the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘dystopian

we-zamyatinWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin

written in 1921

where I got it: purchased used

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I’ve owned this little paperback for years, and I’ve always been intimidated by it. Because the introduction is 20 pages long? Because the story was considered so subversive that it couldn’t be published in Zamyatin’s native Russia until 1988, fifty years after the author’s death? Maybe. And maybe because I was nervous that what was a riotious dystopian political satire in 1922 wouldn’t hold up, that I’d be too far removed from what the story referenced to understand the satire.

 

I should never have been intimidated.  The story is not subversive to my modern eyes,  and the all-inclusive satire holds up very well, with Zamyatin going after everyone he possibly can in an unsubtle fashion – Christians, a helicopter-parenting government, Authoritarianism, Big Brother, and anyone who agrees tacitly with a majority without bothering to analyze what’s happening. I solved my problem with the introduction by leaving it until after I’d finished the novel.  The “utopia” of We is reason taken to the nth degree,  protection of the people by removal of all choice,  a society built around the concept that humans can only be happy if when when all choice, all worryor concern of making a misstep, all need of something out of reach, all creativity, all freedom is taken from us.   Citizens are referred to as numbers, not as people. This is a society madly in love with math, reason, and rationalism, and terrified by question marks, the unknown, and the imagination.   Dissidents are publicly executed.

 

“When a man freedom equals zero, he commits no crime. That is clear. The only means of ridding man of crime is ridding him of freedom”

 

Not only is choice and freedom gone, but so is privacy. Homes and buildings are constructed of clear glass, the concierge in your apartment building reads your mail and registers your visitors, and privacy blinds may only be drawn if the proper paperwork is product with the partner you have registered for that day.

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stand on zanzStand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner

published in 1968 (Hugo winner for best novel)

where I got it: purchased used

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Stand on Zanzibar is a New Wave science fiction novel. According to Wikipedia:

“New Wave is a movement in science fiction produced in the 1960s and 1970s and characterized by a high degree of experimentation, both in form and in content, a “literary” or artistic sensibility, and a focus on “soft” as opposed to hard science. New Wave writers often saw themselves as part of the modernist tradition and sometimes mocked the traditions of pulp science fiction. . . “

 

It’s always fun when authors predict a future that is the future for them, but is the past for us. Like when a book takes place in 2010, or a tv show from the 70s takes place in 1999, and now we get to see what they got right and what they got hilariously wrong. Stand on Zanzibar takes place in 2010, and it’s a little creepy what Brunner got right.  First, a few words about the title. The title is refers to this phrase that has to do with overpopulation:

 

“. . . if you allow for every codder [man] and shiggy [woman] and appleofmyeye [beloved child] a space one foot by two you could stand us all on the six hundred forty square mile surface of the island of Zanzibar.”

 

And overpopulation is a huge theme of Stand on Zanzibar. Earth has 7 to 8 billion people, The United States is bursting at the seams with 400 million. Many single family homes have been chopped up into smaller and smaller often one room residences, and any kind of privacy costs a fortune.  To keep populations down, most states in the US have instituted some type of eugenics law, where for example, if you have the genes for hemophilia or color blindness, you are not allowed to have children. Abortions are easy to obtain, and often forced. There are options for adoption, but many couples simply opt to not have children, while openly resenting the family across the street who was approved for two children.

 

Many of the subplots involve attitudes about having children, race relations, post-colonialism, and populations turning into sheep. Once i realized the timing connections, the out-dated post colonialism attitudes of some of the characters became clear, as the 1960s was a time of British crown colonies gaining independence and becoming what we now know as Lesotho, Guyana, Sierra Leone and Jamaica, to name a few. A lot of privileged Brits were suddenly being told they weren’t in charge anymore.

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first published in England in 1938, Anthem is eligible for the Retro Hugo awards. This book certainly won’t be found in the science fiction section of the bookstore, but it does take place in a dystopian future.

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Anthem, by Ayn Rand

published in 1938

where I got it: have owned this copy forever. probably purchased new.

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There is a future where you and I do not exist. A future in which only we and us, the collective, exist.  A future in which man finds joy and satisfaction in working with and for others and for the society. All are equal, all are taken care of and none ever yearn for anything beyond their station. None ever need to think about anything, because the collective does their thinking for them.  In this future, everyone is safe, and freedom doesn’t mean what you think it means. In the times before, horrible things happened, with large groups of people fighting against a small group of people. It was decided afterwards that this collective society was best for all.

Equality 7-2521 is a sinner. Those sins include that of ambition, preference, and being alone, among many, many others.

Anthem is an epistolary story, told from Equality 7-2521’s writings. Not exactly diary entries, these are more confessions, a record of what’s been done and what’s been discovered. Equality hopes to one day show these writings to the city scholars, to earn their mercy and respect.

Instead of joining the others at evening theater shows (all of which promote the goodness of toil, equality, and brotherhood), Equality 7-2521 sneaks out to the edge of the city to a secret underground cavern.   With it’s smooth floors, tracks, burned out lightbulbs and other detritus, I think the underground cavern is a subway station, but Equality 7-2521 has no way of knowing that, having never seen a train track or light bulb before.  Equality 7-2521 steals books and candles, and indulges in a love for the physical sciences, joyously learning about electricity and magnetism, sometimes completely by accident.

While working on the edge of the city, Equality 7-2521 meets Liberty 5-3000, and commits the ultimate sin of thinking of this new friend, of finding joy in those thoughts, of wishing to spend more time in the company of Liberty 5-3000.

