Editorial – October 2018: Dystrophic Science Fiction rarely ends well.

September 30, 2018 | By | Reply More

Hello everyone

I blame ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for bringing dystrophic Science Fiction back into vogue, although really, it hasn’t gone away, just not so extreme and not so close to our current time that it can make people uncomfortable. After all, George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is one of the rare SF books on school curriculums and you can’t get more dystrophic than that. Oddly, the power of Orwell’s book isn’t in the date title but in the totally oppressive society. Again, it’s a reality not far from our own.

Why else did the ‘Big Brother Is Watching You!’ slogan verberate when cameras were put up in cities although I doubt if Orwell couldn’t anticipate just how many people it would need to keep watch of everyone even with a smaller population back then. The wider population has got caught into the horror of alternative reality but whether the lessons of what to avoid will be learnt is debatable.

In many respects, though, dystophic Science Fiction is a hybrid of horror and SF. People are both horrified and fascinated at the same time by such stories. There has to be some elements of sado-masochistic desire to see someone tortured and glad it isn’t us element in wanting to read such fiction. A restricted environment with some people waking up to realising it is a dangerous situation and a need for either an escape or initiate a change. You shouldn’t expect happy endings. Often, as with ‘Fahrenheit 451’, you can see it’s only denying the inevitable…maybe.

We know that readers new to such books of this sub-genre probably don’t even consider it as being Science Fiction. I read last month that copies of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ are the most frequently left book in hotel rooms. One has to presume that they actually completed the book and had to put it down, nervous that the fictional reality will follow them home. They might also want others to read the book as well. I have to confess I never read the original Margaret Atwood novel but you do have to wonder if these readers found it that much different to the film but more likely the TV series to not take it home with them.

Scanning the book synopsis, the TV series has started to move away from its ending. Anyway, this editorial isn’t about ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ but whether or not there is going to be a resurgence in dystrophic Science Fiction in modern day settings as a few more books are starting to appear in a similar vein?

It’s hardly surprising that with the world’s troubles and peculiar elected country leader choices, that a lot of people believe we’re living in such a dystrophic world right now. To read more fiction on the subject can either be seen as a need to show there are worse realities out there or there’s a masochistic tendency developing in the world’s population who wants to suffer more than they are at the moment. You would think that people would want to have a happy alternative to read but human nature is odd and not always predictable. Do we really want to read something worse than we have already? It seems so.

SF and certainly our grey brothers, fantasy and horror, are abound with them. Mostly they are too fantastic to believe they can happen here. It’s the likes of ‘1984’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ where they are a lot closer to our own reality that can hit the mainstream audience as it could happen here that gives a frightening twist. I suppose we should be grateful we aren’t in ‘The Matrix’. Anyone for a red or blue pill?

In times past, the choice of fiction in dire long-time situations is to contrast and escape into some happier reality or at least fiction that offers an optimistic or happy ending. There’s no place like a better home, right? Have we changed so much now?

However, we now live in a reality where more people are aware of our genre even if they aren’t fluent on the subject. It also means there is likely to be more dystrophic Science Fiction put out there. In some respects, that might not seem so bad and might actually catch up on the TV shows that already out there. The problem is if ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is used as the template which means putting women in peril all the time isn’t so healthy. A dystrophic reality should equally as bad for men as it is for women.

I’m sure the lady readers out there amongst you would agree on this. I mean, women are liberated. I know ‘The Two Ronnies’ BBC1 TV show back in 1980 did a spoof dystopia series called ‘The Worm That Turned’ where the women were in charge and the men took the women’s roles, but it seems weird that is the only choice. Most dystrophic SF realities have chosen surviving under alien rule far more than distorting our principles any more than we have at the moment. I mean who would contemplate having psychopathic rulers of the major countries doing whatever they want with impunity, crushing anyone who opposes them? Well…until now, that is.

In many respects, dystrophic Science Fiction is actually quite normal in our genre, it’s just that we don’t always recognise it as being such. I mean, would you classify the ‘Star Wars’ reality as being an example of dystopia? I suspect the majority of the planetary populations in a galaxy far, far away are wondering what the rebels are actually rebelling against? The Emperor only seems to go after people who want to oust him, life for everyone else seems to go on as normal with little oppression. You really have to make it really bad for everyone below the ruling class if you want to call a reality dystrophic. Universal oppression is often the key and we have examples of that in our reality over the years mostly based off political regimes designed to be fair but really aren’t.

