Genderpocalypse: Into The Mist

Into The Mist by PC Cast


From the back of the book: "As men fall to the mist, the age of womankind begins to rise. The Power meets The Stand in this gripping take on female power and the inevitable destructive path of violent patriarchies.

The world as we know it ends when an attack on the U.S. unleashes bombs that deliver fire and biological destruction. Along with sonic detonations and devastating earthquakes, the bombs have also brought the green mist. If breathed in, it is deadly to all men--but alters the body chemistry of many women, imbuing them with superhuman abilities.

A group of high school teachers heading home from a conference experiences firsthand the strength of these new powers. Mercury Rhodes is the Warrior, possessing heightened physical powers. Stella Carver is the Seer, with a sixth sense about the future. Imani Andrews is the watcher, with a rare connection to the earth. Karen Gay is the Priestess, demonstrating a special connection with Spirits. And Gemma Jenkins is the Healer, a sixteen-year-old student who joins the group after losing her parents.

As they cross the Pacific Northwest, trying to find a safe place to ride out the apocalypse, the women soon learn that they can't trust anyone, and with fresh danger around every corner it will take all their powers to save themselves--and possibly the world. With timely commentary on power and community, Into the Mist delivers a thrilling and fantastical feminist future."

(Ana) Despite my reputation as the genderpocalypse-hater, I had high hopes for Into The Mist. Going into the reading, I believed that the author tries to be a trans ally (and I still do). She has stated very clearly on Twitter that the mysterious mist in her book kills based on gender identity rather than biology. I knew, too, that she has a reputation as a skilled genre writer.

Why is that important? Well, genre fiction follows different rules from literary fiction, and I hoped the differences might result in a better experience than I'd had with the last two litfic genderpocalypses I'd read (Afterland, The Men). Lastly, I found the book blurb to be interesting: the book was styled by the promotional materials as being just an apocalypse and not a big statement about Gender.

Into the Mist isn’t a treatise on trans people. It’s a group of Oklahoma school teachers dealing with an apocalypse in rural Oregon. Were there a trans character in the group she/he would fall into whatever category under which she/he identified.

My hopes were raised. I will spoil you now: my hopes would soon be dashed.


Every time I analyze a genderpocalypse book, people ask me if there's a way to do one "properly", in a way that won't harm trans people and will still entertain the reader. I admit that I am ambivalent about the possibility of a genderapocalypse being done in such a way! I think gender and sex are just too messy to try to shove into a binary system of Alive/Dead.

As long as we live in a society which is cisnormative and nbyphobic, constantly trying to shove us all into a neat Man/Woman binary, I worry that a fictional gender-based apocalypse that contains a binary Alive/Dead outcome will mesh badly with that surrounding cultural context. How can we accept Gender isn't a binary while at the same time writing an Apocalypse that is gender-based yet binary?

Nevertheless, the question keeps being posed: can a genderpocalypse be done well? I don't know. My feeling is that, if such a thing were to be attempted, a small highly-localized event would be the way to go. Any book that tries for a global scope, immediately runs into the issue that (a) not everyone on earth defines gender in the same way, and (b) most characters won't recognize a gender plague for what it is! (It is simply a fact that trans people exist and will muck up any attempt to tell a simple story about gender!)

Yet if the event stays small and localized--I'm envisioning the isolated grocery store in Stephen King's The Mist--then all the characters know is that the men (or women) in THEIR group died. Does the magic mist affect EVERY man (or woman) on earth? Who knows! Not them! They're too busy running from the deadly mist that might kill them too. After all, if half your party died in a mysterious mist, you aren't going to go roll around in it on the off-chance that you might be immune for gender reasons!

Given all the above, I had hoped that Into The Mist might pull off a miracle and I would enjoy it.


I find it easier for everyone to follow along in these long-reads if I start with a plot summary so that we're all on the same page as to what happens. I will try to be brief and clinical. The short version: five teachers and an assortment of hangers-on drive all over Oregon seeking safety and community after their whole world violently ends.

