Uncovering the realms of dystopian fiction

BraveNewWorld_FirstEdition“Beloved men, know that which is true: this world is in haste and it nears the end”

THOUGH these could be the words of environmentalists, socialists or the Westboro Baptist Church they are actually the opening lines of The Sermon of the Wolf composed by the Archbishop of York a thousand years ago. We may not have the Biblical apocalyptic fears of a medieval audience but perhaps today’s Sermon of the Wolf is Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Our fears of war, surveillance and global warming are increasing every year and are reflected by the growing success of dystopian fiction.

It starts with the classics of the 20th century: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. These gave us futuristic worlds so far degraded from our own yet disconcertingly familiar. But the creation of dystopian worlds both books and film has been on the increase over the last decade.

The Hunger Games has had great success since its first instalment in 2008 and the film has attracted even more attention. Other examples from the last decade (all with film adaptations) include Stephanie Meyer’s The Host, Kazuo Ishguro’s Never Let Me Go and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Although these fallen worlds seem so far from our own we dismiss it as fantasy fiction they often expose problems we face today. The Hunger Games critiques our obsession with the media and reality television; but government control is the villain of The Hunger Games, just as it was in Nineteen-Eighty-Four.

The 2005 film V for Vendetta, based on the graphic novels by Alan Moore, portrays a typical dystopian world of censorship and surveillance. The Guy Fawkes’ mask worn by V has been taken up by the internet ‘hacktivists’ Anonymous and was seen at protests such as Occupy Wall Street. But the dystopian genre doesn’t just express our fears of the government and the media but also the lingering worry of global warming. Jeanette Winterson’s Stone Gods and films The Day After Tomorrow and Blade Runner all present us with a terrifying world of catastrophic climate change that aim not only to thrill but also to foreshadow.

The world didn’t come to an end in 1016 as the Archbishop preached but now the future seems more terrifying than ever. Economic downturn, riots across the globe and the shadow of climate change all turn our fascination to these dystopian worlds. Recent dystopian releases include Hugh Howey’s Dust, the last of his Wool Trilogy, and David Egger’s The Circle.