So I only recently read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I know, I know. My only excuse is that I read Fledgling when I first heard about her, and I didn’t realize that was widely recognized as her weakest work, written after years of writer’s block and depression, so I didn’t pick up another for ages. I will now read every single thing she has ever written.
Anyway, the thing that most struck me about Parable of the Sower was how close it seemed. In most dystopian novels, the Thing That Happened is either some striking event that is so drastic and dramatic that you can feel safe on this side of it (nuclear war, for example), or it is far enough in the future that you know you wouldn’t have to deal with it (like The Hunger Games, where the society is way too established to be happening even in a couple decades). Part of the fun of dystopias is imagining what you would do to survive while knowing, deep down, that you are safe.
That is not the case in Parable of the Sower. It’s set in the 2020s, and to hammer that point home, she has several of the more adult characters reference things not being like this in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. It is also the slide to the dystopia, rather than the dystopia itself. The world is pretty horrific, but you can see - as can some of the characters - that there is room for it to get worse. Money is still accepted, for example, and other civic systems are still in place (albeit not highly functional). It is our society in free fall, and it is legitimately terrifying. Reading it now, in 2016, with Brexit and Trump and the refugee crisis and so many bombings, I had a vague, clammy feeling of anxiety the entire time.
I haven’t yet read the sequel, but I saw this article today:
Butler’s fictional Andrew Steele Jarret runs on the promise to “Make America great again.” More chillingly prescient than that, in my opinion, is that Jarret’s supporters repeatedly turn to harassment and violence, and “Jarret condemns the burnings, but does so in such mild language that people are free to hear what they want to hear.”
So. Now I am both excited and terrified to read Parable of the Talents. Have you come across any dystopias that make your skin crawl with their sheer possible-ness? (I feel like possibility wouldn’t work there to convey my point) Great dystopias in general? Side question: in science dystopias, where the idea is that people have given up creativity and emotion for the comforts of technology (Brave New World, The Giver) why is it that outsourcing reproduction is always a major signaller of that? Is it because they are written by men? Because honestly, I would have considered outsourcing pregnancy if it were an option, and I don’t know that that makes me a passive dystopian sheep.