Posts Tagged ‘dystopia’

I was just clued in to this provocative video by the good people over at The Teeming Brain. I rarely watch short films anymore, but this makes me think I should reconsider that decision. Definitely watch the video BEFORE you read their commentary . . . I’m not offering any analysis here, but would be interested in people’s reactions.

I may have been a little late getting around to reading this series. But the prequel is set for release in a few weeks, and Fox is working on turning the first book into a film in the near future, so I guess my timing in finishing them actually turns out to be pretty good.

The Maze Runner books were published over a period of about 3 years, beginning in 2009 with The Maze Runner, then The Scorch Trials in 2010, and The Death Cure in 2011.  The series has been favorably compared to The Hunger Games trilogy, which I think is fair, and I bet most adults who liked Collins’s books will enjoy these as well.

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A friend recently published a smart review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go.   You should go read it.  Her review and questions, along with my less-than-clear recollection of various aspects of the book, led me to revisit it this weekend, and what follows are some loosely-organized critical thoughts on the book.

Everything after this assumes the reader has read the book, which has a major plot element withheld in the beginning chapters.  This thing is probably better left unknown if you are reading it for the first time, so don’t read this if you are planning on picking it up.  Also, what follows will  not be a proper review with any attempt at synopsis or the like, so don’t expect that you’ll follow if you haven’t read it.

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The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

To reiterate what I said in the first part of this post . . .

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Part 2: Huxley’s Brave New World and the Not-so-primitive “Savage”

Like Zamyatin (who he claimed to have not read), Huxley builds his dystopian world off of the examples of H.G. Wells’s utopian fiction.  Likewise, he situates in a world of what seem to be mutually exclusive binary categories.  And again, a central question is the distinction between the civilized (manifested in the World State, its logic of stability, and its citizens) and the primitive (ostensibly all that is necessarily eliminated from the World State).

Within this context of exclusion as definition, the spacial location of the primitive is the Reservation at Malpais (the bulk of which is seen in Chapters 7 and 8).  However, the primitive and uncivilized is also usually read as embodied in the character of John “the Savage,” a young man born (in the old-fashioned way) on the Reservation of parents from the World State.  He becomes the primary protagonist of the novel’s second half when he is brought  to civilization (the World State’s London), and the central conflicts in the book are illustrated most extensively through his dialogue with World Controller Mustapha Mond (in Chapters 16 and 17).

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The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

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goddamn mutants, drokk it!

This is too brief for an actual posting, but I’m headed out for a camping excursion in the morning and need to rep this trailer now or I’d never get back to it.

I just saw the trailer for the new Judge Dredd film.  It looks 1000 times better than that travesty/crapfest with Stallone starring as Dredd.  Dredd is one of the most iconic characters of 80s comics/science fiction, but he is also problematic as many “heroes” of that era are.  This seems to capture that and the dystopian setting of 2000 AD . . . and Karl Urban is well-cast.  I am excited; this is a great year for comic book movies.

Play this in the background, then watch this trailer on mute for maximum effect:

Commissioned and ready long before he left us.

Shortly after hearing the news of Ray Bradbury’s death yesterday morning, I was asked if I would be interested in writing a tribute/obituary.  I passed on the opportunity.  This was partly because my schedule would not permit me to quickly write and publish anything that would do him justice, but it was also because I hadn’t fully thought through what Bradbury’s legacy means.

Despite thinking a bit about Bradbury’s work all day yesterday, I’m still not sure I have a grasp on this latter point.  I read a fair number of mainstream obits/tributes last night (I’ve so far avoided SF sites and fanpages) and none seem to get it right.  I do, however, know what they get wrong.  A number of writers, most memorably to me this writer at Slate who professes to be a “sci-fi nerd” (and has issues with how to use “however” properly), are falling over themselves trying to distance Bradbury from science fiction as a genre.  This is the same thing that happened when J.G. Ballard died–people thinking they are doing  a deceased writer a service by situating him as a serious writer of so-called “literary fiction” instead of that low-brow crap they call “genre fiction.”  In the wake of Ballard’s death, Ursula K. Le Guin rebuked this tendency in a manner I could never hope to replicate, so I’ll just point you toward her piece “Calling Utopia a Utopia.”  I’d love to see the same type of reply from her on the reception to Bradbury’s passing. (As a side note, Le Guin spoke on Bradbury here in Eugene at the public library not long ago as part of the NEA’s Big Read, which featured Fahrenheit 451 as the primary text.  She cares about that book and about talking straight about genre fiction.)

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