Recently The Novel Fox published my book Former. It’s a somber tale about what is left of our society after a zombie apocalypse. It’s been said that it is something “new” in the genre. One reviewer posted, “This is not your typical horror story.” Another claimed, “Almost immediately, I could tell this wasn’t going to be the standard, technical, science fiction zombie novel.”
These are great complements and I take them humbly. But recently I’ve come to realize that my dystopian novel and all the others that serve as warnings for a possible horrible future are more than allegorical. Former speaks of racism and a society beholden to businesses. It speaks of weak, money hungry politicians and a powerless public. It speaks of disease and death. It speaks of NOW: racism, society beholden to businesses, weak/money hungry politicians, powerless public.
Yes. Most great sci-fi novels do this in one way or another and have for some time. They address certain aspects of current society that frighten and unnerve authors. They think, “What is the worse possible outcome of this current political, social, religious, environmental, etc, etc, etc. problem?” Then they write and we get books like 1984, Brave New World, The Walking Dead, World War Z, Planet of the Apes, Ready Player One, Phillip K. Dick’s entire library of work, and yes, Former. We get to be afraid for the future, we get to be warned about what could come. We get to maybe, just maybe, see the horrible possibility of what’s at the finish line of the race we’re on. Hopefully, we can do something to prevent it.
But look around, kids. You can’t prevent what’s already happening. We’re living it. Sure, all things considered, the United States is doing okay . . . I mean other than this, this, this, this, this . . . ah . . . . You get the idea, right? It isn’t perfect.
Truth be told though, from a strictly quality of life, pragmatic sort of view, for most Americans, it isn’t as bad as it is for people in a good chunk of the world. I mean, Africa, for instance and its far-too-powerful warlords, AIDS epidemic, and general unrest seems worse. And don’t even get me started on the human rights violations in certain parts of Asia. Or how about those poor refugees who die trying to get to safety? Also, for those of you who find The Handmaid’s Tale particularly disturbing, theocratic governments (the kind of government that exists in the fictional Republic of Gilead) exist today to various degrees of comfort for their people. And just to remind you that the First World is pretty damn culpable in all this, I’ll lead you here and here.
And that’s the point . . . .
Two things are clear to me now.
- We’re living in a dystopia and, despite our problems, the United States and a good chunk of the First World are the ones at the top of the ladder. We are the ones with the power to change things or keep our entire planet marching toward self-destruction. Right now, we are the hero’s enemy. I mean, if real life was Star Wars you can bet the First World wouldn’t be the rebellion. And we are, by and large, blind to it.
- I need to stop reading, listening to, and watching the news altogether. Just cut the cord. Go cold turkey.
Seriously though, do our sci-fi books, films, and television shows help people see the fact that we are living in a dystopia? To some degree, I think, yes, they do. On the other hand, They do not do so quite enough because there is always a subtle safety net. Most of the dystopian stories I know of take place in the First World’s future. It’s ironic then that many of the situations characters live through (The Hunger Games, much? Much too much.) in these dystopian stories are, to some degree, actually taking place on this planet right now to real people.
These real people work in sweat shops. These real people fear for their lives from military, religious, or political overlords. These people work to die. These people suffer illnesses that are easily treated here. These people are living sci-fi authors’ fears. And now that we have the internet, we have no excuse to ignore it.
This modern-day dystopia is here, like a disease, slowly eating at all the world’s parts.
The question now though is: What’s the cure?