The Usefulness of Dystopian Fiction

By Elizabeth Prata

Tim Challies is a reader and a book reviewer. He is the author and promoter of the Annual Christian Reading Challenge, in which I participate.

I was glad to see this article by by Jon Dykstra linked from Tim Challies’ site:

Why Is Dystopian Fiction Worth Reading?

Yay! Someone else is a fan of dystopian fiction.

Dystopian is a word from Greek meaning ‘bad place’ according to the article. It’s the opposite of Utopian, meaning ‘perfect place’.

Dystopian fiction is a genre that describes people surviving or trying to, after a holocaust of some kind, or a societal collapse, or a nuclear war, and the like. The article speaks of this kind of fiction being worthwhile because it helps us in predictive prophecy of the secular kind, in connecting the dots to see a current credible future threat. The author’s point was that this kind of fiction spins a credible threat into scenarios that help us understand where these threats may lead us.

This is a genre well worth exploring, though with care and caution. It’s a big blank canvas that insightful writers can use to paint pictures of grim futures, all in the hopes that they, and we, will ensure such futures never come to be.

I enjoy this fiction but had felt mildly guilty about it, as though I needed to be doing something more productive. I’d wonder, ‘Am I a ghoul?’ ‘Why do I find this absorbing?’

Mr Dykstra helped me see my interest in it was to go where my own imagination lacked facility, to ‘see’ a future that is all too real in some cases, and to develop opinions and thoughts to guard against it. EM Forster’s The Machine Stops is a future that is practically already here, as is Stephen King’s The Running Man. Chilling.

The most famous work of dystopian fiction is George Orwell’s 1984, which the article mentions. That work was published in 1949. Another famous work of dystopian fiction is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Other classic dystopian books are PD James’s Children of Men, and the Canadian book The Handmaid’s Tale. Of this last one, the author of the article discounts it as predictive or even helpful as understanding a credible threat, though a good yarn, because it was Chrfistianity that led to the dystopian society being described in the fictional account. Dystopian fiction is good where it helps us see ahead and cope with credible current or near current threats.

I mentioned I’m participating in the Challies’ Christian Reading Challenge, at the “Avid Level” (26 books read this year.) I added several others of my own choosing to Challies’ list, making myself a separate genre nook of dystopian books I wanted to read. They included The Running Man, The Machine Stops, and It Can’t Happen Here. I’d like to add these and some other dystopian material to you as recommended. I’ve read most of these and have watched the movies.

Stephen King’s The Running Man (1982)-

is a science fiction novel by American writer Stephen King, first published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1982 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the omnibus The Bachman Books. The novel is set in a dystopian United States during the year 2025, in which the nation’s economy is in ruins and world violence is rising.

The end of The Running Man is absolutely chilling, as the final action the main character takes has already come to pass.

EM Forster’s The Machine Stops. (1909). Amazingly prescient, predicting the rise in technology that impacts both individuals and society, this novella is a short but chilling read. In many ways, we are living Forsteer’s future now.

William Forschen’s book One Second After (2009) depicted the effect upon America from an EMP, (electro-magnetic pulse), and the nation’s societal collapse and resulting high death rate. The author consulted with psychologists, economists, and sociologists to base his fiction on real scenarios those experts stated would most likely happen if we suffered an EMP.

Pat Frank’s book Alas, Babylon (1959)-

-was one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age and has remained popular more than half century after it was first published, consistently ranking in Amazon.com’s Top 20 Science Fiction Short Stories list. The novel deals with the effects of a nuclear war on the fictional small town of Fort Repose, Florida, which is based upon the actual city of Mount Dora, Florida. The novel’s title is derived from the Book of Revelation: “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.”

Nuclear winter wasn’t a very known or understood event back then, so the survival rate of the population in Alas, Babylon, this initial entry into the American dystopian nuclear fiction isn’t realistic, but most of the rest of the book is.

Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here. (1935). I have not read this book but it is on deck to be started this weekend. I’ve read three pages so far so I can’t review it, lol. Not yet. The synopsis seems like we are living it now…

Here is Wikipedia’s synopsis of Lewis’ book-

Published during the rise of fascism in Europe, the novel describes the rise of Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue who is elected President of the United States, after fomenting fear and promising drastic economic and social reforms while promoting a return to patriotism and “traditional” values. After his election, Windrip takes complete control of the government and imposes a plutocratic/totalitarian rule with the help of a ruthless paramilitary force, in the manner of Adolf Hitler and the SS. The novel’s plot centers on journalist Doremus Jessup’s opposition to the new regime and his subsequent struggle against it as part of a liberal rebellion

With the current rise in tensions between nuclear powers India and Pakistan, these two movies might be worth a look.

Threads. I watched this 1982 film a few years ago. I wrote a review of it below. It affected me greatly.

The most unrelentingly horrific and unsettling apocalyptic movie you will ever watch that comes the closest to what the Tribulation will be like: “Threads.

The Wikipedia synopsis of the film states:

Threads is a 1984 British apocalyptic war drama television film jointly produced by the BBC, Nine Network and Western-World Television Inc. Written by Barry Hines, and directed and produced by Mick Jackson, it is a docudrama account of nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in Northern England. The plot centres on two families as a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union erupts. As the nuclear exchange between NATO and the Warsaw Pact begins, the film depicts the medical, economic, social and environmental consequences of nuclear war.
Shot on a budget of £400,000, the film was the first of its kind to depict a nuclear winter. Certain reviewers nominated Threads as the “film which comes closest to representing the full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath, as well as the catastrophic impact that the event would have on human culture”.

And even then, the film, though it comes near to depicting the horror of the Tribulation, doesn’t even come close to its actuality. But Threads is as close as I’d want to see it anyway. Our minds can’t fully comprehend the full evil that will occur at that point in history. As this reviewer said, in his article, ‘Threads’ Is One of the Most Horrifying Films I’ve Ever Seen: This BBC docudrama scarred a generation,

Threads absolutely forces you to face the unthinkable.

People, the Tribulation is unthinkable. But we must think on it, the Lord’s wrath already hangs over the unsaved. Things like this should spur us to witness with eagerness and fervor.

The War Game (1965) is another film that horrified audiences. Created in 1965, it was deemed TOO horrifying to be released widely. See below-

The War Game is a 1965 television drama, filmed in a documentary style, that depicts a nuclear war. Written, directed and produced by Peter Watkins for the BBC’s The Wednesday Play anthology series, it caused dismay within the BBC and also within government, and was subsequently withdrawn before the provisional screening date of 7 October 1965. The corporation said that “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting.

I don’t think a steady diet of this kind of material should be on our plates, but books or movies like this can be a legitimate addition to our bookshelves or movie queue, for the reasons stated above. Happy reading…or in this case, unhappy reading.

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