Dystopia and Deathmatches in Sci-Fi

Battle Royale:
This controversial story, also adapted into a film, takes place in an alternate universe where Japan is a member region of a totalitarian state named the Republic of Greater East Asia. Alluding to the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of WWII, it is clear that this a world in which Japan won the Second World War and continued on the path of fascist Imperialism.

In any case, the story revolves around what is called “The Program”. Under the guise of a “study trip”, a group of junior high school students from a fictional town are gassed on a bus. They awaken in the school of an isolated, evacuated island and learn that they have been placed in an event where they must battle each other to the death, or all will die.

Officially a military research project, it is a means of terrorizing the population, of creating such paranoia as to make organized insurgency impossible. Every year, fifty classes are selected to participate where students from a single class are isolated and are required to fight the other members. It ends when only one student remains, with that student being declared the winner.

Their movements are tracked by metal collars, which contain tracking and listening devices; if any student should attempt to escape the Program, or enter declared forbidden zones, a bomb will be detonated in the collar. If no one dies within any 24-hour period, all collars will be detonated simultaneously and there will be no winner.

Banned in many countries (the novel and the film) because of its controversial and graphic nature, Battle Royale has gone on to inspire such books as The Hunger Games.  Combining a Lord of the Flies-style appraisal of human psychology with a indictment of reality TV, this story remains one of the most effective pieces of modern dystopian literature featuring death matches.

Dune:
Fans of Dune will remember the lovely scene in the novel where Count Fenrig travels to Geidi Prime to speak with the Baron. Once he arrived, and in honor of Feyd Rathau’s birthday, he was treated to a gladiator match between Feyd and a slave gladiator. This is a common feature on Geidi Prime where death matches are considered public entertainment and every major city has its own arena.

And what better place for this kind of entertainment than Geidi Prime, a world run by ruthless overlords and characterized by harsh, perverse brutality? And that was the point after all. The Harkonnen’s were the bad guys in this tale and everything about them, their appearances, ethics, and homeworld was designed to match.

Robot Jox:
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic world where conventional warfare is forbidden between nations, Robot Jox tells the tale of a gladiator-style sport where giant mechs do battle in open arenas. This is how the two super-nations – the American-influenced Western Market and the Russian Confederation – work out their differences.

Of course, espionage and betrayal remain an integral part of the games, mirroring the Cold War. What’s more, the games often rigged to ensure that one bloc can get a leg up on the other. And in the end, the entertainment factor is also a driving force behind the games. In a post-apocalyptic world, the masses need some form of entertainment to distract them from the shock and horror of their daily lives.

The Hunger Games:
Following in the same vein as Battle Royale and Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games tells the tale of a not-too-distant future where the United States has degenerated into a tyrannical government ruled from a political seat known only as “The Capitol”. Every year, the rulers of this city force all the outlying districts to send two young people – one boy and one girl – to compete in a free-for-all known as the Hunger Games.

The purpose of these games is simple, to keep all districts in a state of awe and fear so they won’t be able to contemplate another uprising. Years back, it is said that the 13 districts committed to one such uprising, the result being that District 13 was destroyed. The remaining twelve now send their competitors and try to exploit the incentives, which just happen to be rations.

Throughout the book, several things are made clear about the games which highlight its satirical nature. Satirizing reality TV shows, we learn that the games are televised, incentives are offered to keep the games going, and contestants draw sponsors based on their popularity. In addition, extra elements like romances and collaborations are encouraged to ensure that the games remain interesting and dramatic.

In the end, the games serve the purpose of keeping people down but also exploiting their destitute nature by offering them a shot at something better. When the games are over and only one person remains, they will receive enough rations to last them a lifetime. Many times over, it is also shown how life in the capitol is opulent and comfortable, whereas the outlying districts are malnourished and must do things like hunt illegally for food. And of course, the farther the district from the capitol, the more difficult life is, another aspect which the capitol exploits to ensure its continued survival.

The Running Man:
Written by Stephen King under the pen name Richard Bachman, The Running Man is also a near-future dystopian tale set in 2025 where the US has become a totalitarian state because of economic fallout and wide-scale starvation. For a population dogged by hunger and martial law, the only real source of enjoyment is a televised TV show where convicts are forced to engage in gladiator-style combat against seasoned “hunters”.