The much longer version:

A pack of teachers from Oklahoma are at a conference in Oregon when World War III starts without warning and bombs fall on every major city in the US. (Note: We will never know who attacked the US, or why, or whether future attacks are imminent. The characters are maddeningly uninterested in exploring this, when you'd think they'd want to know if more bombs are coming! They happily accept a rumor that the US retaliated strongly enough to blow the other party off the face of the planet and quickly decide it's time to build a matriarchal paradise dedicated to the mother earth goddess. Really.)

I had assumed the mist would be a creeping presence the characters would have to avoid, perhaps losing a man or two in the beginning so they could realize that the mist was deadly. No. When the bombs fall, the entire party is knocked out cold and covered in green mist (which is presumed to be some sort of bio-weapon). When they awake, the two men of their party are dead and the heavily pregnant woman is hemorrhaging because the baby inside her was a boy. You see, the mist doesn't just kill men; it liquefies them if they breathe it in too long. Smaller amounts of exposure kill the men more slowly in a process that can take minutes, hours, or days, depending on what the plot demands.

The characters don't know it yet, but the mist has also given them super powers. Stella (who has a strong resemblance to Samantha from Sex in the City) is a "seer" with vague knowledge of the future; this means she railroads the characters into whatever the author wants them to be doing at the time, often without knowing why they need to do it. Mercury, a Wiccan, has super strength which manifests in making her a crackerjack markswoman for unclear reasons. Karen Gay, judgmental Christian and massive homophobe, can see spirits: this will only be used to validate Mercury's religion. Imani, a Black woman, prophecies; her talent is used exactly once to setup the sequel and isn't meaningfully different from Stella's seer powers. Gemma, an orphaned teenager, can heal people with magic.

Of more note than the super powers is the fact that the women are all now rapid healers (not quite at the level of Wolverine, but same overall concept) and their blood is a magical fertilizer for vegetation. This is of great importance to the women, because it means they can grow wine and marijuana weed in the Oregon desert. But once again I am jumping ahead, I'm sorry.

Can I start over? I'll start over.

A group of Oklahoma school teachers are at a conference in Oregon when every major American city is bombed by an unknown enemy using a bio-weapon that releases green mist. They wake to find some members of their party dead, including their rental van. The bombs were electromagnetic in such a specific way that anything using electricity at the time of the blast was fried, but anything that was powered off is safe. They commandeer an old 1960s Ford truck, load it up with their luggage, and decide to drive back to the remote hotel they came from since the airport was certainly bombed.

They pass stranded survivors on the road and offer a ride to the wounded. When some men led by a Male Villain with a mysterious nosebleed demand a ride in the truck as well, the women use a gun to force them back. They get to the hotel and meet more survivors, including men who are slowly liquefying from the inside; the telltale first sign of inner liquefaction is the nosebleeds.

After a day or two at the hotel, Seer Stella announces that she and the plot-important characters need to go check out the nearby town (Madras) which a passing trucker swore was safe and functioning. She doesn't know why they need to go check out the town, just that they do; that's enough for her fellow teachers. Along their way to Madras, the women pick up the one good man in the area--Seer Stella can tell--and a motley collection of orphans which include two trauma-silenced twin boys who never speak and an older sister who cares for them. (How everyone is fitting in the cab of the 1960 Ford is never explained or explored.) They are chased by the Male Villain who is somehow still alive.

Stella senses that Madras isn't "our permanent place", so the cast is pared down by having the teenager, the three orphans, and the Black woman stay in hiding while the three white women and their new man (also named Ford, like the truck) go into town. Things seem suspiciously too-nice in Madras and the group uncovers that the nefarious Woman Mayor has kept people from leaving town, citing concerns about bandits in the wilderness--bandits that the teachers have already encountered.

Yet the Mayor isn't keeping people captive for humanitarian reasons; she's been forcing women who have been exposed to the mist--the women with magic blood--to contribute a tithe of their blood to a community garden that feeds the entire town. She has also rapidly implemented a socialistic sharing of goods and services in order to ensure that no one goes hungry in the apocalypse. The mayor has been enforcing these goals by murdering the occasional protester, which does admittedly seem evil, but it's deeply unclear why she resorted to murder rather than the magic blood to everyone.