Absolute control is necessary but it also builds rebellion, although not necessarily public until sufficient people are incensed. That in itself becomes awkward as many people are far more likely to conform than rebel simply to act as responsible law-abiding citizens. If such regimes can last a few generations than the indoctrination tends to stick unless a tantalising alternative is shown to be available. SF often presents a renaissance man, often from a different era, to show things can be different, usually using our current reality as the template. Would a future society look at a man from our current decade describing our current reality as something to emulate?

You would have to wonder if someone put the likes of Donald Trump into a future environment even as a parody just to show the outcome. I doubt if any solution would work with a wall around it or declaring it doesn’t exist like he does with global warming and no scientific knowledge.

With Science Fiction, we can afford to go to extremes as long as we can show some justification for it to work. I have to confess that I don’t think the likes of Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ would work in real life. How can we repair things unless we have written instructions to follow? Diagrams aren’t enough because they don’t cover every eventuality. You cut down expertise practically overnight to just a few specialists. You can’t just make some exceptions because you have to teach people how to read and keep the skill up.

Such realities will soon fall apart. Even worse, the ability to read and write will be lost. Even if people memorise fiction, without the means to return it to the written word at some point, it will be forgotten or even abbreviated by memory lapses. If no one knows how to write, then that will never happen. I doubt if even the likes of Bradbury would go this route again. This doesn’t mean the people who create the environment do so as well but as a writer it means you can test the flaws and see if it could be beaten or blocked, depending on how you want to play the story.

If you’re going to make a suppressive society, you have to look at all the consequences. Any such action requires military help to succeed and hardly surprising that later leaders come from that source. They aren’t interested in developing a society just keeping it under their control. We’ve all seen examples of this across the world to know that it will never last for long and just unfortunate for the generations caught up in it. At the end of the day, it’s all about control than benevolent rule.

Thankfully, oppressive regimes don’t last forever. They might be replaced by even more oppressive regimes but eventually social commonsense does eventually take place, even if it comes from rebellion. At least, I hope they do. Science Fiction is the ideal genre to show off oppressive realities but you do have to wonder how we let them slip into our actual reality.

Thank you, take care, good night and the world of the end might be nigh or it could be neigh if you’re a little horse.

Geoff Willmetts

editor: www.SFCrowsnest.info


A Zen thought: It is the belief that is the power not necessarily the deed.


What Qualities Does A Geek Have: Honesty. It might hurt from time to time but its far better than bad choice lying.


The Reveal: Did you know that Barbra Streisand actually starred in a 1970 SF film? Watch ‘On A Clear Day You Can See Forever’.


Observation: It is said that a stopped 12 hour dial clock can only show the right time twice a day. However, you need a working clock to prove that is so and you have to hope that one’s correct.


Observation: The problem with dates is they only last one 24 hour period. Even if you kept passing through each of the 24 hour time zones across the world, at most you’ll gain an extra day with that date but no one will spot the difference and because it’s just a number won’t add anything to your age.


Observation: Is it just me or the amount of typing I do, but do the three verb typing keys, A, S and E are always the first to wear down and lose their legends on my keyboard? Granted, I rarely look down on my keyboard when I type and only just noticed but you would think manufacturers would make those keys a lot tougher.


Observation: It’s going to be tougher in future to know what pronoun to call the Time Lord, the Doctor in future. He or she simply isn’t going to be enough. Perhaps the Doctor should now be called ‘them’.


Observation: Don’t you find it interesting that of all the hippy slang, only ‘Way Out’ used for exit signs is still in use. Far out.


Observation: The decline in UFO sightings could be more people looking down on their iPads and other gadgets than looking up at the skies.


Feeling Stressed: We might be alone.


Missed Opportunity: There’s a lot to digest but it does cover most of what you need.

            If you aren’t seeing the types of book or authors here you would want to read, chances are that I don’t have any reviewers who do them. I’m stocking up on reviewers right now. The extended info is below but essentially, if you can write and breathe and make good observations, you stand a chance. If you make grammatical errors, then I have your back. Email me at: gfwillmetts at hotmail.com

NOTE: Although there are details below, please observe the bigger message elsewhere on site. I’m always recruiting reviewers and this is the time of year to recruit as the nights are shorter and so you might be sleeping less If you’re living in the UK, love books and feel a bit geeky then read the notes below. You have to love reading anyway. You might be what I’m looking for and I do train people up and it’s good for your writer’s CVs and books to feed your reading habit. As some of my team are discovering, they can also interview writers and write articles as well. You can do that without reviewing as well but reading and reviewing is a good discipline. We’re a good team to belong to.

