survive the plague? Presumably not.
Why didn’t men just gulp down estrogen to protect themselves before the plague turned half the population into beasts? Was maintaining their manhood so important that they were willing to turn into beasts rather than lower their testosterone? We know that in the post-plague world male children have their testicles removed before puberty to escape turning into beasts so why didn’t men do the same? Did men so treasure their masculinity that they were willing to turn into beasts before gulping down estrogen? Boy, that’s dark.
But then again maybe that is realistic. Thousands of people died of COVID because they refused to wear a mask or get a vaccine. Of course men would rather turn into beasts than take estrogen to escape a virus.
Anyway I have a lot of thoughts about Felker Martin’s Manhunt. This Part 1 is running a little longer than I anticipated so I will cut it off here and continue my review in Part 2.
Hehehehehe. “Cut it off.” Lol. Sorry.