I am endlessly fascinated with dystopian visions of the future. I just finished reading two novels by Margaret Atwood: Oryx and Crake and its sequel The Year of the Flood. Of course, Atwood is a master of this genre, authoring such dark novels as The Handmaid's Tale (which I couldn't put down when I read it "for fun" while in graduate school). In these novels, I find visions of the future that seem possible to me--the disintegration of society, the ubiquitous and malevolent influence of media and consumer culture, the "dumbward" spiral of humanity. Others may get hooked on futuristic visions of war and Battlestar Galactica style-conflict, but me? Give me the hopelessness of a broken world in which humanity struggles blindly to retain and revive its ideals.
In trying to identify what it is about these texts that so enthralls me, I've come up with a couple of things. First, I think that these texts reveal characters in unimaginable situations who must make difficult decisions--and that these decisions often reveal something about the self that these characters never knew before. Do any of us really know what we'd do if we were starving with no end in sight? Would we share what we have with others? Would we hide ourselves from view, selfishly eating whatever food we did find? I'd like to think that I'd be generous--to be honest, I'd like to think that I could continue to desire life even in such difficult situations. But do I really know how I'd respond? Do I really know what I'm capable of?
I think I'm also fascinated by these texts because they illustrate the classic good vs. evil conflict. In some cases, that conflict is internal, but in other versions, a pocket of heroic people fight whatever evil power has taken over the world (be it the dark majority, a lethal virus, evil institutions, etc.). In these dystopias, there is still hope--and the two sides are finely delineated. I'm drawn to the clarity of these visions--it's easy to root against zombies because they don't have consciousness, they aren't "human."
I don't want life to be this hard, but sometimes I do wish that it were this clear.