Back From The Future

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Vintage cover from ‘The Edict’.

I’ve always been drawn to dystopian novels.

The first I read was ‘The Edict’ by Max Ehrlich. Published in 1971, set in the 21st Century, the novel’s dark vision is focused on a world ravished by over-population and ecological disasters.

The solution to the global woes is a 30-year edict banning women from having babies.

The story revolves around a couple who rebel against the edict. They go underground while being pursued by the police, and so forth and so on.

What was most memorable to the twelve year-old me was the bleakness of the world Ehrlich created. Single family homes, trees, and other innocuous aspects of everyday life are now confined to “museums” that people must sign up years in advance to visit.

If I remember correctly, highly unlikely considering I haven’t read the novel in forty-four years, the protagonist visits a library and educates himself, looking up “birthing” on a computer . Remember, this was published in 1972 and a computer in a library was a pretty heady concept.

In school, I read ‘1984’ and ‘‘Brave New World’. I appreciated both but didn’t actually enjoy them nearly as much as the pulpier fiction where dogma plays second fiddle to keeping the reader engaged.

I haven’t read a ton of dystopian novels. But lately I’ve found myself returning to the genre. In the last couple years I’ve read ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St. John Mandel and ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline.

Both are fun reads. Not great literature by any stretch, but entertaining, and thought-provoking in their own ways. I have the ‘Hunger Games’ queued up next.

So why dystopia?

I’m drawn to novels grounded in realism, those which describe likely destinies for humanity. While I find post-apocalyptic visions fun, in small doses, usually on the big screen, I’d much rather immerse myself in a story that feels entirely possible.

If I had to guess, I’d say the bleak visions that come to life in this genre offers me solace for the world around me and reminds me of that which I take for granted.

In an earlier post, “Aging Gratefully” I wrote that I now try to savor moments when things go right to provide perspective when things go wrong. Perhaps dystopian novels are another way of savoring how right things really are in my life.

P.S. While writing today’s post I listened to Jean Michel Jarre’s futuristic, synthesizer-driven, 1976 album “Oxygène” . It just seemed to fit. If you’re not familiar, give it a listen.

P.P.S. “Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

Fahrenheit 451 — Ray Bradbury

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