When I say that I am a voracious reader, I’m not exaggerating. In any given week I will get through about seven books, a slew of daily newspapers, and a bunch of junky magazines I drag home from the supermarket because I feel too guilty to just read them while standing in line to pay for my groceries.
And yes .. I’m a speed-reader. Always have been, just born that way. Most of my family are the same … speed-reading book junkies.
My tastes are catholic, and I routinely run the gamut between politics, humour, philosophy, current trends, and plain old fiction. I like mysteries and stories of alternate futures, worlds that might have been or are yet to come.
One fascinating book that still has real estate in my brain is a terrific new novel called, “All Our Wrong Todays, ” by Elan Mastai, a Canadian screenwriter who lives in Toronto. Like every sci-fi movie or novel, the book presents another vision of what our future could or should look like.
In this case, Mastai asks us to hold two separate realities in our mind simultaneously, and see the beauty and the horrors in both. From the jacket,
“You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.
Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.
But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career and–maybe, just maybe–his soulmate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future–our future–is supposed to be.”
Since the book is set in current day Toronto, I sometimes realize I’m actually travelling on the streets referenced, half expecting to see Tom wandering by, struggling to find his place in this upside down world in which he’s found himself.
In the end, our hero comes to see that it is our every day actions and dreams that shape the future in which we find ourselves living. If you dream it, you can make it.
While this book presents a fairly utopian future (that we j-u-s-t missed … ) the public’s interest in dystopian literature has been on the rise for .. oh, nearly two years now. It’s simply not possible to deny that the current reality of America’s highly partisan politics was postulated many years ago. Sales of books like It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis,) Brave New World (Aldous Huxley,) 1984 (George Orwell,) Ready Player One (Ernest Cline,) and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood have boomed with each new outrage and indignity unleashed in the United States.
These books provide us with some idea of what can happen to any nation when individuals with a taste for dictatorship manage to snow the people for long enough to step into power. By the fall of 2016, I was already saying that I felt like Poland nervously watching Germany in 1939. And yet, many still, even today, see nothing wrong with a national leader believing that the country over which they wield power, should be his personal property, run only by himself without dissent.
In 1990, attorney Mike Godwin came up with what was to become known as Godwin’s Law – the belief that, sooner or later, in any online argument, someone will bring up Hitler. It may be an inevitable consequence of free speech, and certainly is frequently used inappropriately, but by 2017, even Godwin said that Trump’s populist and fascistic campaign really did beg the comparison.
The best dystopian novels are about characters like ourselves, whom we can cheer on through the worst times, and mourn when they suffer losses. We want to see how people react in the face of a world they have to navigate despite the viciousness of nature gone mad, or of all-powerful despots and their evil minions. The survivors are the rebels, the quick-witted, those who manage to turn a horrific society into a place where they can simply live without fear, against all odds.
They battle the commonplace as well as the absurd. In “Station Eleven,” Emily St. John Mandel‘s character faces a world decimated by what seems to be a mutation of the common cold. In “The Age of Miracles,” Karen Thompson Walker‘s young heroine struggles to find meaning in a world where the sun has slowed, and the days become longer and longer.
Does our interest in alternate – and especially dystopic – futures stem from an attempt to control the outcomes? Act as a sort of “SciFi Survival 101” handbook to coping with the possible pitfalls which may arise? Soothe our worries of how to live in our current reality by reading about futures impossibly worse?
I know that my dystopian readings alerted me early to where the Trump presidential campaign was headed, and what was likely to ensue if he was elected.
It’s funny – way back in October or November of 2016, pre-election, I was a guest on Bill King‘s radio show, along with Jane Harbury and Bob Segarini. I was asked if I thought Trump would win the election, and found myself the only person who thought it very likely to happen. Like Cassandra of legend, my predictions elicited only scorn. But I could see it and feel it, and I knew the world was about to change dramatically.
Sadly, I was right then, and can only hope that my other beliefs of how quickly and how tragically the U.S. will be damaged – perhaps to a point of no return – while the current administration tears down the nation, are exaggerated. Tho’ … I doubt it.
The sad truth is that the steady drip drip drip of horrific executive orders, ‘breaking news!‘ and the knowledge that the hands of the nuclear clock steadily move more surely to midnight, has already taken an enormous psychological toll on most thinking humans on the planet, leaving us more prone to mental and physical disorders.
Until the world feels a bit more like the grownups are in charge, I’ll keep devouring the novels that hold out at least a little hope for a brighter future, even if it’s only in fiction.