Many times over, science fiction has predicted future issues, innovations, and inventions. The microwave, the satellite dish, robots, hand-held computers, and weapons of mass destruction all existed in science fiction before they became pieces of modern reality. Many of these predictions have been lucky guesses, while others have emerged from precise meshes of inspiration, scientific backgrounds, and creativity.
Recently, healthcare officials have begun to give increasing attention to the growing issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Up until this last year, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was the big threat. MRSA causes painful boils and can causes sepsis and disease in vital organs, and it’s very difficult to treat. Now, a bacterium named Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has created a threat that makes MRSA look rather innocuous. CRE is not only highly contagious and resistant to every antibiotic on the market—but it has the ability to trade DNA with other bacteria to make them equally antibiotic resistant. Hypothetically, they could be responsible for future drug resistance in every known species of bacteria, and the implications are terrifying.
Eli Perencevich, an infectious-disease doctor and professor working at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine told USA Today, "We're entering the post-antibiotic era; that's a very big problem."
In my dystopia, World-Mart, antibiotic resistant disease has ravaged the population to the point where antibiotics have become outlawed and those found to carry previously treatable diseases such as Staph and Strep are euthanized to prevent further pandemics. While this is only a part of the story’s B-plot, I found myself dumbstruck at the possibility of currently treatable diseases becoming the scourge they had become in World-Mart. I must also question whether researchers will turn to germ-line therapy in an attempt to create future generations that are more disease resistant. Could the genetically engineered “deviants” of World-Mart also become a reality of the near future?
I’ll admit without any reservations that I wrote World-Mart as a warning of the possible future in store should we allow corporations to expand and render small, privately owned businesses obsolete. It is a future I hope will not come to pass, as fearful as I am that the potential is there. I also saw and wrote about the growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the possible worldwide threats various diseases, if rendered untreatable, might pose. I pray neither occurs to the extent I envisioned in my fiction, although the chances are looking increasingly likely.
What do you think about these latest bacterial outbreaks? What do you think we can do to reduce their threat? In light of current events, do you personally view World-Mart an even more terrifying look into the future, or do you think most of the novel will remain strictly science fiction?
I spent my New Year’s Day watching SyFy’s annual marathon of The Twilight Zone, enjoying the revisit of my favorite episodes and taking great joy in remembering forgotten details. As I watched, I tried to think of other television shows that have compared, and although there have been some exceptional series over the past fifty-some-odd years, none have quite captured that same level of innovation and brilliance. Even now, watching my favorite of the show’s intros gives me a delightful shiver.
The following are the main three reasons why I believe The Twilight Zone is the best television show of all time:
All of my regular readers know what a strong influence I feel Rod Serling has been on my own writing. He is, without a doubt, one of the most innovative writers of his time. One of the main reasons The Twilight Zone was so exceptional was that Serling had such a strong influence on the series. He wrote many of the episodes, his careful use of language and imagery often resulting in a breathtaking effect. His use of symbolism might not always have been subtle, but it was always provocative. His dialog was realistic and profound, and his commentary so poignant that it might be considered timely in nearly every generation. His themes often revolved around the value of human life, and how different individuals or groups might lose sight of that value in the name of money, power, changing social mores, and/or technological advancement.
The Twilight Zone took chances on social and political issues that even now some might consider daring. The series represented speculative fiction in its purest form, using elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, to make statements about the world and the people living in it. In effect, the show used its suspension of reality to say something important about the realest of issues. Other shows have done this as well, most recently the Fox sci-fi drama Fringe and AMC’s The Walking Dead, but none have done it quite as skillfully.
While there are a great number of episodes in which the outcome might be somewhat predictable, one who has never seen the series would never be able to predict what might happen from one episode to the next. The series spanned from lighthearted to downright horrifying, each episode unique and with its own individual offering of commentary and social analysis. Moreover, while some of the twists used throughout the show might seem clichéd in terms of modern television or literature, most were groundbreaking during their time.