Polls And Opinions: We did have them for a time but the new version was causing a mess in WordPress so until a new version that doesn’t cause conflicts comes around, we’ll have to do without them but please use the answer option at the end of any material to express comments because we do read them.

For the record: For the odd query I have about being linked to media contacts. I do not have either a personal twitter or facebook account. There’s enough of me here to not outstay my welcome. I’m also puzzled why some people see SFC as a blog site when we’re not. We were in this format long before blogs. It’s getting to the point that people can’t tell the difference between blog and butter.

Beware Of Virus Attacks: December 2012, even though I hadn’t left an active link to my email address, it got solidly attacked and then blocked from everyone, including myself. By necessity, having a form of open contact to me comes as part of the editor’s job. I’m still seeking reviewers and new material so follow the paths through the website and go where no spam-bot dares. I’ve yet to see them write anything. Humans and aliens can apply. Monsters need to prove they can read and write. We could do with some reviewers who like fantasy right now. Don’t be scared of the instructions, you’d be surprised how easy it is to learn. So, if you want to contact me, build these words into an email address: gfwillmetts at hotmail dot com I won’t bite, although that doesn’t preclude others. In fact, I’ll settle for any more willing reviewers who love to read. Did I say I was after reviewers?

NB: We do get digital books and if you live abroad and not in the UK, then this avenue could be open to you. I’m not putting it in as a link to avoid spam. Just copy and paste into your emails to contact me with my address noted in the paragraph above. I’m always recruiting and details are through a link on the top of the SFC main page articles and stories as well. Just because it’s sunny, doesn’t mean you’re going to read any less. We could do with some more fantasy readers right now!

If you’ve on a budget, a book for a review is a good bargain and I can teach the nervous how to do it by seeing what you do when you present a sample. It’s a good deal. We get books in a variety of formats these days so all things are possible to those with the knack for putting words into sentences and saying what they think.

For potential book reviewers in the UK, it’s a good way to keep up your reading habit and show you can write. There are detail links scattered over the website and on the forum. If you don’t think you’re up to scratch, you’ll discover why I’m the dutch uncle. Repeating this several times is for those who only scan and who don’t want to wind back up the page.

Another real Zen thought but this time for potential writers: If you can express an opinion independently of others and aren’t likely to bend to the masses then you might show potential as a writer.

Zen for those who are scared by all the instructions below: Many of the instructions are things you should be doing automatically if you’re developing your writing skills. If you do them already then focus on the ones that you don’t get right. They are there to help you as much as me to get the best writing from you. If you think you’re 80% there then I’ll help you get the final 20%. Trust me, I’m an editor and I can get things right.

BOOK REVIEWS    – Don’t feel intimated by all the info below or linked to. If you’re any good as a writer, much of it should be second nature already. This is just the long hand version.

Do you love books? Do you like curling up and reading a book in preference to socialising, even on the Net? You might not even want to curl up, that’s only an option. Do you have a preference for fantasy, SF or horror? We really could do with some fantasy readers!!! Do you find it the greatest pastime you have next to being on your computer?

Are you very vocal about what you like and don’t like in what you read?

Would you like to share your thoughts with others about books?

Would you like an endless supply of books to do this with?

Do you live in the UK?

Can you spare an hour every day to read?

Do you think you can write about what you’ve read?

Are you finding the recession is hitting your book buying habit?

If you’ve been nodding your head up to this point then link in below and see if you have what it takes to be a reviewer at SFCrowsnest. If you have that special knack to read and write or want to develop said skill then the only way you’re going to find out is to take the plunge yourself rather than wait for others to do it first. Reading a lot of books is a requisite for any writer. Being able to say what makes them good or bad hones your own skills. Even if you’re just happy with reading with a little writing on the side then this might be for you. It’s got to be better than waiting for the sun to come out in this weird summer and now cold winter. It’s also amazing how much you can read in an hour a day.

If you’ve survived this far in the editorial, let me reiterate something from the website newsletter and the above editorial. As you can see from the main page, we have one of the biggest SF/fantasy/horror monthly reviews columns on the Net. Our success has increased the number of books that comes in and our policy is to read everything and give it a roadtest before giving a review so you have some idea of what you’re letting yourself in for. You want the bottom line about what you’re going to choose to read. That means we need people actually willing to read the book and tell others they’re opinion in reviews. For that, we’re always on the outlook for more reviewers.

