There’s a lot about to inspire the dystopianly inclined…
Donald Trump is now the clear front runner to become the Republican candidate for the Presidency of the USA. The man who promised to build a wall to keep 'the Mexicans' out, who apparently routes for global warming (“It’s freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming!”) and who wants to ban all Muslims from entering the US, could soon be the most powerful man in the world. I am fighting the urge to run down the street, wearing nothing but a cardboard box, screaming 'It's the end of days!'
But then I have to fight that urge a lot- less the semi-naked shouting, more the feeling that so many changes going on around us herald 'The beginning of the end.' I can't lump myself in with the current dystopian superstars; the Suzanne Collins', the Veronica Roths and the James Dashners of the world (ONLY because my book's not out yet ;-p) but I'd imagine there is a certain type of mind that looks at a situation and immediately imagines the worst possible outcome.
In the UK we are currently in the grips of a ferocious debate on whether to leave the EU. This is chiefly a financial decision for a lot of people, is it going to better or worse for big businesses, for farmers, for the welfare of tax payers? However I can't help but see it as Britain closing its doors. Weirdly, in world of my novel, this could very well have happened, leading Britain down an insolated path, to the totalitarian dictatorship my story is set in. If we end up with a Christian dictatorship in fifty years’ time I will definitely be saying ‘I told you so’ (very quietly, whilst pretending to pray).
Then there’s targeting the grey gene.
Scientists have found a way to stop people going grey prematurely. Great in theory. A friend once told me that I needed to be more of an optimist. He believes that the future will be brilliant, thanks to science, and I really hope he's right. However, when I read about scienctists defeating the grey gene, my mind starts whirring. Perhaps this is just the first step on the way to scientists stopping ageing completely. Humans will live forever. There will be inevitable wars between countries, or even generations. Life will become an epic struggle amongst immortals for dominance and space. It's the beginning of the end!
It will probably be far less sinister, we might just end up looking young for a bit longer, but who knows where science will take us? (The end of days?!)
Or Fortress Europe.
We are living through the worst humanitarian crisis in generations. It actually is the end of days for the poor people drowning as they try and reach Europe. There's no need to imagine the worse here, it's already happening. Millions of people are travelling to Europe in the search of a safe life. Countries are closing their borders and squabbling about how many people they take in, whilst their planes continue to bomb the places where these migrants used to live. It’s a reminder of exactly how bad things can get, of the depths of misery one section of humanity will allow to happen to another.
There are walls- or at least huge fences with barbed wire - being thrown up to protect territories. These walls are put up to protect the established norm from 'the other'. And as a lover of history, I know that emphasis on 'the other' never leads anywhere good. Remember Hitler? 'The other' was the Jews and a nation went along with it. So when Trump makes the Mexicans and the Muslims core campaign issues and a significant number of the American voting public lap it up, alarm bells start ringing.
Keeping it real.
But there’s no reason to panic (yet). Even if Trump becomes President he’d still have to get his laws through Congress. Before the EU, Britain was a relatively sensible democratic place so, assumedly, would go back to that if we did vote to leave. Science probably won’t cause a war between the generations, with grandparents, desperate to retain control, hunting down their offspring, outwitting them at every turn with their superior wisdom…
Dystopian fiction is by no means a new thing. Aldus Huxley’s ‘A Brave New World’ was written in 1932, during the Depression, and set in the chilling 26th century. George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of the future ‘1984’ was written in 1949, as the world recovered from the Second World War and adjusted to the Nuclear age. And in 1985, as the internet came into being, Margaret Atwood (who's still going strong) penned ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, set in a future America where a religious theocracy has reduced women to little more than child bearers.
These novels were written at times of scientific and political change. I say that with complete confidence because it is ALWAYS a time of scientific and political change. Progress marches on relentlessly, inspiring art and terror in equal measure.
Trump, Brexit, Fortress Britain… I think they do make it easier for dystopian writers, because it creates a demand for our books. Readers can take a break from fearing the worst to visit a place where the worst has already happened, but where there are characters who still survive, fight and love. And perhaps that is the true power of dystopian fiction, it titillates the little part of us that loves to be scared, it provides warnings of where our actions might lead and it shows humanity’s ability to endure. In the dark fog of the future, dystopian fiction can provide a small ray of hope.
Now where did I put my box…?