Margaret Atwood's "The Testaments": a long-awaited Handmaid's Tale sequel fulfills its promise

When Margaret Atwood published "The Handmaid's Tale" back in 1985, it was at the dawn of the Reagan era, when the gains made by feminism and other liberation movements trembled before an all-out assault mounted by a bizarre coalition of the super-rich and the (historically apolitical) evangelical movement; 35 years later, even more ground has been lost and in many ways it's hard to imagine a more apt moment for Atwood to have published a sequel: The Testaments.

'Station Eleven' is a haunting tale of the apocalypse

I was attracted to Station Eleven by the short description,it smacked of Commedia dell'arte: a post-apocalyptic tale of new-troubadours desperate to keep music and performance alive in a time of death. I was captivated, however, by the author's format in story telling.

Emily St. John Mandel starts this book off like almost any other book about the apocalypse. People are doing things so high-up on Maslow's hierarchy of needs to demonstrate how far or bad they are about to fall. The book opens in a theater, where stuff happens. Shortly thereafter humanity loses its shit.

Years after the collapse, we meet the Traveling Symphony, a group of musicians and a troupe of Shakespearian actors who merged and travel the north-central former United States and Canada, entertaining folks. Star Trek gave a member of the Symphony the quotation “Because survival is insufficient.” and it has become their guiding light. Life on the road is very hard, but it is their life.

The book temporally jumps all over the place, telling the life story of a famous Hollywood actor who died the night before the world fell apart, and following some key players in his life through their experience of the new world order. The jumps are connected, but disjointed. The story is touching, occasionally heart-rending, and utterly meaningless to the destiny of the folks who survive the actor. The interactions with him helped make them who they are, they may inform some decision-making, and perhaps even scarred one or two for life, but they mostly serve to show how everyone's concerns about everything beyond survival are either immaterial or amazingly important. Read the rest

Peng Shepherd's "The Book of M" is a dystopian love story

Peng Shepherd's The Book of M delivers the confusion and frustration of massive world change by playing on the strings of your heart. Read the rest

Concord Coach tells passengers they must be US citizens to ride their bus

This is the stuff dystopian movies are made of. This video, put out by the ACLU, shows immigration agents asking passengers waiting to board a privately owned Concord Coach if they are a US citizen. Even though, according to the ACLU, there is no law anywhere in the country that bars non-US citizens from riding a bus in the United States, a Concord Coach employee answers "Yep" when an incredulous passenger asks if only US citizens can ride their bus. The passengers in this video know their rights and refuse to answer the question.

According to The Root:

In an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio, Concord Coach Lines Vice President Ben Blunt said the employee misspoke. Blunt said the company had not done a good enough job “talking about this issue with our staff,” before adding, “We don’t want to ask our employees—our drivers, our ticket agents—to be interfering with a federal officer who is lawfully doing his job.”

But Blunt’s answer glossed over one simple distinction that needs to be made: There’s a difference between interfering with a government authority and spreading misinformation on behalf of that authority.

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Bubble, a new dystopian podcast sitcom!

The Maximum Fun podcast network (home to such shows as Judge John Hodgman (previously), Oh No Ross and Carrie (previously), and Sawbones) has just launched its most ambitious project to date: a science fiction sitcom about life in a domed city in a monster-haunted wasteland called Bubble, and it's hilarious. Read the rest

84K: A grim meathook future novel of exterminism, with a theory of change and a glimmer of hope in its centre

UK writer Claire North's 84K is a grim tale of a near-future Britain in which Toryism has come to its logical extreme, with all functions of the state assumed by a single massive corporation, and with all human life weighed and priced by how "socially useful" it is.

The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 starts tonight and it looks amazing. Here's the trailer

The Handmaid's Tale, based on Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel of the same name, begins Season 2 tonight on Hulu. If you enjoy being scared out of your wits, this terrifying drama about authoritarian Christians who destroy the United States and who make women's lives a living hell is the show to watch. I can't wait. Read the rest

'The Unbitten Elbow' by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

Reader recommended, and absolutely delightful, The Unbitten Elbow depicts the fervor and zelotry of the Soviet state as it rots from the brain to the heart.

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is another fantastic Soviet era writer of dystopic fiction. Folks in Russia were already living in the worst dystopia most Westerners could imagine. In The Unbitten Elbow, we see an old Russian proverb, that the elbow is always near but impossible to bite, tested by the strength of an entire nation.

Absurdity abounds in this 10-15 minute read.

The Unbitten Elbow by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky via Amazon Read the rest

Watch: Trailer for HBO's Fahrenheit 451

Hey all you Ray Bradbury fans, here's HBO's just-released Fahrenheit 451 trailer, based on Bradbury's 1953 dystopian novel about book burning and censorship. Black Panther's Michael B. Jordan stars as the book's protagonist, fireman-turned-resistant rebel Guy Montag, while his "mentor," fire captain Beatty, is played by The Shape of Water's Michael Shannon. The movie will hit our television sets this May. Read the rest

Some free short stories from Soviet-era science fiction author Anatoly Dneprov

This week I found several stories by Anatoly Dneprov, shared free on the series of tubes we call the internet.

Anatoly Dneprov, a science teacher, wrote wonderful, fast-paced, and oh-so very representative of Russia science fiction in the 1950s and 1960s. Not only does Dneprov masterfully communicate the headspace of living in a dystopic society, but his ideas about self-replicating machines, 3D printing and number of other things-to-come are eerie to the point of disbelief.

The Purple Mummy is a fantastic story about first contact coming from someplace completely unexpected. In just a few pages, as these stories are short, Dneprov launches quite a few huge ideas, and brings the story to a conclusion that doesn't feel lacking. Advances in medicine, the birth of 3D printing, and some very Russian existentialism over an anti-Universe are all strung together in a way that makes more sense than it should.

