This post is part 2 in the series The 5 ‘ Must Haves’ in a Dystopian Novel. If you haven’t read the other one, it can be found HERE (Part 1). Next week I’ll tackle the third ‘Must Have’ in Dystopian fiction, so stick around!
Every dystopian novel is called dystopian as a juxtaposition to its opposite, a utopia. A utopia is an ideal society.
Likewise, a dystopia is premised on an idealization already having been achieved – a world where everyone gets an education, or a world where everyone owns a home, or a world where we all receive an equal allotment of goods and money, or a world where only perfect, healthy humans exist, or a world where food shortages no longer exist, or a world where any combination of those things have already been realized.
It’s in the realization of the ideal, whether that ideal be perverse in itself or not, that a dystopian society is formed.
It may be that dystopian fiction can be so compelling to certain people (like myself) precisely because while we recognize the desire for utopia, we also recognize how easily achieving it can go wrong. My religious faith tells me that there is no such thing as utopia on an earth that doesn’t have the Social Kingship of Christ as its foundation. I believe an overweening desire for a materialistic ideal, one that is tied first and foremost to our material existence in this world, will result only in imbalance and evils.
There are those who believe that by dint of their “superior knowledge”, they have an obligation to work toward achieving their solution to problem x,y, or z. Give someone like that political power and you have a dystopian future in the making. Despite the fact that those opinions are extrapolated from empirical data that is frequently misleading, evaluated on a bias, or the study was founded on a priori convictions which color how that data is perceived, they are so convinced of the rightness of their cause that doing whatever it takes to realize their ideal is justifiable.
Working toward an idealized perspective of certain aspects of society has its dangers. Mainly, it tends to blind a person to other people’s perspectives and creates a dogma out of something that is typically a matter of opinion. For example, many would agree, myself included, that the abuse of technology to create weapons of mass destruction is an evil. But it’s the response to that evil, the how, that makes the difference in the result.
In The Ogress’ Son, the world is a new dark age. It was devastated by a nuclear event two hundred years previous and the world was so destroyed that most of the population died off and the poles shifted. Science, technology and scientists were blamed for having so little regard for humanity that they were willing to chase their dream at all costs. Society fell apart, and between focusing solely on hour to hour survival at the expense of education, the arts, etc., and the widespread fear of technology and science, a new dark age society is the result.
The salient point for our purposes, however, is that the book is premised on the realization of the belief that the unregulated growth of technology is an evil. That is the perceived good and a good many of us can identify with it (a dyed in the wool capitalist or perhaps certain scientists may argue that “abuse of technology” is impossible.)
The response to that good in The Ogress’ Son world was to have an uprising against anyone known to be scientifically inclined (a la the French revolution with the proletariat and the nobles). It’s a witch hunt and anyone from engineers to doctors, those few that remain as humanity dies off, are looked upon with horror and revulsion, and are frequently killed.
As time goes on and earth begins to recover in places that heretofore were not known to have land, new countries rise up. Perhe is one of those countries and in Perhe, it becomes the norm for the government to be the only purveyors of technology.
So much has been lost, but the cultural response to technology is that it is part of myth and legend, something to be feared and yet also attractive. The general consensus is that it’s definitely safer for the government to regulate technology. But society is changing. Things stabilized more and more as time passes. A village society has been firmly established and people are starting to have a stronger and stronger attraction toward scientific and mechanical exploration.
Yet, by the time Slade, the hero, comes along, the ideal of never destroying the world through technological tools has become a means by which evil (in the form of the reigning dictator) can control the masses. The culture and set up of society has allowed for just such an opportunity. You see this time and again in dystopian fiction. The ideal has been realized, but it’s in the how of that realization that we see the perversion of society (assuming that the ideal itself isn’t perverted).
In Brave New World, the idea is to remove the risk from life and just keep people happy, even if that means providing euthanasia or raising children in perverted communes. Giving everyone what they wanted was the good to be achieved. But the society Huxley envisioned it would produce was, or should be, horrific to readers. It was a social commentary on what achieving that ideal would actually result in.
If a dystopian novel is going achieve philosophic commentary, the setting and world building will not be merely setting and world building, it will be the author attempting to address a specific aspect of social theory that concerns them – be it a response to how women/men/children are treated, bullies, the weather, technology, sexuality, etc.
With that in mind, what was the last dystopian novel you read? What was the the ideal the author’s society/world was trying to achieve? How was the realization of that ideal perverted? Were you able to identify the author commentary in The Ogress’ Son’s world-building?
This post is part 3 in the series The 5 ‘ Must Haves’ in a Dystopian Novel. If you haven’t read the other 2, they can be found HERE (Part 1) and HERE (Part 2). Next week I’ll tackle the third ‘Must Have’ in Dystopian fiction, so stick around!
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