BOOK REVIEW: Dark Futures – Conclusions and Visions

Dark Futures is a 20-book exploration of the fears of our futures, an odd sub-genre of Science Fiction that draws in on the society of the time and projects it forward, into uncomfortable visions of the world to be. The idea is the same across many books, the results, very different.  This week, (after a slight delay) we try and draw some conclusions on the end of the world, and how to survive it.

It seems that the end of the world is everywhere at the moment. We’re so familiar with it – with the language and imagery – that I sometimes wonder if it has started to lose all meaning. By the mid-1980s the vision of a dystopia was so ingrained that Apple used it advertise early Macs, and as recently as this year’s Brit awards, UK band Take That performed dressed up as oppressive riot police, which is very much in the Zeitgeist of this year of protests and occupy movements and all the rest. However, what is striking when we look at Dystopias is how much Orwell defines this back in 1984 and how strong that vision remains.

That said, the world changes, and peoples fears move on, and whilst many of the mechanisms of control remain descended from Airstrip One, the villains have changed. Margaret Atwood gave us religion, to fear, but more recently it’s corporatist villains simultaneously feeding us brain deadening entertainments whilst stripping us of our rights to do anything but consume. Oh, hello Mr Huxley, did you get there first with that?

On the other side of things are the just plain ends of the world; near biblical cleansing of one world to make way for a new, worse one. Again, the imagery is achingly familiar to modern eyes – blasted, haunted cities and feral survivors, a desperate struggle for a new age. Its the story, I think, of the 20th century – a period dominated by war on a global scale and a fear of worse to come. Again, the methodology changes – nuclear war was very popular for a time, but these days it’s environmental collapse, or better yet, Zombies – the latter hovering close to overexposure for my tastes but still capable of delivering some bite.

Sorry.

What is most interesting is how much these books portray their lack of future so convincingly (furry psychic mutant hippies notwithstanding) that I’m amazed I got though the list without needing to take a serious break for something light and fluffy. It’s helped, I think, by a lot of these works being thoughtful and intelligent, and engaging beyond the simply nihilism of their setting.

So, have I learnt anything? A cynic would argue that I’ve learnt that 80 years ago people thought we wouldn’t get this far, just as now people thing we won’t make another 50. But some of these books stand as stark a warning today as when they were written, and that’s a more troubling thought, as if we have staggered forwards but made only little or no progress. A more cheerful thought, perhaps, is that the warnings endure like lighthouses, to keep us off the rocks, so with that, I will wrap up.

I’d like to thank everyone who has read and/or commented on this column this year, and hope you found it interesting. Still contemplating next years project, so any suggestions appreciated.

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus. Earlier Reviews in this series can be found using the tag “Dark Futures” or the column name “Tolkien Gestures”.

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