“Another world, another life”: Humans, Monsters, and Politics in Predator: South China Sea

Here is the first paragraph to my contribution to Surreal Entanglements: Essays on Jeff VanderMeer’s Fiction, edited by Laura Shackelford and Louise Economides, on Jeff VanderMeer’s Predator novel. You’ll have to wait for the book to come out to read the whole thing…

“Another world, another life”: Humans, Monsters, and Politics in Predator: South China Sea

In the context of Jeff VanderMeer’s larger body of work, which so often imagines and describes the incompatibility of the human with the alien or monstrous, perhaps the least interesting aspect of Predator: South China Sea (hereafter P:SCS) is the Predator itself. In a recent tweet, VanderMeer makes clear why such is the case: “Oh, memories. My personal favorite part of writing [Predator: South China Sea], besides characters exploding into fungi…was having a scene with the Predator just lounging in his spaceship, farting and burping. I thought for sure Dark Horse/20th Century Fox would make me cut that. Buuuut they didn’t.” The Predator most familiar to a mass audience is that of the film series, which introduces it as an invisible and nigh-unstoppable killing machine. VanderMeer’s flatulent alien may be amusing to this audience, or to the smaller audience of the extended franchise. However, this moment of lowbrow humor also demonstrates the degree to which the Predator can be understood according to anthropocentric and anthropomorphic norms, especially insofar as this novel (and other texts and films in the series) makes clear how valuable Predator technology will be to world governments seeking to kill other humans with just as much enthusiasm as the Predator itself, if for allegedly different reasons. Of course, VanderMeer would have been constrained in how he was allowed to imagine and deploy the Predator given the fact that this novel participates in a larger storyworld determined by a history and physics he would have had to obey to avoid damaging that storyworld’s consistency and potential as a venue for future franchise development and profit. The effects of such constraints on a writer whose previous and subsequent work has been defined by ignoring constraints (those imposed by generic boundaries, for example) are certainly worth further study. However, I begin with this issue as a means to stage a confrontation between the anthropomorphic monster at the heart of the Predator series—an anthropomorphism that needs the monster to stand in this position insofar as it allows the series’s ongoingness and the staging of conflict after conflict between the Predator and the human—and the inhumanity of the larger universe in which that monster and the human exist.

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