I wonder what the generations beyond mine think about the original black and white series—and if they are even willing to give a chance to a show they might consider too outdated to be enjoyable. The thought that The Twilight Zone might ever be considered outdated, regardless of its basic special effects and forgotten actors, sends chills up my spine. Although many have attempted to emulate—even revise and recreate—this brilliant classic television series, there will never be another show quite like it.
I wasn’t sure what to think when I first learned the final season of Fringe was to be set in the year 2036, with a new supporting cast and the Observers serving as the main antagonists, but after having watched the first episode, I’m excited to see where this new story arc will lead. The episode begins with an interesting teaser comprised of both nightmare and flashback that sets the tone for the rest of the hour. The opening credits, altered to match the new setting, are both timely and provocative, set in grayscale to match a colorless and bleak future. The key words represent themes of oppression versus liberty, and images of a wall of people behind a wall topped with barbed wire encasing the word “Freedom” offer a dystopian glimpse of what is to come.
The use of imagery throughout the episode creates a comparison between the Observers and the atrocities of Nazi Germany. The costumes, the tattooed humans, and military vehicles at every turn create an unmistakable effect. Moreover, the hairless Observers take on a Neo-Nazi appearance that meshes past with present, to create a future of what might be, should complacency allow the wrong people to take control. The Observer’s statement, “Resistance is futile,” represents an oppression over a broken and helpless people. Just as interesting is the black market in which “Amber Gypsies” sell frozen people as commodities, turning human beings into items both disposable and priceless.
On a character level, the back story presented between Olivia and Peter is both subtle and well done, and Olivia’s reunion with daughter Etta is heartfelt. It creates a beautiful contrast to the high level of action and fast pace seen through the majority of the rest of the episode. Walter’s role, however, proves to be the most profound, the strength of character he exhibits while interrogated by the Observer playing as a stark contrast to the crazy, erratic person he has proven himself to be in the previous seasons. Most poignant is his imagining of music while confronted with questions of which the answers mean the difference between freedom and enslavement of the human race. When asked why he chooses music to fill his thoughts, he explains the importance it has in perspective and clarity of mind. Music represents hope.
As the Observer attempts to break Walter, who suffers massive trauma in his endeavors to keep his thoughts secret, the Observer alludes to a dead Earth no longer of any use to modern humans. He explains that nothing can grow from “scorched earth,” entreating Walter to abandon all hope and give up the information asked of him. Still, Walter holds his silence, bleeding from the nose and eyes, sobbing for the future of humanity.
The final scene, which moves full circle from the teaser intro in which Etta blows dandelion seeds into the wind, shows a disoriented and broken Walter stumbling across a music CD amongst rubble. As he sits in an abandoned taxi and delights in the realization that the music still plays, he spots a single dandelion growing in the scorched earth. The scene fades out over a city in shambles—but in which hope is clearly not yet lost.
For as many people who have expressed that World-Mart
has touched them in a positive way, just as many people have expressed anger—and even insinuated some kind of underlying political agenda—in response to the novel. Take, for example, this review
: What a load of propaganda. This book is nothing more than the authors[sic] rant/social commentary on how she hates success[sic] for a business she disagrees with, loathing of America, and her undying love for the global warming theory. I believe that she had every right to express her views in her thinly disguised “novel”, I love the 1st Amendment. I hope she is not offended when I express my 1st Amendment rights as well when I say, "TOTAL CRAP!!!!!!!!!"
While my first response must be one of respect for varying opinions—and appreciation that this reader took the time to write what is very clearly an honest review—there really is no way to relay adequately my feelings about the above personal accusations. Yes, World-Mart
is a social commentary. That is what dystopian literature is all about. But I wrote this novel because I love my country
and I write what I write because I feel a personal responsibility to do all I can to protect the liberty, freedom, and the enterprise I felt defined the United States throughout my childhood. Not everyone will agree that we have a problem with corporate growth and the impact that has on our government and social hierarchy. I can only hope my book will help people to raise some of those issues and get some progressive discussion going.
