It's funny the things that happen on-line, the people you meet and connect with. People who have the same interests as you, something I never thought possible: I used to keep really quiet about being an adult who watched Dr Who and read The Lord of the Rings, but I don't have to do that any more. There are also so many people whose politics I like, who worry about the present and think about the future. And who, like me, have always read books that imagine how our future could look, even though it's usually bleak.
Now that's gone mainstream. Between Divergent, The Hunger Games and numerous TV series, dystopian futures are having their moment in the sun. So I got all excited when Jax at Liveotherwise blogged about dystopian fiction, and what was planned as a long comment on her post, grew into something else.
You see books like these are woven into the fabric of my childhood. There was a bookcase of Penguin classics in our sunny dining room in Wales that I would raid whenever I ran out of library books, which happened a lot. My Mum would find me hours later curled up in a chair or perched on the branch of a tree entranced by another tale by Nevil Shute or Graham Greene or George Orwell or John Wyndham. I read them all, and many more.
Some of them wrote about the seedier side of life in the 20th century and some of them imagined a scary future. These are the ones that I remember most clearly:
1984 and Brave New World. Everyone knows them, or believes they do, but how often do we stop and think about how they have affected the world around us? I know that the idea of Big Brother has affected my concerns about privacy. Or 'obsession' according to my eldest daughter! Remembering Room 101 means that I won't reveal my deepest darkest fears to anyone. Just in case. Whenever I see another reality TV show I think of Brave New World and opiates for the masses. And I'm guilty of it too. At the end of another stressful day, I plump for entertainment over education every time.
I found The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood is uncomfortable read but it sticks in my mind and I see echoes of the imagined regime all around us in the increasing control over women in so many societies. It must have seeped into my subconscious as I've been told it also inspired my fear of losing cash as a currency.
I barely remember The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin, and it wasn't an easy read, but its exploration of the principles of anarchy certainly made me think.
A book that I've mentioned before because it was totally unforgettable is The Ice People by Maggie Gee. Set in a frozen future where relations between men and women have also broken down, it is both terrifying and funny. It also reminds me of why both men and women need each other, despite our differences!
And a couple of cheats:
The grandaddy of all dystopian fiction is We by Eugene Zamiatin as recommended here by my friend Kathleen at AutismHerd. I haven't yet read it, but it's now in the queue on my Kindle App.
Peeking out in the photo above is another book that had a profound effect on me: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. It's not about a dystopian future, it's about life in the US now. Life when you are poorly paid, have no job security and no healthcare. It's about people with untreated medical needs, people who work 3 jobs to eat, people who live in cars, and no-one cares. And now we're seeing it in Europe too.
You could get very depressed after reading all these books, but I choose to see the hope in them, that while there is no such thing as a perfect society or government, there will always be people trying to make things better, always be the hope that things can change, no matter how dystopian the world becomes.
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