Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dystopic Corner - Scorch and Brave New World

A.D. Nauman's Scorch was much more dystopic than Imprint. There's no escape in this novel. Arel Ashe, the main character, is surrounded by advertising and libertarianism, both taken to the extreme. There's no where she can turn that she isn't confronted with in-your-face ads. In her car. At her job. In every t.v. show. In her apartment. Likewise, libertarianism has been taken to the extreme, and good citizens complain about the big brother government of the past, the unproductiveness of the homeless, and that everything is simply better unregulated, although the effects on individual freedom are in many cases the reverse of what might be expected. When society starts to fracture, one side embracing libertarianism coupled with Christianity, the other side embracing compassionate housing for the homeless, the result isn't what you'd expect, and Arel finds herself in the middle of two extremist camps that seem strikingly similar, both willing to kill, neither fixing what's wrong with their society. It's a good dystopia when the description of the problems don't sound that much different from your own society.

Nauman has some clever bits in her writing, although I swear she's oversexed. But sex is a prominent feature in most dystopic works as it tends to take everyone's mind off of rebellion. Both Brave New World and 1984 feature their share of bonking. Nauman pokes some fun at Orwell's 1984, noting that in her society they keep turning it into new remakes for television all the time, but her book more closely resembles Huxley's Brave New World in tone. Both have mommy attachments - Arel to her mother, the Savage in BNW to Linda (although her attachment to him is questionable in the same way you question a meth mom's attachment to her child). Both have a character who learns something about opposition to the current society via books. Arel from the backroom, discarded waste in a library that is now devoted to videos, all commercial in nature; the Savage from his copy of Shakespeare. Both have a character that seems at first to be against their society, but at points seems more frustrated that they don't fully belong and can't get all the things they truly want. When Arel gets a taste of respect after her successful screenplay, her non-mainstream boyfriend and book-learned ideals temporarily disappear. Likewise in BNW, Bernard Marx for a while becomes the conduit between the populace and the Savage and finds contentment in having a bit of superiority and fame. They embrace what is easy when it is offered. Revolution is too hard.

I read a sizeable part of Readings on Aldous Huxley Brave New World (Literary Companion Series) while donating platelets and finished up early this week. The book is a number of critiques on aspects of Brave New World, and because there are more than a dozen, suffers from a bit of repetition. But there were some good ideas once you cut through the boring bits, and it's enlightening to see the criticism change over 80 years, from complaints about how bolshevism and atheism make BNW a reality, to 50's and 60's concerns that BNW is here, to later essays which aren't as alarmist and are content to examine the characters, their relation to other literature, and the role of love in this particular dystopia. I was particuarly interested in David Sisk's excerpt from Transformations of Language in Modern Dystopias, but at $108.00+, it had better be in the interlibrary system, because at that price my interest in dystopias starts to seem like a soma habit. Transformations examines one of my favorite topics, namely that stripping characters of their names is a dystopic tradition (Logan's Run, THX 1138, etc.), and it's interesting to ponder why so many authors find this to be so central toword dehumanizing an individual.

I can't remember which author used it, but I was particularly enamored of the idea of the zero horizon dystopia. I've never been convinced that any other type is a true dystopia. After all, if there's any sort of hope, any sort of escape, even for the reader, then how dystopic can it be? True dystopic heroes are doomed. Like Arel burning to death at the end of Scorch. Winston Smith being tortured in 1984. 503 being surgically altered in We. Or the main character going insane at the end of Brazil (which treads the liminal - did he escape, or didn't he?)

I flushed out my wishlist on Amazon with all the dystopic works listed so that the Amazon recommendation engine is almost reset in what it perceives to be my preferences, spitting up all sorts of dystopic options in addition to information architecture and search engine optimization. I wonder if the government will look at that combination and offer me a job designing new web sites?

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