Not full reviews or even necessarily recommendations, just some notes on what I’ve been reading.
I will never read all the dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction out there, but I keep trying. This month I read a very early apocalypse story by Jack London: The Scarlet Plague (free to read online). This short story feels like an ur-story for George Stewart’s Earth Abides (also set in San Francisco). It doesn’t really have a plot; rather, it’s just a description of civilization’s quick fall from disease and a meditation on how easily humanity could return to savagery. Frequent readers of apocalyptic fiction will recognize a lot of ideas that were later fleshed out by other writers, but London should get credit for being one of the first. This might also be considered an early steampunk story, as well. London’s vision of the future–the plague hits in 2013–includes dirigibles and steam power, as well as some radically altered version of U.S. government. However, it’s also terribly classist and sexist. But it’s short enough to read in one sitting and would be of interest to anyone studying this genre of fiction.
I also read Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopia: The Heart Goes Last. (I linked to the NYT review, which I pretty much agree with.) Not every book by a favorite author can be great (with the exception of Jane Austen). Inevitably, a disappointment comes along, and here comes one from an author who is a personal hero of mine. Atwood’s messaging regarding security and freedom is pretty heavy-handed, the sexual content is more than a little disturbing, and the end just left me cold. It feels like a throw-off and certainly in no way resembles Atwood’s more masterful dystopias, Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale.
I do have a book recommendation to post soon, and I am just starting another post-apocalyptic novel: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins.
An Empty Earth is another project blog of mine that I’m reviving. It is mostly a bibliography of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, with my notes. There are also some older essays about these genres, as well as essential reading lists. Check it out.
I review three anthologies edited by John Joseph Adams on my book review website, Books Worth Reading. Have you been wanting to try a new genre: dystopia, post-apocalypse, or multiverse? A well-edited anthology can be a great introduction to a genre as well as a good way to discover new writers.
I recently was discussing with friends this new survivalist phenomenon. It is not so new, of course, but the meme that the apocalypse is coming soon has gone mainstream to an alarming degree, infecting people who otherwise seemed rational. Everyone seemed to know someone who had fully bought into the survivalist apocalyptic delusions that LaPierre espouses in this article, as one example. These same delusions are propagated every minute on the airwaves, and repetition leads to belief. These people are living in a dystopia entirely manufactured in their own worst imaginings of what humanity can be. They have decided that real life is a Mad Max movie and not what they see outside their own window.
When people manufacture a dystopia out of their most base assumptions about humanity and project that onto actual reality, in some ways they are elevating themselves in the ongoing story of our species. They live in a pivotal time, and by making themselves one of the elite who knows what’s coming and is prepared for it, they are positioned to play an important role in the climax of our shared story. The problem is that that their reality in no way resembles what the rest of us experience every day. And yet we must deal with the all-too-real side effects, which include more guns and gun violence, ineffectual government and neglect of the very real challenges that our species does face.
How easy it is for groups of people to come together and convince one another that the very worst is happening. Imagine what we could accomplish if we came together and convinced ourselves that the very best thing we could do is create a better world, for all of us.
Luther (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We just finished watching the first two seasons of Luther on Netflix Instant Streaming. It is a crime series starring Idris Elba, and it can be very disturbing. One thing I like about it is that even though it is set in present-day London, it has a pronounced dystopian flavor. I was trying to come up with other examples of present-day dystopias in film or fiction — not set in the future, or in superhero-land, but in our world we live in — but I couldn’t.