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On the resurgence in dystopian fiction


In the New York Times, Alexandra Alter writes about the recent resurgence in dystopian fiction released by US publishing houses. Not only are dystopia classics like Orwell’s 1984 and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale selling well, but a crop of new books are proving popular, including American War by Omar El Akkad, The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch, Void Star by Zachary Mason, and NK3 by Michael Tolkin. Unlike many dystopian stories, which seem to imagine worlds that are geographically or temporally remote from the present, these new novels evoke the here and now of our present political and environmental predicament. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“American War” is one of several new dystopian novels that seem to channel the country’s current anxieties, with cataclysmic story lines about global warming, economic inequality, political polarization and the end of democracy. If there’s a thematic thread connecting this crop of doomsday books, it could be crudely summarized as, “Things may seem bad, but they might become much, much worse.”

In Lidia Yuknavitch’s novel “The Book of Joan,” the planet in 2049 has been destroyed by war and climate change, and the wealthy have retreated skyward to a ramshackle suborbital complex controlled by a celebrity-billionaire-turned-dictator who continues to suck resources from Earth. “I built a world that is only a small distance from our present tense,” Ms. Yuknavitch said in an email. “One in which our current aims have simply played out to their logical conclusions: endless war, environmental degradation, the exploitation of Earth as a resource, the brutal stratification of humanity.”

Similar catastrophic events propel Zachary Mason’s “Void Star,” a mind-bending novel in which rising seas have rendered large swaths of the planet uninhabitable, and impoverished masses huddle in favelas in San Francisco and Los Angeles, while the rich have private armies and armored self-driving cars and undergo life-extending medical treatments. Mr. Mason, a computer scientist who specializes in artificial intelligence, envisioned a world where the boundaries between machines and people have grown increasingly porous, and a powerful, godlike A.I. hacks into people’s minds.

The future is even bleaker in Michael Tolkin’s “NK3,” which takes place in Los Angeles, after a weaponized microbe developed by North Korean scientists has swept the globe, destroying people’s memories and identities. The writer Chris Kraus called the novel “brilliant and barely speculative” and labeled it “the first book of the Trump era.”

Image via New York Times.