As a deeply-rooted pessimist, I view dystopian fiction as the future we can most believably extrapolate from our present. We’re facing ecological crisis, economic crisis, overpopulation, constant war, killer drones, the internet killing all the things we used to love, Kardashians, unfair Wikipedia edits, obesity and, for Americans at least, the fear that our best days are behind us. These are downer times, so why will tomorrow be any better?
In that climate it comes as no surprise that dystopian fiction is the prevalent subgenre of speculative fiction crowding the marketplace today. From the oppressive state of 1984, to the neon-nightmare of Neuromancer, to the current Hunger Games wave, we have become very familiar with dystopias.
So familiar that you might wonder, has every good idea been excavated from the subgenre like ore from a sweltering deep-earth mine worked by gene-enhanced slave labor of the megastate? What’s left? What concepts haven’t been raided for dystopian reimagining?
Being a dystopia aficionado, I have a few ideas and only have so much time to write fiction. Here, free of charge, totally free for you to use, are some of my amazing ideas for writers:
Alas, Babyton: Children inheriting the earth and forming their own society, only to reveal the savage faults of human nature, is nothing new for dystopian fiction. But babies? Rising political tensions cause one side in a global conflict to release a biological weapon that wipes out every human being over the age of three and stops the physical aging at that point. The babies left behind must struggle to survive and rebuild civilization. Can they find enough food and water? Can they avoid wandering animals? Can they build a fabulous clockwork airship? Can their new society avoid the pitfalls that brought mankind so low or will they descend into a toddling romp of violence and reprisal?
Canada Rises: In this alternate history scenario, Canada does not just win the War of 1812, they crush the United States and usher in a 19th century of disarmingly polite Canadian imperialism. As the Maple Leaf spreads across North and South America, a power rises in the East to challenge them. The Empire of Tibet, helmed by a peace-mongering Dalai Lama, unites China beneath the flag of Buddha, setting the stage for a 21st century showdown between the two superpowers. Mounties battling monks, transcendental storm troopers, Sherpa commandos fighting sasquatch in the Himalayas, some way to work in an airship; it’s polite versus enlightenment and the possibilities are endless.
Reverse Bergeron Scenario: Athleticism, art and academics are rewarded by a society that seeks to elevate citizens of exceptional ability based on a supposedly meritocratic system. Those who are average or sub-average are expected to work and enjoy the fruits of their labors and never pointlessly aspire to better things. A failed high school athlete in his middle age joins forces with a stay-at-home dad who is working on an electronic album he’ll never finish, a Real Estate agent who devotes her free time to making dragon necklaces for craft shows and an aging hipster who has volumes of short stories she never wants to show to anybody because they’re all Mary Sue erotica. Together they plan to start a political revolution for the average with a bang by destroying the government’s floating airship. To stir controversy, including people with disabilities as part of the revolution could make this stupendously offensive.
Micro-managing Brother: The Orwellian superstate needs an update. Enter a government that manages every action you undertake, eliminating every possible instant of free will, through the use of hectoring personal digital assistants. Time to brush your teeth, citizen. Time to flip the pillow, citizen. Time to butter your toast, citizen. Your shirt need to be ironed, citizen. Sit up straight, citizen. Behold the airship above the city, citizen. We have allowed the devices that control us to slip into every facet of our present day, all we’re lacking is a cartoonishly evil force behind them. More cartoonishly evil than Apple. The perfect scenario for a teenage couple to risk everything by disobeying their assistants and texting society to freedom.
These are just a few of my great ideas and, I will reluctantly admit, someone out there might have a better idea than mine. Anything is possible.
Thank you to artist Nikki Burch for her wonderful Alas, Babyton comic.
Zack Parsons is a Chicago-area writer known for his acerbic humor at Something Awful, his non-fiction books like My Tank is Fight! and his contributions to various compilations. His debut sci-fi novel Liminal States, described by author Cory Doctorow as “vivid, and relentless, masterfully plotted,” was released April of 2012.