I wanted to read this book even though I knew it would give me a headache. How can you not get a bit upset when excellent writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Phillip K. Dick intend to make you think really hard about how bad the world can get with just a few tweaks and wobbles? Bad new worlds, it should be, though the title is apt, and the term “dystopia” suits all too well. Some people would argue
that we’re already living on a dystopian planet, in a dystopian country with a dystopian culture. There’s global warming (referenced in
"Auspicious Eggs," James Morrow’s tale of unloving sex partners and unwanted children fleeing "Boston Isle" after the melt) and creeping premature senility (described at its extreme in Orson Scott card’s eerie
"Geriatric Ward," in which the good news is there’s no disease to mar your perfect life, and the bad news is, you won’t live past thirty). There’s a nagging fear of too much government control (read
"Is This Your Day to Join the Revolution?" by Genevieve Valentine, a sad little tale of the dangers of asking too many questions and the folly of trying to take a stand).
The book begins appropriately with that classic chiller by Shirley Jackson,
"The Lottery," setting out with growing suspense and then eye-popping clarity one way that societies can purge excess population and achieve a tidy sense of corporate catharsis on an annual basis.
Anthology editor John Joseph Adams (Wastelands, The Living Dead, etc.) states that “in a dystopian story, society itself is typically the antagonist; it is society that is actively working against the protagonist’s aims and desires" and "…you could be living in a dystopia and not even know it.” With society or government or even the planet itself as the bad guy, the question in dystopic stories is, will the hero beat ‘em or join ‘em? That’s where the enjoyment factor kicks in. You read not because the posited evil world is thoroughly depressing or at least annoying, but because there’s hope of rebellion.
But it’s about fifty-fifty – many authors prefer the ending in which the hero finally just melts into the dystopian landscape. (Reference Orwell’s stunning, “He loved Big Brother.”) In Brave New Worlds, the tale of "Resistance" by Tobias S. Buckell leads the reader from hope to the defeating conclusion: “The darkness marched its glorious way through the cavernous gardens toward Stanuel, who folded up in the air by a tree while he waited for the dark to take him in its freeing embrace.” Dystopia has won again.
"Civilization" by Vylar Haftan is not a story but an analysis in which he outlines how societies are born, flourish, deteriorate, fail, and are reborn. His deft satirical view demonstrates that there is little real difference between one man’s dystopia and another’s utopia. In a utopia, no one is homeless and all issues are decided by fair courts; whereas in a dystopia, “All issues are decided by fair courts. Mistakes, of course, are never made. How could they be?” and “No one is homeless. People without homes live in institutions, where they are subjected to conditioning and experiments.”
With thirty-plus fantasies to choose from, Brave New Worlds would be a great collection to give to both cynical and hopeful friends. It’s also a good trip read, and a book that more than one member of the family can enjoy. Should make good fodder for arguments between the generations, with the vision of the young and the exhaustion of the old clashing when it comes to deciding what constitutes a true dystopia.