Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Dystopian Futures

I read David Mitchell's The Cloud Atlas for my book club and  Paolo Bacigalupi's  The Water Knife after reading the beginning through the First Look Book Club from  Random House. 

The Cloud Atlas was not easy to get into, but by the third section I started to see the connections, and by the time I got to the stories set in the future I was hooked. I ended up impressed and moved and loving the book. 

The novel is told through stories that cross time, each written in the language of a different genre. The structure is linear but then reverses backward through time as the ending of each story is revealed. As A.S. Bryant advises in her review appearing in The Guardian, you have to "trust the tale." It is worth it! 

The issues raised are deep and relevant: how humans perceive the world, what motivates human society and individuals, the way we condone and whitewash evil, the power of money, the evils of war, our denial of uncomfortable truths. The stories take us to a future that has reverted back to tribal warfare. But ending where he began, in the past, we are shown that individuals who choose to do good can, perhaps, alter the course of history. 

The Water Knife is set in a future world devastated by climate change where the Southwest and Western states are ruled by water cartels. The 'fivers' live in lush Chinese built communities where water is recycled; the poor, made of refugees from communities whose water has been turned off, live with Clearsac recycling of their own body fluids and huddle around water sources provided by charitable organizations. 

Angel is a Water Knife, hired to carry out the dirty work for the Vegas water lord. Lucy is tired of writing for the 'blood rags' reporting on ruin porn and follows a lead to perhaps another Pulitzer. Maria is a Texan refugee, on the lowest rung of society, just trying to survive. 

I really liked the issues explored in the novel. I did have trouble with the graphic violence and the descriptive kinky sex; I don't think these added to the story. But the novel does raise interesting issues and warnings of what could come. 
Emily St. John Mandel book signing 
Last week I attended a talk and Q&A with author Emily St. John Mandel whose Station Eleven I read a year ago and which I reread last month for book club. She addressed the issue of why dystopian novels are so popular and mainstream today. Emily listed reasons for the huge interest in dystopian novels which people across the country have suggested to her.

As Emily states in an NPR interview found here, post-apocalyptic fiction can be a reflection of the anxiety of life in an ever-changing world. No one likes change. Or perhaps we secretly like the idea of a do-over, another chance to get it right. Or perhaps the future is the only frontier left to explore.

I think this fiction allows us to see a projection of what will happen if we don't change and adapt. The visions are a warning, prophecies of doom based on our present actions. What I love about The Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven is the aspect of hope, that something of value is worth saving, that individuals who think morally original can challenge cultural norms and bring society one step closer to ideal. 

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