Dystopia: fear of the future

DOMIN: What do you think? From a practical standpoint, what is the best kind of worker?
HELENA: The best? Probably one who —who—who is honest—and dedicated.
DOMIN: No, it’s the one that’s the cheapest. The one with the fewest needs.

–Rossum’s Universal Robots, Karel Capek (prologue.92)

We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.

— The Giver, Lois Lowry

Destroying things is much easier than making them.

–The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

–Animal Farm, George Orwell

This month at The UncommonPlaces, we will be exploring scary stories–from Frankenstein, to monsters, to ghosts–partly in honor of Halloween and partly in honor of the real horror story that is America right now.

In a reversal of the usual flow of time, I am starting with the dystopia–the novel set in a horrifying future.

The dystopia is horrifying precisely because of how plausible it is. Not to say that all dystopias are realistic fiction–for instance, Animal Farm is about talking animals–but that all good dystopias have a very believable flow of cause and effect. Obviously, if people could erase memories, many if not all would choose to erase the bad ones (as in The Giver). And obviously something would need to be done to make sure no-one could remind anyone of those forgotten memories. And obviously from there it follows that the best way to protect people from those memories is to send the ones who remember away…

And just like that, you have fallen into a horrific world where that-which-is-wrong is taken as part of normal life.

Dystopian fiction has several recurring tropes that are worth mentioning.

First, there is the controlling class. In Animal Farm, the pigs claim they are more equal than the other animals–an obvious contradiction, but one that serves them well.

Second, there is a tendency for people to be treated as less than human.

Third, there is a tendency to pretend that it is a utopia–a perfect world.

But there can be no perfect world without removing the imperfections–and in this post-fall world, you either must redefine perfect (and that way lies horror) or you must destroy everything (and that way lies the void).

Dystopian fiction works so well because we have all dreamed of how the world would be if we controlled it, and we need to be reminded about all the ramifications of each change we make.