I've just finished reading The Sleeper Awakes -- you'll be seeing some Reflections on it beginning tomorrow -- and today I will begin reading The Iron Heel by Jack London. There are several more dystopian novels on my reading list.
I never have been a big reader of fiction. Many of the great novels of the last 200 years have not made it to my reading lists. However, the dystopian genre has struck a nerve with me. This post aims to explain why.
Authors of utopian novels take the world as it is now and dream up a different world in which all of the frailties and foibles that we currently face somehow melt away. To my rationalistic mind, this is a nonstarter. Humankind has a propensity for certain traits and I see no reason that such traits magically will disappear.
In reading the ancient Taoist texts, we find that the societal problems facing Lao Tzu and Zhuangzi over two thousand years ago aren't that much different than the ones we face today. So, why would someone think that over the next two thousand years these same sorts of problems will vanish?
Dystopian literature, on the other hand, looks at contemporary societal issues to imagine what future society might look like if our worst tendencies are allowed to follow their current trajectories. From my viewpoint, dystopian ideation is more realistic than utopian ones. It looks at the road we're traveling right now to see where it might take us.