Another issue some readers have had has been in response to the book’s strict adherence to the classic dystopian model: government out of control + protagonists struggling against it = provocative but grim ending
. One reviewer
writes about World-Mart
I can see the events of this book as really happening in our world. I truly hope they do not, but some of the events are taking place in our lives. It is, perhaps, the reality of the plot, the possibility that it is a tale of our future, that causes me to not like the story.
Note: This is probably the most confused review I have ever tried to write! How can, "I didn't like it," and "well done" be in the same review?? That cannot make sense. But it does!
Do I recommend this book after writing the above? Yes.
This truly is the response what I was reaching for when I wrote World-Mart. I’m grateful to the above reviewer for being so honest about how the book affected him/her. On the opposite side of the coin, I can appreciate how some readers might become emotionally invested in the protagonists (despite my attempt to keep them as flat and complacent as any good Mart worker) and therefore might also find their fates disturbing.
To these people, I sincerely apologize. I’m currently writing a book with a happy ending just for you.
I really do hope you enjoyed World-Mart, but I hope it also left a painfully sour taste in your mouth. I hope it made you a little angry. I hope some of the finer plot points it haunt you. That is what a good dystopia is supposed to do. If World-Mart struck an especially harsh chord with you—if the ending left you seething, for example—to you I say good. Now what are you going to do about it to ensure it doesn’t actually come to pass?
When writing WORLD-MART, I strove for an overtly mundane and cold world with the hope of fully immersing readers into the world-gone-corporate. It was part of a literary technique that works to connect to readers not only through what they read, but how they're reading it. That meant, however, also writing characters who could fit that cold, corporate model. I chose the Irwin family to be the epitome of mediocrity, a reflection of the world around them, which called for some creative use of characterization.
With Shelley's character, I used her poetry to offer the readers a gauge into her ever-crumbling psyche. If one compares the different poems she "shares" throughout the novel, obvious differences in style, language, and content give clues about her standing with the world. With that said, I'm curious about readers' responses to the progression (or in Shelley's case, regression) that occurs in Shelley's poetry through the course of the story.
Thanks for reading!
While irony has a place in many genres, it is a fundamental element in satire. When properly used, it can enrich and add necessary depth to a work, offering commentary in ways that few other literary elements can. Irony expounds a premise through that which is not said, but rather implied by exclusion, creating a deconstructionist venue that might show more than simple description might tell. With that in mind, I offer the reader an exposition of irony through a close reading of an excerpt from my dramatic satire and dystopia, World-Mart.
World-Mart takes a critical look at corporate America, speculating the direction our country is heading in its promotion of big business and slow but steady quashing of the small but personal “mom and pop” enterprise. In this first excerpt, one of the main characters, Shelley, experiences her first lone shopping venture at the Food-Mart. Over the loud speaker, she observes, “‘Attention Food-Mart customers,’ the voice announced. ‘For today only, the canned meat product booth is having a buy three, get one free sale (limit two free items). And remember, a hard worker is a happy worker. Thank you for shopping at Food-Mart.’ (59). The main irony here is that Food-Mart is the only place where citizens can legally purchase groceries. By calling customers specifically “Food-Mart customers,” the establishment creates a false sense of value in their patronage, while actually mocking their value as consumers. The limit of “two free items” further exemplifies the actual devaluing of the customer.
Consider what follows: “And remember, a hard worker is a happy worker.” By inserting this message, Corporate again imports a false sense of value in the mundane everyman. While their actual role is minimal and disposable, the message to these people is in reality aimed at keeping the little man as complacent, yet efficient, as possible. The final sentence in this passage, “Thank you for shopping at Food-Mart,” is just as condescending. Given that there is no other place to shop, the token of appreciation is actually nothing more than a slap in the consumer’s face, lip service that says just as much about Corporate as it does those it would control.