I also enjoyed his short The Maxwell Equations.

Links are via the Internet Archive and offer all the e-versions you might want.

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'Monday Starts on Saturday' is an absurdist romp thru a dystopian Bell Labs

Monday Starts on Saturday is the Strugatsky brothers' uniquely Soviet take on the future of research and the institutions that perform it. This gem from 1964 is not to be missed.

Sasha, a young computer programmer, is recruited by some hitchhikers to join them at their off-the-rails think-tank: the National Institute for the Technology of Witchcraft and Thaumaturgy. Imagine Harry Potter's Ministry of Magic, set in the Soviet Union and given the noble task of researching true happiness for all people, regardless the cost.

Better known as NITWiT, the institute is home to a dizzying array of sideways experiments, baffling discoveries and talking animals. The Strugatsky's viciously parody dysfunctional element of a bureaucratic, government-run research facility, lambasting the politics, laziness and narcissism while also sharing some wonderful characters and mind bending experiments. NITWiT's director doesn't exist in linear time, Baba Yaga's hut is running around in the back ground and Maxwell's "macrodemons" make a fantastic appearance.

I have only read this translation, but others are available online, at least in-part free.

Monday Starts on Saturday by Boris and Arkday Strugatsky, translated by Andrew Bromfield via Amazon Read the rest

The US health-care system looks awfully like post-apocalyptic chaos

David Chapman writes about how he's spent the last year "navigating the medical maze on behalf of my mother, who has dementia." His key observation? The American health-care system isn't a system at all.

Or to put it another way, US health-care no longer demonstrates systematicity. If want to send a package with Fedex, they have an excellent system in place that ferries your parcel from point A to point B. They know what's going on inside their complex system of many moving parts. Fedex also has a simple user interface, which is another crucial property of good systems: To use Fedex, you don't need to call your friend with clout who can "get you in". You just call Fedex.

The health-care system displays none of these properties. It may possess formidable amounts of medical tech, but there's almost no formal information flow, so access to anything requires a doctor wielding mafia-like connections. As Chapman notes ...

It’s like one those post-apocalyptic science fiction novels whose characters hunt wild boars with spears in the ruins of a modern city. Surrounded by machines no one understands any longer, they have reverted to primitive technology.

Except it’s in reverse. Hospitals can still operate modern material technologies (like an MRI) just fine. It’s social technologies that have broken down and reverted to a medieval level.

Systematic social relationships involve formally-defined roles and responsibilities. That is, “professionalism.” But across medical organizations, there are none. Who do you call at Anthem to find out if they’ll cover an out-of-state SNF stay?

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Cyberpunk's Asian representation problem

Cyberpunk dystopia lifts from the reality and fantasy of contemporary Asian cities and cultures, but rarely reflects these sources in its human inventory. Sarah Emerson writes about the genre's fetish for Asia without the Asians, most recently on display in the curiously whitebread future of Blade Runner 2049.

neon kanji billboards. Neander Wallace's yukata, and Joi's cheongsam. The busy Chinatown. The interactive wall of anime apps. K's rice-filled bento box. The dual Japanese-English text on everything. All signs that point to a vibrant, multicultural city, but somehow devoid of non-white characters.

If Asians shaped this cyberpunk future, where are they?

Blade Runner and 2049 are like Orientalist art. Gorgeous, albeit skewed, depictions of "other" cultures meant to justify colonialism with their backwardness.

The people making the mistakes seem completely oblivious. They can pretend to get it when something egregious blows up, but then soon coast's clear they go back to casting Robert Downey Jr as Indira Gandhi or some other nonsense. Even when they do hire Asian actors for their exotic Asian hellscapes, they're liable to mess it up! Remember Cloud Atlas? About four fifths of it was brilliant, but the remainder was so hard to look at that the movie left my head the moment I left the theater.

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Naomi Alderman's "The Power": in which fierce power of women is awoken

Naomi Alderman's prizewinning UK bestseller The Power comes to the US and Canada today, and you should just go read it right now.

William Gibson: what we talk about, when we talk about dystopia

With pre-orders open for the graphic novel collecting William Gibson's amazing comic book Archangel, and a linked novel on the way that ties the 2016 election to the world of The Peripheral, William Gibson has conducted a fascinating interview with Vulture on the surge in popularity in dystopian literature. Read the rest

North Korea wakes its citizens with creepy dystopian music

Somewhere between "hard to believe" and "of course they do" lurks the music, played over massive PA systems in Pyongyang, by the North Korean regime. Here are two important points of comparison: the unsettling Lavender Town locale in Pokemon, which matches North Korea's oddly melodic eeriness...

... and Chicago's tornado siren, for sheer nightmare terror quotient. (via)

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Creepy satirical VR ad pitches cyberpunk thriller

Harsh Reality is a short movie about how horrible VR is going to be; here's the trailer for the crowdfunding campaign.

ENERGEIA FILMS is proud to be a part of the launch campaign for NOIR Systems's latest entry in the field of VR-enhanced rehabilitation -- the NSYS-EX. As seen in the new short film, HARSH REALITY!

What happens when the technology designed to help us is turned against us? Please help fund HARSH REALITY so you can find out!

VR dystopias are usually posed as an assault on our senses, on our privacy, our sense of self. But honoring the utopian viewpoint--VR as a manifestation of everything we want to see and become, an unfettered self--always held more power for me, especially as prelude to dystopia. The 1988(!) Red Dwarf episode Better Than Life, wherein fully-immersive VR is revealed as a way to completely idealize one's everyday personal flaws, remains my favorite! Read the rest

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