Stella and the others determine to flee into the Oregon desert where they can make their OWN garden with their OWN blood for their OWN consumption. They load up everything they can carry and run away into the night. Mercury is shot in the process, which gives Gemma her one healing moment in the spotlight. Then they disappear into the desert, confident that no one who didn't have magic blood would travel willingly to such an inhospitable environment.

A few days later, Stella announces that she and Mercury and Ford (who are rapidly becoming close lovers, to Stella's friendly delight) need to go into a nearby abandoned town for supplies. This town, unlike Madras, was at the bottom of a valley and has been entirely cleansed by the mist; only a single dog and a pallet of baby chicks are left alive. They take these and anything else that isn't nailed down, only to be stopped by the Male Villain who is somehow STILL not liquefied even after all this time.

The Male Villain and Ford die (which Stella's true sight did not see coming) and the two women return sadly to their new colony to report the tragedy. Imani is seized by her first prophecy--"He will come. The Destroyer. Prepare or perish!"--and Stella interprets this to mean they need to proceed with the colony they were already planning. Mercury mourns the loss of Ford, but it turns out he can visit her in dreams so I guess she doesn't have to experiment with political lesbianism like Jane in The Men.

The end, but preorder the sequel on Amazon, et cetera.

If I sound frustrated, I am. The plot is almost nonexistent and is entirely driven by Stella announcing she senses they need to go (and where, and when, and how, and with whom). Characters manage to be deeper than anything The Men had on offer yet vexingly shallow: Karen is a homophobic Christian because of the same childhood trauma that drove most of us *away* from the church, not deeper into it. Mercury is a Wiccan (as am I) and bangs on about it so much I was embarrassed. Stella is deeply preoccupied with wine and weed even before the bombs fall, and obsessed after; when Mercury wants to loot Xanax from a pharmacy, Stella scolds that weed is better.

In fact, I lost count of how often wine and weed was broken out for giddy celebrations, until these women in their 40s and 50s began to seem like teenagers repeatedly raiding their parents' stashes. I'm hardly a tee-totaler (just a bored reader) and wouldn't mind so much imbibement mid-apocalypse if it were grief-driven. The women have, after all, lost everyone they've ever known. (Or, at least, they think they have; they can't figure out how to travel back home to Oklahoma to check.) But outside a few quick mentions of lost family, the women seem largely unaffected by the total destruction of the world they knew yesterday. Some of them seem positively excited, like they've been waiting for an apocalypse to start so they can get on with the period cups and chicken coops. Stella's happiest moment is finding a cluster of seeded grapes so they can grow wine in the desert. It's jarring.

Even more jarring is how often the protagonists treat the apocalypse like an every-woman-for-herself free-for-all whilst scowling at others for doing the same thing. A major plot point early on involves the women being judgmental at a group who left behind wounded people they could not carry, promising to send help once they reconnected with civilization. The heroines instead pile the wounded in their truck (which the on-foot group didn't have!) and drive away, leaving the on-foot group in the dust and vowing not to send back help because "[The leader]'s a jerk. He didn't care about helping us." Maybe he did or maybe he didn't, but it's unclear how that could be divined from his actions alone!

The heroines repeatedly hide their truck and supplies rather than risk sharing their good fortune, but their first priority in Madras is to "Explore the town a little--see what supplies we might be able to subtly confiscate." Though the Madras mayor IS evil, it really seems like Stella and Mercury are less upset about her iron control over the area and more about the fact that she expects the women to share their magical plant-growing blood with the town instead of keeping it all for their own private garden. They're repeatedly shown to be selfish, willing to steal from others yet never to share, yet we're supposed to see them at the Good Guys and their matriarchal plans are supposed to be inspiring.

As for the themes of the book, they're a muddied mess. Some men are good (Ford, a few dead good ones) and some women are bad (the Woman Mayor, her henchwomen) but the vast majority of men are capital-b Bad. On the second or third night of the apocalypse, Stella gives a little speech to the survivors in the hotel wherein she announces--and note, please, that her authorial "seer" power has already begun to kick in--that the "kills men" aspect of the mist is "a fortuitous byproduct" because "who's been in charge of the world until now?" Everyone in this room has lost a son, a father, a husband, a male friend, a celebrity they admired, SOMEONE. Their grief is fresh and raw. And yet no one objects to the characterization of this vast loss of human life as A GOOD THING except one man.

