Notice my title says the world, not a world. For me, dystopias work best when they are recognizably the world we live in now, altered to become the future that’s imaginable yet objectionable, frightening. It’s the world we don’t want to occupy.
There are always other options for our actual future and that is another reason for loving dystopias—they call us to look at the world we live in and to reconsider the ways we live, the values we hold, the choices and consequences of those choices.
I love dystopias and have read many of them, so it’s not surprising that my first novel, Isolation, is dystopic. In case dystopias aren’t your usual read, let me offer an example of how dystopias work. In Farenheit 451, a favorite since my childhood, the world of ideas has become so threatening to those in power that all books must be destroyed. The government spoon feeds the population its rhetoric as entertainment. People are dumbed down by the parlor walls (think big screen TV).
Written in 1953, televisions gaining in popularity, a cold medium luring the masses to sit around and watch in silence rather than discuss the world of ideas. After WWII, with the U.S. leaving Korea and moving into Vietnam, from the quietude of the suburban 50s toward the uprisings of the 60s, civil rights, women’s rights, a peace movement that wouldn’t be still. But let’s not talk about any of that.
In ’53 the horizon was filled with ominous changes which would be averted if every woman was the quintasential housewife watching soap operas and eating bonbons. Every man the worker who did his job without question, even if that job were to be a fireman, one who did not quell fires, but started them, by torching books. Both of these roles are fulfilled brilliantly in Farenheit 451 by Mildred and Guy Montag. She’s depressed; he begins to question the state of things, fearing he’ll be caught in possession of the book he irrationally saves from flames.
Dystopia, the world falling apart.
In 2009 as the swine flu threatened epidemics of Black Plague proportions, the CDC and World Health Organization spread fear, changing behaviors overnight, getting people to sleeve the sneeze, and use hand sanitizers frequently. It was then I began to imagine the world of Isolation, a world in which the government, there’s always a powerful government backdrop in dystopias, banned citizens from touching their own faces, for human safety, of course.
From that premise, characters emerge, fighting one bacterial infection or another. Agri-Biz plays its role in creating anti-bacterial resistance through large livestock operations. Big Pharma keeps its hand in by developing anti-bacterial products one after another after another, lining their pockets while fleecing Homelanders and building anti-biotic resistance.
The stories in Isolation are driven by an illusive safety which everyone seeks, but no one achieves. The world falls apart—in California, West Virginia, Alaska, Michigan, Hawaii. The world falls apart and readers watches in horror, realizing how close this fiction is to the current world they live in.
Fast Forward—May 2014: E. Coli causes product recalls for hummus in Idaho and ground beef nationwide, as well as the need to boil water in Portland. Anti-biotic resistance is growing at a pace which threatens a near post-antibiotic future where bacteria will return to being a major cause of death, as was true pre-WWII.
The thinking person, the one who pays attention, reads a dystopia like Isolation realizing that this could be the future. The world could fall apart in just this way.
I love a good dystopia.
*This post first appeared as a guest post initiating Isolation's blog tour at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time.