Friday, June 15, 2018

Dystopian Fiction: Part 4

Dystopian Fiction: Part 4

Joe Bonadonna

As I mentioned when I first started out in Part 1, I haven’t read a dystopian novel in decades, probably not since the early 1980s, at the latest — unless you count Stephen King’s Cell or some zombie apocalypse novels. So I’m really no expert authority or even very knowledgeable about novels published in the last decade of the 20th century, let’s say, and especially those published in the 21st century. Typing “21st century” is still rather strange for me: the future is now, sort of thing, and probably because I spent the first 50 years of my life living in the last 5 decades of the 21st century. I am truly a product of those years, especially of the 1960s.

What I hope to accomplish here is list some books I have heard of but have never read, and list a number of films I’ve seen. In my experience, dystopian fiction was usually a science fiction novel set in a dark, grim future, and long before the label was attached to these. In these novels the future usually involved totalitarianism in one form or another: fascist, oligarchic, and religious regimes; sometimes alien invasions by some good old extraterrestrial space invaders, or a plague or horrific proportions were the catalysts, as depicted in such novels as Footfall, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, and in I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. Many other novels had strong science fiction tropes, combined with a dystopian backdrop: The Missing Man, by Katherine MacLean; The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester; After Things Fell Apart, by Ron Goulart, The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. LeGuin; Alternaties, by Michael Kube-MacDowell; Time Storm, by Gordon R. Dickson; Planet of the Apes (a/k/a Monkey Planet), by Pierre BoulĂ©; The Masks of Time, and The Word Inside, by Robert Silverberg; Riders of the Purple Wage, by Philip Jose Farmer (originally published in Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison); and almost anything by Philip K. Dick. The works of Ayn Rand, too, can be said to be of dystopian futures, but I must confess that I have never read her work.

There are scores of novels I’ve heard of but have never read, and surely scores of titles I never even heard of. It seems to me, however, that the 21st century has brought dystopian fiction to a whole new level of popularity. Why more and more writers are turning out dystopian fiction, and why more and more readers are picking up on them, I can’t really say for certain. Perhaps it’s the political climate in the USA and the surrounding world. Perhaps the genre’s time has come: where once rocket ships to other planets and space exploration were the thing, and time travel a popular trope, the many worlds of Dystopia are now being explored. And why I can sit and watch a movie about a dystopian future but cannot read any more novels about dystopian futures is a complete mystery to me. Perhaps it’s because a book is totally subjective, and all you have with you when you’re reading are the author’s words and your own imagination. Thus, the novel affects you on a different level, perhaps several levels. With a film, you get visuals, music, sound FX, special FX, actors playing out their roles . . . and all that puts the story on a different level for me, and at times keeps me distracted from the dark, grim, near hopeless core of the story. I don’t know. I have never written a dystopian novel, although I have written my own “zombie apocalypse” screenplay, back in 1997. But that falls more into the horror genre, anyway. Perhaps fans and authors of dystopian fiction will give me some insight into why they read and write these novels. And who knows? Perhaps if a inspiration strikes me with an idea and a plot that intrigue me enough, something I haven’t seen or heard of before, then maybe I’ll write one.

Here, in no particular order . . . is a very incomplete list of all the “old” and more recent dystopian movies I’ve seen.

Metropolis, by Fritz Lang
La Jettee, by Chris Marker
The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price (based on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.)
Alphaville, by Jean Luc Goddard
A Boy and His Dog, based on Harlan Ellison’s novella
Strange Days, by James Cameron and Jay Cocks
Blade Runner, by Ridley Scott (Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
12 Monkeys, by Terry Gilliam
Brazil, by Terry Gilliam
Minority Report, by Steven Spielberg (based on Philip K. Dick’s story)
Gattaca, by Andrew Niccol
The Matrix, by The Wachowski Brothers
V is for Vendetta, The Wachowski Brothers
THX-1138, by George Lucas
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner.
Divergent, by Veronica Roth.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
City of Ember, by Jeanne DeFrau.
Equilibrium, by Kurt Wimmer
Elysium, by Neil Blomkamp
District 9, by Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchel
Children of Men, by Alfonso Cuarron
Snowpiercer, by Bong Joon Ho

Well, there you have my 2-cents worth. There are certainly many other films that can be considered dystopian futures, such as Terminator, Robocop, A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), and far too many more novels to mention. I just hope you’ve enjoyed my articles, learned about some novels and movies you may not have known about, and you’ll stop by again some time.

Author Walter Rhein, who has twice now been a guest on our blogsite, is the author of two very fine dystopian novels, The Reader of Acheron, and The Literate Thief. He wrote a great article on Millenials and why Dystopian Fiction is gaining so much popularity. Check it out!

Once again, thank you. I’ll see you sometime in the future . . . dystopian or not.

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