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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Oz Reimagined: Toto, I Don't Think We're Over The Rainbow Anymore

I never read the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, but the movie was an integral part of my childhood.  I also loved Was by Geoff Ryman which dealt with "the real" Dorothy Gale and the value of escapism.  Ryman's book showed me how a mythic narrative like Oz lends itself to the kind of re-visioning that happens in the anthology Oz Reimagined edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen.  There were several really powerful stories.


  The title "One Flew Over The Rainbow" points toward One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.  Readers shouldn't be in any doubt about the thematic emphasis of this story.   Like Kesey's novel, it deals with the patients at a mental institution.  Dorothy is one of them.  The metaphoric use of characters from Oz might seem heavy handed to some, but I thought it was very apt.  It's not for those who expect a story for children.  This is a dark vision for adults.

 "The Veiled Shanghai" by Ken Liu is more complex.  It takes place in an alternate steampunk Shanghai in 1919 where all the residents are under police surveillance through a device called the "Panopticon".  I ran a search for Panopticon and discovered that the 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham had the idea of creating prisons in which the prisoners were under constant surveillance.  The Wikipedia article Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon discusses it in detail.  He believed that the knowledge that they were always being observed would reform the prisoners.  Of course, the technology for such a project didn't exist in the 18th century.  It does exist now. There are an increasing number of contexts in which citizens are under surveillance.  Ken Liu brings the Panopticon into reality in the early 20th century in his alternate Shanghai.  Dorothy Gee from our Shanghai arrives in the alternate version of the city and gathers companions who are parallel to the Oz characters.  Liu also plays with elements of the history of China during this period. This is a very interesting and involving story.

"A Tornado of  Dorothys" by Kat Howard utilizes the familiar Oz matrix, but it's a repeating scenario.  Many incarnations of the characters are trapped in their roles in an infinite loop waiting for the Dorothy who can end it.  I loved the way it was resolved.  It was truly magical. 

Although other stories in the anthology aren't on the same level as the ones I've mentioned, I do recommend it.  Oz can be a mirror that reflects back what we see in it.


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