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

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.



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