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I heard this cold war era joke all the time when I was a kid:

Under a totalitarian government, a man is able to smuggle his wife out of the country. He promises to write her a letter every week. He knows the government reads everyone’s mail, so he tells her if the letter is written in black ink, everything is the truth, if the letter is written in red ink, everything is a lie. The weeks progress, and she receives letters in black ink telling her how much he loves her, and discussing the weather, and letters in red ink talking about how wonderful the government is and that he never wants to leave. until one fateful letter arrives in black in:

My beloved wife: My life here is complete,  the government sees to my every need and is taking such good care of me that I can not imagine why anyone would ever want to live somewhere else. Therefore I will not be joining you in your new home. By the way, we have run out of red pens.

 

I recently had the honor of being on a MindMeld panel at SFSignal, along with Nick Mamatas, Ian Sales, Bob Reiss, and John Stevens, among others. Here’s what we were asked:

 Recent events have caused the resurgence of George Orwell’s classic 1984. Ever since its original publication, however, genre has tackled and wrestled with the themes of dictatorship, totalitarianism, total war, and more. What works of genre since are worthy of exploring these themes?

Here’s what we said

the responses were kicked around twitter a bit this morning, with discussions touching on dystopian war books, and that not all war book are dystopian, and not all dystopian is totalitarian, etc. It’s complicated and fascinating.

Let’s keep the conversation going: tell me about some fictional works you’ve enjoyed that deal with surveillance societies, dictatorship, totalitarian governments, and such.  No one wants to live that way, so why do we so enjoy reading books with those themes? Have we moved so far past George Orwell’s 1984 that we need to start referring to other works as “Orwellian”, or “somebody-else-ian””

All old jokes aside, with all the NSA stuff that’s come out recently do you see the post office suddenly getting much more popular? I do.

 

Vintage Science Fiction Month Returns!!

The Wanting Seed, by Anthony Burgess

published in 1962

where I got it – garage sale

In this Dystopian futuristic London, Earth’s population has exploded,requiring government involvement to keep population under control. Solutions include limiting families to one birth, allowing a high infant mortality rate, and doing anything to discourage pregnancy. Energy is scarce, so nothing is wasted, and dead bodies are used as fertilizers and energy. Most people subsist on government supplied rations of artificially created foodstuffs.  Burgess writes so perfectly smoothly that you don’t even feel the disturbing qualities overtake the story. By the time you realize what’s happening, it’s too late to put the book down.

The story follows Tristram Foxe and his wife Beatrice-Joanna. Tristram is a scholar and school teacher, and Beatrice-Joanna  is having an affair with her brother in law, Derek, who is a government official.  in a future where procreating families are looked down upon, homosexuality is a highly promoted lifestyle choice as a way of having a perfectly healthy sexual relationship where children are impossible. Many heterosexuals act homosexual in public, as overt homosexuality has become a way to further one’s career opportunities. Derek, for instance, flirts with men all day long, but visits Beatrice-Joanna as often as possible. Beatrice-Joanna becomes pregnant by Derek (after purposely misusing her government supplied contraceptives), and when Tristram finds out the child may not be his, he kicks her out, and she goes north to find shelter on her sister’s farm.

Their marital troubles aside, society is falling apart around Tristram and Beatrice-Joanna. The government has started to threaten random blood testing  of women for pregnancy, further enforcement of government supplied contraceptives, and social pressures for sterilization.  Ranks of the angry unemployed are hired as junior police officers and general goons to keep the populace terrorized.

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Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

first published in 2008

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: I really enjoyed Beukes’ Zoo City

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in a not so distant future, connectivity is everything. Not only does your cell phone connect you to your friends and family (not to mention the internet), but the government and local police use it as a tracking device, and when necessary a punishment device. Disconnectivity by government order can equal a death sentence for some, as your phone is also your public transit pass, your pass to get into work, and your pass to get through certain city checkpoints. It also screams tech-based apartheid. May sound shocking to you and I, But to the youth and 20-somethings of South Africa, they grew up with this – to them it’s completely normal.

ahh, taking technologies and the social order and making their uncomfortable side effects feel normal, that’s just one thing Beukes excels at. All of our characters, Kendra,the art school drop out turned PR guinea pig; Toby, the LARPer  with dreams of taking down the government; Tendeka the children’s charity organizer whose getting sick of losing funding; and Lerato, the programming genius who thinks she knows it all.
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 Yarn, by Jon Armstrong

Published in 2010

Where I got it: borrowed from a friend

why I read it: I loved Armstrong’s Grey.


How to categorize this? scifi?  dystopian? fashionpunk? craftpunk? socio-political satire?  I think I’ll go with mindblowing.   If you are looking for something unique and original and strangely wonderful, I highly recommend Jon Armstrong. His vision of a future America is as frightening as it is exotic.

Not a sequel to Grey, but taking place in the same world, in Yarn  Armstrong brings us back to a futuristic west coast America where cities are vertical, GMO crop corporations are  integrated down to the clothing their workers wear and the food they eat, and in the cities, fashion is life. Information and secrets can be embedded in a single thread, and competing fashion houses are known to bring guns to a knife fight. The city of Seattlehama teems with salesWarriors, tourists, sex workers and fashionistas.

In Yarn, Armstong again takes his knack for taking things to the nth degree to the next nth degree.  Business is war, and fashion is life. For a salesWarrior,  a day without a sale can quite literally mean death, and for the fashionable (and who isn’t?) bad fashion is akin to social suicide.  SalesWarriors swarm through the tourists spewing their dramatic slogan filled warTalk, while violently keeping the competition at bay, and jobbers take whatever contracts they can.  Conspicuous consumption is the name of the game, and if your jacket is a week old it’s already 6 days out of date.   In a world like this, how far will people go to obtain power over business and fashion?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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