My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Tuesday, July 22

Dystopia & Utopia

The word “dystopia” seems to be popping up all over the place lately. Not that it’s a new word or concept. It’s been around as long as it’s antonym “utopia,” which dates back to Sir Thomas More’s Utopia in the early sixteenth century. But a recent flood of novels and films like to describe themselves as dystopian, that is, set in some future reality or allegorical time and place which is bad, in which the human race and/or the earth have undergone radical changes for the worse. I think part of the word’s popularity has to do with the ubiquitous ads for pills to fix erectile dysfunction. You know, keep a stiff upper lip and hold your head up high? But back to what could be labeled as dystopian. Probably the best known and maybe the best examples are George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. But the list goes on and on as a string of writers warn us of impending dangers to the future: nuclear war, a new ice age, Big Brother governments, overpopulation, viruses that nearly wipe out humanity, a revolution of robots or computers, alien invasion, environmental disasters such as global warming or poisoning of the seas or the atmosphere (a sub-category called ecotopian fiction). The list continues to grow as seen in the popularity of so many young adult series of novels and films like The Hunger Games and Divergent, the success of so many television series like Falling Skies, Person of Interest, The Last Ship, Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and Extant, the new one with Halle Berry. And now another one called The Lottery (sort of leaning a little on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in which once a year the lucky winner gets stoned to death). In the tv Lottery, there’s a biological problem wherein women can no longer reproduce, an idea much like the plot twist in Children of Men a few years ago. Two other works that are sort of like “the Lottery” (the story, not the tv series) in that they’re microcosmic dystopian tales, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (set on a South Pacific island) and the recent film called Snowpiercer, set on a train.

Here’s a short list of novels and films that exemplify the various categories of dystopia: Karel Capek’s play RUR, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and the recent film Her (robots, computers); H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, tv’s Falling Skies, and the film The Edge of Tomorrow (alien invasion); Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and the films Dr. Strangelove and all in the Mad Max series (nuclear war and post-apocalyptic devastation); Pierre Boulet’s Planet of the Apes, John Christopher’s No Blade of Grass and The Long Winter, the tv series The Last Ship (deadly viruses and ecological errors); John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, Harry Harrison’s Soylent Green, and, in a crossover about cannibalism, McCormack’s The Road (overpopulation and starvation); Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Stephen King’s (written as Richard Bachman) The Long Walk (totalitarianism).

This list is only one grain of sand on the beach of all the other novels and short stories and films about dystopia. It’s interesting that The Hunger Games has a common thread with King’s The Long Walk: Both have a plot element like the Roman Coliseum in which a contest is held to entertain the masses and to eliminate contestants. Stephen King did his best to exhaust his readers as we walked along with the hundred young men who had to keep walking and walking until only one winner remained with the other ninety-nine killed along the way. But then, Stephen King has always been exhausting with his endless string of huge novels.

Now, what about utopian novels and films? It’s far easier to warn us of what could go wrong than to paint a positive picture of the future. Of course, there’s More’s Utopia, but what since then? The most positive novel about man’s future is Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in which mankind evolves from childhood to adulthood when we become united with a universal life force. In fact, Clarke, maybe my favorite sci-fi writer, is usually positive in his examination of technological advances. Both series on tv and film, Star Trek and Star Wars, are essentially positive in their views of the future. The only other positive looks I can think of are Heinlein’s The Door into Summer, Baum’s Oz series, and Barry’s Peter Pan. But in these last two, about eternal youth, there are still witches and dark woods, Hooks and crocodiles. Then there’s that unusual depiction of the near future in Spike Jonze’s Her. Is it a positive or a negative statement? Is it a good relationship we might have with our computers and smart phones or is it a creepy indictment of where we’re going with computer technology? If my computer sounded like Scarlett Johansson, I could easily fall in love with her (it?).

Maybe the next best-seller will be a dystopian examination of a world in which all men, not just the numbers we now see, are afflicted with zero testosterone and erectile dysfunction. All men are slouching around with both heads drooping and all women looking in bemusement (and maybe a little amusement) as the human race ends, not with a bang, but a limp whimper. And, thanks to T. S. Eliot again, it might be called The Hollow Men.

Post a Comment

Blog Archive

Any comments? Write me at