Do you think you have what it takes to review a book? It’s a skill that can be easily mastered and we need a few more. If you love fantasy, we have more than enough to keep you busy for instance.

Apart from the ability to put words into sentences, you also need to know how to précis, do a little research on associated subjects and can express opinions constructively about the good and bad points about the books you read. We even let you choose from our pile of received books rather than foster something on you that you wouldn’t normally read. You’ll even get a little editorial help in how to write good copy and that can always lead to other things. I’m not as scary as I sound editorially and it’s better to do the test review and see how you fare than not attempt to see how well you did. I did say you have to love books and willing to read beyond your favourite authors, didn’t I?

If you like reading books in the genre and can average two or maybe three a month, can really think and show you can write a decent review and, most importantly, live in the British Isles (sorry, expense, time and distance travelled mostly prohibits elsewhere), then use the link below and see our requirements. We can’t pay you but writing a review has to be cheaper than buying a book and a good incentive to see if you have what it takes to develop your writing skills.

Do you think you’re up to writing a review? If you think you can, then you’re really going to think you’ve landed your hands in the biscuit tin. It won’t hurt to try and see if you have the right stuff by sending me a sample review to show me you can write. If you want an added incentive, it can also be good for your CV.

Look up the Review Guidelines by linking here: <a href=”http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/contribute_reviews.php”></a> with a press of a mouse button.


We always have an interest in running short stories which can be anything from one to thirty or so pages long. We’re always willing to give short story writers a chance to be seen if they can withstand my scrutiny even if we can’t pay for their efforts, your material will be seen by a lot of people if it’s shown on the SFCrownest website. If you can get a short story written well then it’ll make it easier to move up to novel-length.

Look up the Short Stories Link by linking here <a href=”http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/contribute_bigfiction.php”></a> with your mouse.


We’ve also a teaching ground of one page stories, so check out the rules elsewhere on the website. It’s a lot tougher than it looks and far too easy to just write and write and hope something good comes out of it. What writing a one page story does is test your ability to control your word count and still tell a story in a concise way. This doesn’t mean we don’t accept stories of different lengths – a short story can be anything up to 30-40 pages long after all – but opens up the means for really short stories from ideas that don’t need as much space.

Flash fiction stories by linking here: <a href=”http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/contribute_flashfic.php”></a> with your mouse.


For those keeping track, I’m actually now caught up but don’t tell everyone as I’m undecided as to whether to keep looking at novel-length story samples, move over specifically to short stories – which we do anyway for the website – or get a couple of my own book projects completed. The latter, I still intend to do anyway and now actually working on but don’t let that put you off too much. If you want me to look over a sample, you can contact me through the links on this website.

Before you submit, study the next section below as it’s there to help you do some of the right things and reduce the number of times I’m repeating myself over silly grammatical errors and spelling mistakes that you shouldn’t be making if you’re serious about becoming a writer. It makes editing a lot easier if any editor has less work pointing out poor English which you should have been sorted out in the first place and more focused on other areas of your work that deal with plot and the other serious elements of storywriting. As a writer, it is your command of the English language and its grammar that will show how serious you are about writing.

There might not be much of a wait unless I get a deluge, however those sending in ebook samples, please read the Guidelines by linking here <a href=”http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/contribute_bigfiction.php”></a> with your mouse here or through the bottom line menu on the opening page of the SFC website.


General advice for those who want to become writers of any sort: There’s an old editorial adage: If you can’t aim for perfection why should an editor nurse-maid you to that state? Nominally, my job is to catch minor glitches not total mishaps. If you’re a writer, then you should understand the words, sentences and grammar of the job you’re supposed to be writing or are you considering it as mundane and boring as any other job to get right? Fall in love with making every sentence the best you’re ever written, read up and understand the rules of grammar. Put the time in researching any subject you’re using in the story. Be prepared to put a story away for a few weeks and go back to it for a self-edit until it’s as good as you can make it. Even I do that. You look good. I make you look better but you have to start off with good.

A lot of the time, errors will just stare you in the face when you didn’t see them the first time round. Once you know where your weaknesses are, they can be sorted out and allow you to move a little higher up the ladder towards making your material look its best and more importantly, getting your material seen by readers.

The link here will show you the Common Problems Link page and what I see mostly <a href=”http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/contribute_commonprobs.php”></a>

with your mouse. It’s the smart writer who doesn’t get caught out with these.

Good luck.


Category: Culture


About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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