Aptly named “The Running Man”, the show begins when a series of “enemies of the state” – i.e. convicts – are released into a massive arena where they are pursued by a group of network-employed hitmen. For every hour they remain alive, they earns 100 dollars, plus a bonus for every Hunter they kill. If they survive 30 days, they earn a total of 1 billion “New Dollars” and a full pardon. Or so they say…

Though the novel and the movie differ in terms of plot and resolution, the basic elements are the same. In a future where the vast majority of the population is indigent and desperate, brutal spectator sports are seen as the only outlet. In both versions, much is made of how popular the games are and how important they are to both the network and the government, hence why every attempt is made to ensure that the Hitmen always win.

This serves to reinforce the notion that enemies of the state will always lose when faced with the governments brand of justice, which in this respect is similar to a show trial. It also ensures that the most profitable business in that day and age, since the show grosses billions of dollars in sponsorship and betting on convicts is also a big side-business, stays up and running. So in addition to serving as a source of social control, the games are also an example of corporatism, where the government has a lucrative arrangement with its biggest corporations.

Unreal Tournament:
Don’t laugh! Yes, this may have been a glorified (and gory) first-person shooter in it’s time, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t also inspired. Though gamers cared little for the storyline, the fact remains that Unreal Tournament actually had a dystopian theme that drew from several classical sources. Set in a future where the Earth government creates a no-holds-barred arena deathmatch game to settle disputes between deep space miners.

However, when it became clear just how profitable and popular the games were, the games expanded to become an interstellar affair where anyone could fight and the prizes were astronomical. In turn, the corporate responsible for creating the games also became incredibly powerful and used every tool in its crooked arsenal to make sure that competitors were in good supply and things always worked in their favor.

Any player who survived long enough to make it to the end would square off against the companies own cyborg. If they were fortunate enough to kill him too, they received the grand prize and rank of Tournament Champion! All of this, though it took the form of a first-person shooter, calls to mind all the previously mentioned examples of dystopian science fiction and psychological realism. By pitting the desperate, the brutal and the avaricious against each other, a company was able to make an obscene amount of money and keep people blind to the true abuses of power in their universe.

Final Thoughts:
In the end, all of these examples have one thing in common. Whether the setting is a post-apocalyptic world or just a destitute nation dealing with economic downturn, the element of social control is always there. By throwing the powerless, hungry and greedy into an arena and ordering them to kill or be killed, a government ensures that it not eliminates potential threats but channels discontent into something truly atavistic and brutal. Though this is in many ways inspired by the Roman example, modern developments seem to be the true inspiration.

Like all dystopian literature, it seems that developments within the late 19th and early 20th century were the crucial factor. It was here that writers and social commentators truly came face to face with humanity’s abundant capacity for distraction, atavistic behavior, and indifference to suffering. That is another thing that all these pieces of literature have in common. Whether it is the brutal cynicism of those who profit from the games, or the uncaring nature of those who enjoy them, a disgusting lack of empathy runs through them all like a vein.

For what is worse than exploiting misery for the sake of entertainment? It’s one thing to persecute people directly, but making the oppressed and exploited fight each other for the scraps off your own table? That’s a real dick move!

Speaking of which, stay tuned for my review of The Hunger Games. I’ve finally gotten to the end of the book and will sharing my long-promised thoughts on them real soon! Thank you all, and remember: don’t let the bastards pit you against each other! FIGHT THE POWER!

Futuristic Guns

Many of these will look familiar, and for good reason. In addition to being futuristic looking, they also happen to be real! For many years, science fiction movies and series have used weapons of legitimate manufacture in order to inspire a futuristic feel.

Calico M960:
Calico960aHere’s a gun that has been featured in several movies, games and television series, and its obvious why. Just look at the thing. A fully-automatic pistol, this baby provides a lot of firepower in a small and uniquely shaped package. As one of the first personal defense weapons to feature a top-mounted magazine, a revolutionary concept for its time which has since caught on bigtime.

Guns of this class were featured in the sci-fi movies Robocop 2, Robocop 3, Total Recall, Virtuosity, and Star Trek: First Contact.

Daewoo K11:
daewook11This gun not only looks futuristic, it is downright revolutionary in its design. Whereas most assault rifles have grenade launchers slug underneath the front barrel, this version carries an launcher mounted on top and fed by a bullpup magazine.