"Women saved you. Women bandaged you. Women will continue to be sure you heal," Stella warns him. "Remember that. [...] This new world is going to be different."

And that is supposed to be that.


Backing away from the plot, characterization, and the vibe of "just discovered feminism and very excited about it, but hasn't learned about intersectionality yet", how do trans people fare in Into The Mist? Or, rather, how would they fare given that there are none despite visiting at least one full town's worth of people?

You may recall that the author promised on Twitter that the man-killing mist would kill based on gender identity and not some detail of biology. This is something people bring up a lot when I talk about genderpocalypse books: Wouldn't everything be fine if the man-killing plague killed trans men too and left women alone? Unfortunately, no, it's not that easy to solve genderpocalypse problems.

Problem one: Any genderpocalypse attempting to built a utopia, or at least a "better world" than before, is building on a foundation of many bloody trans bodies. Yes, they're not the bodies of dead trans women (unlike Afterland), but it's just as transphobic to hinge a "better world" on the mass slaughter of trans men. The problem with starting a utopia with the killing of a bunch of trans people, simply because they *are* trans (instead of cis women) should be fairly obvious!

Problem two: Because there are no trans people in this novel, and because the green mist is repeatedly referred to as a biological agent, and the magical changes in the women are described as being in the blood and part of their biology, this sense that gender identity is important and would be respected... doesn't come across in the novel. The repeated insistence that the mist kills men and not woman (unless the women linger in the mist for days at a time) just continues to reify the idea that "man" and "woman" are simple biological concepts that can be seen at a glance and which process bio-weaponized green mist differently due to some quirk of biology. There are no trans women who survive the mist, no nonbinary characters unaffected by it, no trans men taken in it. We have nothing but the author's word that the mist would (somehow??) respect the identity of each person inside it.

Problem three: If the book is making a statement about gender or misogyny or toxic masculinity (or all of the above!) then including trans men with the cis men is going to muddy that message very quickly! One thing most trans people have in common--whether man, woman, or nby--is that we pretty much all experience misogyny and don't receive patriarchal benefits, because our society is transphobic to the core! So while including the trans men with the cis men may sound like a good idea--because men are men are men, right?--that's going to muddy the gender message when characters start theorizing that the men were killed because they "ruined the world". Trans men didn't ruin the world; they don't have the institutional power to do so! (Neither do most marginalized men, but that's where learning about intersectionality is so key.)

Problem four: If the man-killing mist really does work based on self-identity against self-identified men, then every child and baby should be left alive by the mist! No baby, let alone fetus, identifies as a man! Yet one of our first casualties we see from the mist is when a 7-months-pregnant woman begins to miscarry because the "baby boy" inside of her has been thoroughly liquefied by the mist. Why would a mist that selects based on gender *identity* kill a fetus? Unless you want to posit that trans identities are entirely self-contained from conception, and not influenced at all by society, that makes little sense to me.

[Note: Many trans people do feel like they knew their gender from an early age, though not all do. Trying to suss out exactly when and how a gender identity "enters" a person--whether it is 100% a fact from conception, or 80% self and 20% influenced by society, or whatever other combination of percentages and factors--would be an extremely fraught task for anyone, let alone a cis person. But this is why I recommend NOT trying to write a genderpocalypse, because the author always wants the angst of killing the babies, but they don't want to deal with the fact that gender as it applies to babies is not at this time well understood or a matter of common agreement!]


Remember when I said, "I found the book blurb to be interesting: the book was styled by the promotional materials as being just an apocalypse and not a big statement about Gender." I'm just going to list some quotes that I found interesting enough to highlight on my way through.


"They finally did it. They finally destroyed the world." [...]

Mercury could only manage one word. "They?"

"Men. Politicians. Them. The greedy, corrupt people in charge whose job it was to keep us safe."


"That green stuff kills men." [...]

