Why we end up reading dystopian fiction
Where are we headed? Do you know? Recently a reader sent me an email asking that question. He’s concerned that so many of his compatriots believe in Trump’s conspiracy theories democracy itself is threatened and in addition governments' worldwide are responding to climate change (COP26 – the UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow) by agreeing that we should abandon our way of life, stop heating our homes, driving our cars, traveling to distant climes on vacation and generally dig out our hairshirts from the closet and set out on a pilgrimage flagellating ourselves in penance to stop the poles melting and the rising floodtides. I cannot reassure the reader that this won't happen.
That’s where Trump comes in. He’s using the ‘lie’ that he won in 2020 to get back into power and his second ‘lie’ that climate change is hoax will appeal to millions of Americans who don’t want to give up their trucks or their hamburgers and beers and want him to finish the ‘wall’ to stop those zombie threatening immigrants pouring over their borders. It’s only natural – faced with hairshirts, freezing to death in winter or boiling in summer without aircon and eating only oats, if you can find them – people will vote for someone who says you can have it all – no need to change – just make sure you’ve got a snorkle or handy generator to pump out the water when Florida goes under water.
Autocrats will be plenty in our future. No one will elect Greta Thunberg to Prime Minister outside of Sweden – she might be our Joan of Arc leading an army of believers to a green paradise but in the end – no one will want to face deindustrialization and mass unemployment to get there. (Yes I am aware that there could be millions of jobs created to get to a green economy but getting there peacefully, without tears and civil war is another matter). China is actually expanding coal production as I write this as is India. The politicians fear blackouts and losing political support more than the consequences of driving up the worlds temperature beyond 1.5c. We will be forced to choose in the end of course but by then it will be far to late.
This is the background to much of what I write. We all instinctively know that the future is not a sunny upland filled with happy clappers and bonhomie – it’s going to be denial, hardship, and bloodshed. All major shifts are like this. Study what happened to Europe economically and politically after the Black Death (Read Barbara Tuchman’s ‘A Distant Mirror’ for reference). Our generation get climate change and Covid - so if you don't think things will change you are only watching Fox News. If you don't think the end is coming I suggest for further reading you check out the Wastelands Series 1-3 - edited by John Joseph Adams ( Wastelands: The New Apocalypse is on my Kindle App right now and is brilliantly bleak). Or of course, the writing of Paulo Bacigalupi, the most relevant futurist in my opinion.
I was thinking about all this whilst rereading my book J&K 4Ever this week – thinking that I’d like to make an audiobook of it but slightly intimidated by the whole process.
It goes like this: Sixty years after eco terrorists took out the power in the US and crashed civilization, Jeyna and Kruge, two kids devoted to each other, have been raised in a cruel orphanage in a city that rejected all progress and science - ruled by a religious sect not unlike the Taliban that favors men over women. It’s a harsh place. No one knows for sure what happened or why the power and civil order never returned – there are no history books – they are prohibited, as are all of modern conveniences. The ruling ministers want Jeyna and Kruge parted, young girl's her age are traded to the highest bidder. If she doesn’t accept her fate and flees, cruel enforcers on horseback will hunt her down and drag her back dead or alive.
There are many ways to imagine the future but I chose to imagine a future America where the Taliban could thrive. I never thought they’d disappeared in Afghanistan and here we are 20 years after they were banished back in control again – girls prohibited from education – again – reduced to being baby factories. You might say this could never happen in the USA – impossible, but America is in transition. Climate change is real. Extremists are challenging the very idea of democracy encouraged by Trump and there’s already talk of civil war. Women have no control over their bodies in Texas and soon other Republican States. It’s not much of a stretch to see an orthodox regime taking advantage of chaos in the future and imposing an extreme illiberal regime.
I set it sixty years on to allow the dust and ignorance to grow so no one is exactly sure how it got this way – only that it must be endured. For Jeyna and Kruge who have lived in hope that outside the city civilization will be waiting for them if they can escape the Enforcers – there might be more than a little disappointment and a great deal of danger. Read the book or download it if you dare.
Writing fiction, especially science fiction I believe should be rooted in something real, there’s a ton of novels considering the threat of AI, or genetics, or climate change, war, pestilence, Squid Games, Hunger Games, and all these issues are of current and genuine concern. As I write this there is real fear of WW3 over China seizing Taiwan against their will. But it could be just as easily be the North Korean leader having a bad hair day and launching a nuclear missile at South Korea or Japan. It doesn’t even have to be man made either. One volcano can erupt and halt all air travel – cause a tsunami that swamps a whole country. They call these events Black Swans - something so radical it alters the trajectory of human life in a way unforseen. What I am mostly interested in as a writer is not the day war breaks out or volcano explodes but the aftermath of those left behind. That’s the human story.
© Sam Hawksmoor October 2021
Author of Mission Longshot download or order the print version