Designed by the Republic of South Korea in 2006, the weapon also comes with a state of the art scope which features the latest in a ballistics computer technology as well as thermal/night vision. I have yet to find a sci-fi franchise which has used it, but time will tell. These things aint cheap, after all!

FN F2000:
f2000As part of the new generation of bullpup assault rifles, the F2000 is of Belgian manufacture that’s been around for the better part of a decade. It’s futuristic features include the revolutionary new handle and trigger grip, bullpup magazine and updated sights.

Because of its aesthetic appeal, the F2000 has been featured in numerous places, including Terminator: Salvation, the Modern Warfare and Ghost Recon video game series, and the upcoming G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.

HK XM29:
Xm29Also known as an OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon), the XM29 is part of the new generation of hybrid assault rifles that features the a secondary bullpup magazine which houses its compliment of grenades.

Much like the K11, this weapon combines the benefits of a 5.56mm assault rifle, a 20mm grenade launcher and an ultra-modern scope that contains a ballistics computer, laser range finder, advanced optics and night vision. It was featured in the Ghost Recon series, Die Another Day, and Universal Soldier: The Return.

KRISS Vector:
kriss1When I first saw this weapon, all I could say was “Wow, now there’s something that doesn’t qualify for home defense!” A .45 caliber weapon, fully automatic, and very compact, this weapon is futuristic, uniquely designed and deadly. A triple threat, quite literally!

And the list of features and featurettes include the upcoming Total Recall remake, Resident Evil: Retribution, the Nikita television series and the Modern Warfare and Ghost Recon game franchises.

Mossberg 500:
mossberg_500_bullpupHere we have a game changer! And interestingly enough, it’s been around for quite some time. Back in 1985, Mossberg decided to upgrade their long lineup of shotgun stocks by taking advantage of the concept of bullpup firearms. Essentially, this means that it is loaded from the rear and ejects spent cartridges from behind the trigger mechanism.

Given it’s futuristic look, it was featured in several sci-fi movies during the 80’s and 90’s, most notably The Running Man, Predator 2, and the film version of Stargate.

NTW-20:
ntw20_1Go big or go home! That seems to be the reasoning behind this 20mm (.78 cal) assault rifle, which comes direct from South Africa, famous purveyor of grisly firearms! As part of an international series of large-caliber rifles which emerged during the 1990’s, this weapon was meant to give snipers the ability to take down armored troops and vehicles. Well, it certainly does that!

In addition to appearing in the movie District 9, it was also featured in the Halo series as the USNC sniper’s rifle. And anyone’s who played that series knows just how powerful that baby is. Blamoo! They all fall down…

PP-2000:
pp_2000Next up, the Russian sidearm of choice for today’s military, police forces, and apparently even cilivians. At least that’s what the designation PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) means. Can’t imagine most houses have any real cause for stocking a 9mm submachine gun, but that’s a matter for the courts.

Because of it’s appearance and popularity with modern armed forces, it was features in the video game series’ Modern Warfare, Ghost Recon, Bad Company, SOCOM, and the Russian sci-fi thriller The Interceptor (Zapreshchyonnaya Realnost).

P90:
P90Here we have yet another PDW that really doesn’t seem to fit that criteria, not when its a compact submachinegun and packs as many as 50 bullets! And in addition to its ammo count, it also boasts two very high-tech advancements, including a top loading magazine and the same handle/trigger grip as the F2000. Not surprising since they have the same maker – Fabrique Nationale (FN) from Belgium.

For obvious reasons, this gun has a long history of making special appearances. Its credits include Equilibrium, I, Robot, Babylon A.D., District B13 and its sequel, and was specifically chosen to be the sidearm of choice on the shows Stargate and Stargate: Atlantis.

Steyr AUG:
Steyr_augAnother popular item, and one which I’m sure everyone out there is familiar with. Invented back in 1978 by the Austrian-based Steyr company, this weapon was the first assault rifle to introduce the bullpup loading design. On top of that, its appearance is downright futuristic!

It too has a long list of credits, including Robocop 1 and 2, Predator 2, District B13, as well as the television shows Red Dwarf, Space: Above and Beyond, and Firefly.

Okay! There’s more, of course, but ten examples is kind of my limit. And because I think something like this could go longer than I’m willing to type… at least in one sitting. Enjoy the gun show (no bad pun!) and see y’all next time.