Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.
How much of your day is made tolerable by the efforts of other people? Coffee brewers, podcasters, plumbers, and pot dealers – All. Gone. Humans feed off each other, and when the stream of information is cut, the “human” in us starts to fade out. Will Smith’s character in I Am Legend would be delusional and have no impulse control. You kind of see it in his tableau of mannequins in the video store that he’s assembled to achieve some semblance of normalcy. In reality, his madness would be much more like that of a man in long-term solitary confinement, but the cell is the entire city of New York. Loneliness would soon start to chip away at your sanity.
The Lone Wanderer type is a favorite of the post-apocalypse genre. It’s what the Fallout series is all about. Max Rockatansky of the Mad Max series has a better relationship with his car than he does with other people. The sole survivor trudges through the [insert your preferred wasteland], finding it in them to somehow trudge on. But what post-apocalyptic fiction is saying about Lone Wanderers is that they basically have a superpower. They’ve somehow been able to remain relatively sane without humanity’s regular social structures. No amount of survival training can prepare you for a potential lifetime of loneliness and sorrow. Tom Hanks in Cast Away is so desperate for anything resembling human companionship that he inadvertently builds a friend out of a volleyball and his own blood, and gets into an argument with it. It feels so human to argue with someone again.
Somewhere in the universe, an alien race named the planets of our solar system after the most impressive natural phenomena of their world. They have names that describe the floating jungle in their skies for our Neptune; names that tell of clouds shimmering in colours our own eyes couldn’t see for our Venus; they call the moons that orbit us with tender names of plants that aren’t quite flowers and not quite corals.
Only once have they named a planet differently. Earth had long been their favourite subject to study, to watch, and their children love the stories of its strange and far-away life. The name is impossible to translate for human ears and their limited range, but if I were to try, I would tell you that the aliens call our world Growing Home.
Well, they used to.
They won’t come.
They try to forget.
They still watch, but the children don’t ask anymore. Names have changed rapidly as did hope, and then only a single drone remained circling our orbit, sending infrequent pictures of desert where forests were, of oceans as far as its steel sensors could detect. They sent it to land a few times. The results confirmed all fears. A new drone was sent when the old one succumbed to the heat on its search for where ice used to be.
After they found skeletons where their One Day Friends - where we used to live - they didn’t sent another drone.
And one last time, the name for Earth changed, and Growing Home became Uninhabitable.
I love dystopian stories. I love them (in part) because any story about the end of humanity is always a story about why humanity is worth saving, even when it is at it’s worst. But the other reason I love dystopian stories is that a dystopian story is always a confession of awareness and a call to action.
Nothing is new under the sun and that includes our worst nightmares. What makes dystopias scary is that they have already happened somewhere, or are already happening. For me, dystopian fiction has never been about “what if?” but “what are you going to do about it now that you know?”
The Handmaid’s Tale is already a reality for women of color. Fahrenheit 451 is an exploration of aspects of Stalin/Hitler’s rule. There is little to no difference between western socio-political landscapes and the ones portrayed in Children Of Men, The Hunger Games, etc.
I have seen a lot of liberal articles claiming with some degree of resigned smugness that The Handmaid’s Tale is already a reality in a tone that suggests this revalation is the point of that story. As if Margret Atwood unknowingly wrote about things that were already happening. Get a grip, people.
Atwood knew exactly what she was writing about. She knew that unethical illegal surrogacy practices were already rampant in non-western countries. But I’ll wager that she also knew that white women don’t pay attention to the struggles of non-western women unless they share that struggle.
A piece of Dystopian Fiction is not primarily written as a cautionary tale. You cannot warn people of something that is already happening. Dystopian fiction is almost always a call to action to help those that are already suffering and if you are so naive to think that dystopian fiction is ONLY cautionary then you haven’t been paying attention, have you? But now you know, so what are you going to do?
We shot bullets into their fur and wore their teeth as trophies. We stripped them off their pelts, lives, their dignity lost long before the blood stilled in their veins. We painted them as monsters, and the few that called them great, apex, a necessary and beautiful part of our world, had their voices silenced. We forgot their names, forgot what tigers, bears, foxes, lions, wolves or cats were.
So first, the warriors were killed, and we didn’t hear how the wind got louder.
Second, it was the mighty watchers.
We pushed harpoons into their scales and ate their fins. We caught them in nets and dragged them into their suffocation, their eyes fading after our knives got them. We went into their world, took the colour of their coral homes and roared them blame on them when they lashed out, desperate from the pain. We don’t remember their names, don’t remember shark, whale, seal, ray, octopus or reef.
So second, the watchers were killed, and we didn’t hear how the ocean floor cracked open.
And then, it was the tiniest wanderers.
Those we did not hunt. They were small, almost invisible to us, and we were too grand and magnificent to care. We took their flowers, their ponds, ripped out their beloved forests and ate and shattered and wiped out. We found thrill in submitting warriors and watchers to us, but wanderers were too unimportant, too ugly to even look at. And we did not even notice, did not look for frog, spider, fish, mouse, bird or insect.
So then, the wanderers died, and now we heard how the ground howled beneath our feet.
I promise you, we tried. We sacrificed and cried and brought everyone together to fix it, mend it, do something. Do anything.
The wind screamed our names. Ocean and earth whispered for our blood.
If we’d been able to keep the final, the last, the crucial wanderers alive, then maybe the barriers would have held up. Maybe, if their last swarm had not died along with its queen in an expensive lab, then we would have lived.
We should have known that the warriors weren’t our prey, but our world’s attack against the ancient. Should have known that watchers weren’t a burden but our planet’s defense.
Should have known that the ignored insects, the annoying critters, and the last wanderers that we once simply called honey bees, weren’t our servants but our only survival.
So, we failed. And when the wind and its heat, the sea and its waves, and the earth and its hunger came to swallow us, we closed our eyes and heard.