Later in the story, main character George crosses a Corporate landfill, which includes an airplane graveyard. In this section of the novel, a juxtaposition of the real and the fantastic offers a glimpse of all that might be lost through current abuses of energy, waste, and power. George remembers airplanes, but only as a child. When he is faced with the airplane graveyard, he must reassess his memories, the phasing out of large, fuel-consuming vehicles that occurred during the time of his realization that fantasies such as Santa Claus do not exist in reality. By comparing both to God, there is the implication that the heart and soul of American economy have died with the death of free market and commerce, that corporate takeover have killed the average American’s dream of better things to come—that the average American’s free choice to believe in something greater than the reality standing before him, both limited and grim.
In the classic “show and tell” of literature, irony shows in ways few others might. It allows the reader to look at a given issue from a creative and open point of view, offering an opening for personal take and interpretation with its implied direction. Irony can be direct or implicit, best analyzed through the deconstructionist point of view, offering greater power to the reader in personal interpretation and analysis. Properly used, irony enables the reader to apply a given reading to his or her personal experience, enriching through implication rather than direct prose, allowing the reader to own the text and interpret it as he or she will.
George Irwin remembers a time before the Big Climate Change, back when the airlines were still in business and people still drove their own cars. The world has changed much over his lifetime, but he still believes in the American Dream. When an alleged terrorist act lands his wife in the hospital, however, George stumbles upon a Corporate secret that could mean the end of all civilization.
World-Mart is free on Kindle through this weekend. If you prefer paperbacks, the trade paperback edition of World-Mart is also currently on sale for 10% off the suggested retail price.
Thanks for reading!
Nestor Cab lives in a world oversaturated with technology and commercialism. A reviewer of reviews by trade, he is disillusioned by the never-ending product placement he sees not only in the media, but permeated throughout everyday society. When he finds a picture of a soldier supposedly fighting overseas, along with enigmatic note on his desk, his quest to find the truth behind it sends him down a rabbit hole from which he will never resurface.
Anderson proves himself a true wordsmith in this breakout dystopian novel, offering a world filled with vivid detail, beautiful word choice, and well-defined characters. While the first chapter did not hook me, the second chapter did, and I found myself eager to find out where Anderson was going with the story’s many twists and turns. My main criticism with this work is there were parts that felt a bit long-winded, with extended back-story given on even minor characters and several monologues that, while making brilliant points, could have been much tighter. Still, I enjoyed this book (I thought the ending was fantastic) and look forward to more of this author’s works. I rate this book 4.25 stars.
It is my pleasure to introduce fellow dystopian author, Jeffery M. Anderson, who has some beautiful insights on the genre. Take it away, Jeffery!The Dystopian Virtue
Various literary scholars and Websites, have identified several common elements that are distinct within classic dystopian literature. What distinguishes the dystopian tale, when examined, reveals the why of its importance as a literary form. The examination also gives insight into the why of the authors and their motives for writing such generally bleak stories.
Classic dystopian novels, such as 1984, A Brave New World and Farenheit 451, commonly involve a humanity overburdened by technology and dehumanized by its own fragility and helplessness that technology has brought on. It is often a humanity tightly controlled and oppressed by a government, corporation or other controlling power that has stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the populace’s inability or unwillingness to self govern behaviors and social structure. The governing power may have intentionally encouraged the powerlessness of the people and helped to create the dystopian society, or simply arose as a response to the decline of self governance. Regardless, the result is always nightmarish.
The “heroes” of the genre, perhaps better simply termed protagonists, are usually disaffected members of the defunct society, insiders who, for one reason or another, are not fully indoctrinated by the governing power and not susceptible to the soporific trance of the average citizen. They rebel against the dystopia and try to escape, or fight back against its oppression. Interestingly, in many cases, the protagonists are largely unsuccessful, falling prey to the power of the antagonistic governor. This leaves many dystopian novels with predominantly frightening and sorrowful endings, and leaves readers feeling as hopeless and powerless as the citizens of the novel.
