Thursday, January 26, 2017
Dread City: 5 Works of Dystopian Fiction for This Miserable Human Moment
Well, everything is going to shit.
Things were already terrible, I know, but Jesus H. Christ.
New border walls, attacks on journalists, persecution of refugees, a growing neo-Nazi movement, policies for full-on ecocide.
Less than a week in, and already we find our faces bloodied and disfigured under Orwell's metaphorical stamping jackboot.
Fascist-types are quick and decisive like that. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
Look, I'm not suggesting that anyone embrace this terrible moment, but some of y'all have made 1984 a best-seller again. Clearly, you've already got dystopia on the brain, so why not venture into some less-charted dystopian territories? Sure, it'll be grim and sobering, but it could also be useful at this time—maybe? And if you're like me, you don't read for "fun" anyway.
So, uh, welcome to the fucken Terrordome...
1. The Running Man by Stephen King
If you've seen the bullshit film adaptation, don't fret. The book is nothing like it. I promise.
Originally one of the Bachman Books, The Running Man showcases some of Stephen King's most bleak and brutal writing.
Meet protagonist Ben Richards. He's a poor city-dweller. He agrees to be hunted down like a dog by the entirety of the US police-state as part of a reality television program so he can get medicine for his dying baby daughter. And so his wife doesn't have to turn tricks anymore.
The story takes readers on a panoramic tour of a near-future dystopian US that may strike them as uncomfortably relevant. Strap in for the ending, it's a magnum-opus symphony of violence. King at his absolute best, in my opinion
2. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Ah, the dystopian borderland. Violent racist ranchers, desolate terrain, and seedy underworld operatives make up Herrera's unique hellscape. The protagonist, a young woman named Makina, is thrown into a situation where she must navigate this deadly madness.
Herrera's writing is both spare and rich. Signs Preceding the End of the World is haunting and politically potent. Certainly one of the best books I've read this year.
3. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
If you haven't already read this one, I don't know if there's anything that can be done to help you.
But seriously, it's an amazing book. VanderMeer brings readers on a journey across Area X, a natural landscape (seemingly in Florida) undergoing some really fucked up global weirding. Iridescent spores and humanoid animals face off against the personnel of a shadowy government agency. It's something like Roadside Picnic meets Lovecraft. It's actually even better than that though. Really.
Also, FYI, Annihilation is the first installment of an entire trilogy.
4. Zazen by Vanessa Vaselka
Stark and raw, Vaselka's Zazen offers a unique take on the concept of dystopian literature. The industrial and cultural squalor of the novel seems entirely true to the present for the most part. The protagonist, Della, feels all too relatable. She works as a waitress despite being qualified and credentialed to work as a paleontologist. And the bomb-centric violence that pervades the story—well, it's often in the periphery, just out of view, or sometimes it is whispering in the background like a television turned to harsh static. The novel's characters are trapped a crumbling society, a tanking economy. It's Dread City, dystopian subtlety at its finest.
5. Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler
I always tell people that this book is the work of dystopian fiction to end all dystopian fiction. Its stories and vignettes are emotionally devastating and painfully raw. It's at once hopeless and brimming with humanity.
The writing is without comparison. It's the rich narrative poetry of a world dying off, succumbing to an incomprehensible ecological sickness. It's the song of humanity as it languishes in toxic floodwaters, as it's devoured by insects and battered under the truncheons of a brutal police state.
No joke: this book is not for the faint of heart. If you think you can handle it, here's one of my favorite slices from the collection, a story titled "The Disappeared."
Don't say I didn't warn you.
Some Other Notably Awesome Works of Dystopian Fiction
The Wild Boys by William S. Burroughs
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes
Dreams of Amputation by Gary J. Shipley
Age of Blight by Kristine Ong Muslim
Novi Sad by Jeff Jackson
Burning Chrome by William Gibson
Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker
Channel Zero by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
Your Cities, Your Tombs by Jordan Krall
The Best Short Stories of JG Ballard