"Fucking A right it does." [...]

"Does that mean you think it's a good thing?"

Stella shrugged. "Not necessarily. But if I could choose, I'd sure as hell have it kill more men than, say, us."


"I had so, so many questions--even back then. Like, why are men automatically in charge?"


"I wish I'd been a better mom," said Karen. "I could've made my boys better men."


"There'll be a lot fewer men," said Stella.

"Well, if that's true, I hope women do a better job of running things," said Karen.

"Stella snorted. "It'd be damn difficult to do worse."

"We're going to do a better job," said Gemma firmly.

Imani lifted her glass to the teenager. "I like your conviction."

Gemma shrugged. "Yeah, well, anyone who's been in school knows girls are more mature than guys, and now some of us have superpowers."

Imani faced Stella. "You know things now, don't you?"

"Yes," Stella said. "But I can't control it. I can't make whatever it is tell me stuff. Things just come to me, and so far when I know things, they come true. Like I know we have to leave here. No later than tomorrow at dawn. You, Mercury, Gemma, and me. If Jenny and Karen want to come, that's fine. If anyone else wants to come, that's fine too. But we have to leave."

"Why?" Imani asked. "Why the hell should we go on?"

Mercury spoke the words etched on her heart. "So we can make a world where this kind of shit never happens again." [...]

"It can be done." Stella's voice took on a soft, rhythmic cadence. "We can't change the entire world. We can make a new one for us--for people like us. A world that sings with our voices. A world that is better, brighter, more beautiful than what was before."


"So, do you think whoever engineered this particular biological agent made it to wipe out men?" Janet sounded equal parts pissed and skeptical.

[Stella:] "We can't know for sure if it was created to be that specific or if it's just a fortuitous byproduct." [...]

[Wounded Man:] "Fortuitous?" [...]

"Well, let's see." Stella tapped her chin with exaggerated contemplation. "Who's been in charge of the world until now?"

"Men," said Gemma.

"Exactly." Stella put her fists on her waist and faced the wounded man. "Women saved you. Women bandaged you. Women will continue to be sure you heal. Remember that."

"Is that a threat?" asked the man.

"What's your name?" Stella countered with.

"Keith Carver."

"Well, Keith, we're not like that," said Stella. "We're simply speaking to you honestly. This new world is going to be different. We're not going to tolerate misogyny. That's not a threat. That's the truth."b[...]

[Nathan, another wounded man:] "We do need to work together, and to tell you the truth, I'm glad I'm not in charge.

"Oh, my love," said Marge with a fond grin. "I'm glad you're not in charge too."


Stella met her best friend's gaze. "Don't question whether you should shoot or not. No second thoughts. If they catch us we'll be Stepford-ed or Handmaid's Taled--or worse."


[Stella] "So the truth is we're in charge. Mercury and I make the decisions for the group,"

[Ford, agreeing] "It means you outrank me, so I'll do what I'm told to do."


[Mercury] "Okay, so I'll trust him. Feels kinda weird, though. Men have been awful since this thing happened."

[Stella] "Oh, Mercury, don't blame it on the apocalypse."


[Woman Villain] "You two are disgusting. As my mother often said, it takes a very good man to be better than no man at all, and neither you, Wes, nor you, Mitch, are good men. One of the many wondrous things this apocalypse has done is to finally put the entitled white man on the endangered-and-soon-to-be-extinct species list."


"The bombs that devastate the fictional world of Into the Mist are symbolic for the destruction the patriarchy has caused in our world over many generations. [...] The heroines in Into the Mist are determined to rebuild their society as a matriarchy. What does that mean to you? It's clear by the reaction of some of the men at Timberline that it's a rather shocking idea. Why are they shocked? Compare and contrast this to how a group of survivors would react if men took charge? How would their priorities differ? How would the new world they create differ?


In the end, we have a plot that does very little and characterization as shallow as the Oregon desert is presumably dry. Trans people are conspicuously absent despite the loads of people met by the protagonists in this remarkably crowded apocalypse, and the only good men die or are perpetually silent children. I can't recommend this book in good conscience and I am deeply disappointed with it.


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