The intentions of dystopian novels are pretty clear-cut. The whys of these stark warnings about society are deep seeded concerns of the writers as observers of their own times and cultures. Portraying a totalitarian end result to their concerns over apathy, censorship, over-governance and over-technologied people is a plausible and logical conclusion to these writers, observing the trends of the world.
It is a significant and important genre because it realizes fears that many people have about their modern world and can serve as a message of warning that the dystopia can be averted if people become more involved in the formation of their future. But is dystopian literature averting anything, or is it symptomatic of the dystopia becoming realized?
The popularity and frequency of the genre has increased over the last several decades. Literature and film both seem to show an increased fascination with the dystopia. There may be something to the idea that, somewhere in our collective human conscience, the dissatisfaction with the world is increasing, as is the fear of its general direction.
In my own dystopian novel, Ephemera, the world is not a clear-cut dystopia, yet. But, it is far more dystopian than its citizens realize and it edges closer to it every day. It is a dystopia and a totalitarian power that has slowly been emerging for sometime and is on the brink of taking total control of the people, as technology slowly puts them to sleep.
And that is the most likely way that this scenario would come about. Not with a major defining event, but in bits and pieces over time. As the old adage goes – with a whimper, not a bang. There are any multitude of trends one could point to as evidence that the slide toward dystopia has been long coming. It is a pessimistic and perhaps, hyperbolic view of modern history. Still, observant watchers of history cannot deny that the presence and power of media, technology and governing bodies over the daily lives of people has been steadily increasing, if in seemingly innocuous, or even beneficial ways. As to now, society has not hit a stopping point, drawn a line in the sands of tolerance that it will not allow any of these influences to cross. That, in itself, may be of most concern to writers and readers of dystopian literature.
Jeffery M. Anderson is the author of the breakthrough novel, Ephemera. He is the former senior publicity director for the firm FSB Associates and a graduate of the University of Iowa. He writes and blogs from his home in New Jersey. www.theephemera.com
The dystopia is a dying art. Popularized by authors such as George Orwell (1984), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Cat’s Cradle), dystopian literature sacrifices the popular feel-good storyline and happy ending for provocative commentary and an argument for social or political change. Works following the dystopian model make use of social outsiders, antiheroes, and intellectual misfits. They make examples of their characters. Good people die. The corrupt do their worst. The world as we know it comes to an end.
These days, however, people don’t want to read anything depressing. They want good news. They want happy endings. They want to escape.
And that is precisely the problem.
We all have our individual tastes in fiction, and that’s fine. Just the same, we must take a closer look at the social complacency current trends reflect. More specifically, we must ask if these trends reveal simply a population looking for mindless entertainment, or if they might instead be an indication of something much more nefarious and telling.
The 1984 Effect is the connection I see between social complacency and trends in literature, most notably, the virtual death of dystopia and similar genres. I argue that we as a society have been brainwashed into believing escapism is the key to a healthy, happy life, and with that we have sacrificed free, progressive thought and intellectual stimulation. Like the characters in Orwell’s 1984, society has been taught to go with the flow, do what it is told, and question issues just long enough perhaps to see the political backlash and fall back quickly into line. Occupy Wall Street is the perfect example. Many of us want change, but lack the initiative, the tools, or the backbone to manifest it. Moreover, our minds are in the wrong place.
This is not the time for escapism, as tempting the bait may be. This is the time for assessment, reflection, and problem solving. This is the time to be reading the literature about the times. It is time we reject complacency and once again begin looking toward the future.
I challenge you, the modern reader, to embrace the dystopia and all that it stands for. Read for fun, but also read for progressivism and intellectual discourse. Consider the depth of the profound ending (rather than the happy one) and all it might do to effect the change we’re all so desperate for. Let’s make a difference in this world, you and I, one book at a time. After all, without taking a long, hard look at what needs to change, we will never make it happen.
Start your reading revolution with World-Mart, the dystopia of our time. Available through amazon in both paperback and electronic formats.
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