I stumbled upon this title by chance, as it often happens. I heard that it dealt with the typical themes of gender apocalypse from the point of view of transgender people, and that it was an especially gory example of splatterpunk – I decided that was enough information to add it to my horror reading list.
Author: Gretchen Felker-Martin
Publisher: Tor Nightfire
Publication Date: 22 February 2022
Genre: Horror Novel
Stand Alone or Series: Standalone
Synopsis: The world has been devastated by a revolting plague, as a virus called t.rex started turning all people with high testosterone into mindless, hyperviolent zombie-like creature. In such a desolate landscape, Fran and Beth spend their days hunting down feral men and harvesting organs to source the hormones that, as trans women, they desperately need in order not to meet the same fate. During one of their many brutal misadventures, their path gets entwined with that of Robbie, a trans guy and a hardened loner. The three end up teaming up to face the dangers that come from blood-thirsty TERFs, feral men, dyscfunctional communities – not to mention their own inner demons.
Analysis: Written in third person subjective, Manhunt shoves us into the head of its main characters, mercilessly showing us the horrors they experience, as well as digging into the equally frightening depths of their most traumatic memories. As befits its subject matter, the prose is crude, violent, extreme, regularly indulging in graphic descriptions and sparing the reader no stomach-churning detail.
The novel plays on the (overdone) tropes we have seen in all zombie fiction, and more specifically on the concept of a gender-based apocalypse – a theme that is anything but unheard of in dystopian fiction, but that had rarely been explored by taking into account the experiences of trans and nonbinary people. Manhunt addresses the issue by giving voice to such previously neglected characters, and in doing so not only finds new ways to shock the reader, but also drives home some poignant message on our own world.
While the setting and the story are particularly bleak, one can spot some elements of tongue-in-cheek parody – see the literary revenge against J.K. Rowling, the fact the virus is called t.rex, not to mention how all brutality and violence are so over the top that they lean on the boundary between revolting and grotesque. That said, the story is far from being just a splatterpunk gore fest: the horrific context, in fact, doesn’t just provide a dangerous backdrop for some hyperviolent action, but enhances and exacerbates real themes of discrimination, trauma, body dysphoria; characters don’t fight just to survive, but also to carve some humanity and some perilious intimacy in such a hostile environment. The (deserved) vilification of TERFs, as well as of girlboss “feminists” that are only out to empower themselves to anyone else’s detriment, isn’t the most subtle expression of satire, however it is effective not only at showing how such ideologies and attitudes could grow rampant in a collapsed society, but also at highlighting their darkest implications in our current system.
Conclusions & Recommendations: Manhunt is definitely not a book for everyone, as it’s very graphic and deliberately piles up all sorts of triggering topics. If you can stomach extreme content and are intrigued by its concept, however, you can likely appreciate its brilliant rework of common tropes and its insightful outrageousness; in the end, like it or not, this book has some very clear concept and goal, and is very effective at delivering those. On the other hand, if this book offends you simply because of how it depicts TERFs or does not respect your concept of gender – then I am afraid I have no advice I can phrase politely.
Content Warning: Graphic violence, death, gore, rape, transphobia, cannibalism, torture, explicit sex, slavery, body dysphoria, dehumanization… Basically brace yourself for all kinds of disturbing content.