NASA: The World Will Not End on Dec. 21st, 2012

Worlds CollidingIt seems NASA spends untold resources trying to debunk conspiracy theories and doomsday predictions. Sad, when you consider all the wonderful uses this time and energy could be dedicated towards, like putting people on Mars! In any case, and in anticipation for this coming Friday (and Saturday, if all goes well!), I thought I’d share this video NASA released to put people’s minds at ease. The world will NOT end on Dec. 21st, 2012, it claims, and presents the scientific findings that say so.

Set on Dec. 22nd, 2012, the video approaches the apocalypse as if it is something that has already come and gone and proceeds to explain how the myth of the 2012 End of the World scenario began in the first place. In examining the actual Mayan Calendar, the reasons for why the calendar ends when it does, and taking a look at all the stellar and terrestrial phenomena which are believed to coincide with the date (but which won’t), NASA shows why we have nothing to worry about.

In fact, if anything, the date in question will be a time of rejoicing. Not only is it the holiday season for people worldwide, it is also the natural turning point in the Mayan Calendar, the date at which the ancient astronomers reckoning of time would “reset” in accordance with their ancient theology. This was a regular pattern as far as the Yucatan-based civilization was concerned, and is a testament to their long and expansive concepts of time and cosmology.

Nothing destructive was ever mentioned or implied in the Mayan belief system, merely a rolling over of the odometer and an entrance into a new age. If anything, it was western apocalyptics and cultists, with their preconceived notions of the End of Days and astrology, that attached this significance to the date. Astrological phenomena, such a meteor striking Earth, an inversion of our gravitational field, a massive solar flare, or another planet colliding with us, were all added as a means of explaining how. But, as the experts as NASA show, none of this stuff is happening or in danger of happening in the next few days.

In short, we can all look forward to another holiday season with plenty of food, family, in-laws and swag. As my grandpa used to say “the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west”, the world will keep on spinning, and people will keep on waiting for the end of the days to come. Fear not the End of Days, fear waking up tomorrow and realizing that you still have to get up, go to your job, and tolerate all the little annoyances we all deal with on a daily basis. And while your at it, be thankful you’re alive and STOP WISHING FOR IT ALL TO END!

And if that is still not enough to convince the doomsayers that life will go on, perhaps a quick look at their track record will be enough to convince the rest of us of how often they are wrong. Consider…

30-36 – 2012 C.E: After the death of Jesus and the spread of early Christianity, believers begin to prepare for the “coming of the Lord”. After several centuries, it is clear that the End of Days isn’t just around the corner, so believers begin to settle in and create Monasteries in the hopes of living how the Savior would have wanted. Two-thousand years later, we’re all still waiting!

410 C.E.: Rome is sacked, leading many Christians to fear that the Barbarian hordes are the harbingers of the Apocalypse. However, St. Augustine of Hippo allays much of these fears with his book City of God, where he states that though the corporeal capital of Christianity may have been sacked, the city of God abides. People promptly calm down…

900 C.E.: The fall of the Western Roman Empire leads to renewed fears that the world is ending. However, despite the decline in education, wealth, central leadership, life expectancy, and an upsurge in violence, life goes on…

1000 C.E.: Europe becomes consumed by apocalyptic predictions with the coming of the Millennium. On Dec. 31st, 999, nothing happens! The sun rises on the following day and people go back about their business…

1206-1294 C.E.: The Mongol Hordes, a vast and terrible army, reach Europe from Asia and begin a campaign of conquest and slaughter. People everywhere believe they are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse foretold in the Book of Revelation. However, Mongol expansion soon ceases, the Empire is subdivided amongst Ghengis Khan’s sons and vassals, and life continues. Just another Horde from the East that failed to deliver on the Apocalypse I guess!

1348-1350 C.E.: The Black Death strikes Europe. People everywhere believe this is God’s judgement and the Rapture is sure to follow. Flagellants punish themselves for the good of humanity, witches are burned, Jews are murdered, cats hung, and any and all traces of “wicked behavior” and people are scapegoated and purged. However, within two years, the plague passes, one-third of Europe has died, but life goes on and a period of rapid recovery soon follows.

1914 C.E.: The outbreak of the Great War leads many to believe that Armaggedon, the last great battle that will signal the end of time, is upon them! After four years of brutal, protracted warfare, all sides agree to a ceasefire and previously held romantic notions of warfare are shattered. Henceforth, Remembrance Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and a series of other national and international holidays mark the occasion and remind us how foolish and horrible war really is. However, the world does not end…

1918 C.E.: “Red October” shakes the world, with many predicting that the victory by the “Godless Communists” is a sign of the Apocalypse. However, despite the terrible crimes that follow in the Marxist-Leninists wake, especially where Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot are concerned, the world keeps on spinning, even after the conflict becomes nuclear in scope (see next).

1945  – 1991 C.E.: The advent of nuclear weapons and the beginning of the Cold War lead to a resurgence in Apocalyptic predictions, with many claiming that “The End is Near” on a regular basis. However, numerous close shaves pass without incident, the Cold War ends by 1991, and all predictions as to how “Nuclear Holocaust” will take place fail to be realized. In the end, many people realize that the human race isn’t suicidal or quite as stupid as previously thought. Others continue to ponder how WWIII will happen, but produce no realistic scenarios.

1948 C.E. – : The Arab-Israeli Conflict begins and escalates with such events as the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Day War (1967), and Yom Kipper (1973). Religious scholars and believers begin to claim that these events were foretold in Scripture, and foretell of the coming battle of Armageddon – which will take place at Tel Meggido in modern day Israel. However, land for peace and a detente have prevented any full-scale wars since 1973, and the Oslo Accords of 1992 seem to suggest that a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians is just a matter of time.

1980’s C.E.: The growing awareness of the AIDS virus prompts many religious nuts and homophobes to claim that “Gods Judgement is Here” and is taking the form of a virus that strikes down sinners. However, public education and about thirty years with no Rapture lead most to conclude that this is a terrible disease which merits no religious condemnation. Public decrying of victims remains, but few people take them seriously.

1994/5 C.E.: Renewed outbreaks of the Ebola virus leads to new fears of a global pandemic. Movies like The Stand, Outbreak and just about any scenario involving biological warfare do great at the box office, but the apocalyptic nightmare never comes true. And when people realize that casualties are largely reserved to African nations, they generally stop caring!

1990 – 2000 C.E.: Y2K histeria sets in as people get wind of a possible bug that could shut down the world’s computers. People begin hoarding and stocking their shelves in preparation for the pandemonium and chaos that is expected. When the clock strikes midnight of Dec. 31st 1999, nothing happens! The world keeps spinning, the computers keep working, and the nuts go looking for another reason to panic. There are still plenty to choose from…

And let’s not forget 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Bath Salts Zombies and every other major disaster that has befallen the world in recent years. Seems every day weirdos and nutjobs are finding reasons to think we’re all going to die. One would think they wanted it to happen or something…

In the meantime, enjoy the video and all its sane and sensible points!

Source: Nasa.org, gaurdian.co.uk

Favorite Cult Classics (Part The First)

It might be that I’m feeling nostalgic, or it might be that since my wife and I sprung for Netflix, I’ve been finding my way back to several of my favorite old movies. Hard to say exactly. All I know for sure is, I want to talk about the cult classic movies that I like best. You know what I’m talking about! Those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, the movies that few seem to know about, but those who do always seem to love.

Yes, THOSE movies! Sure, we’ve all seen plenty of big hits, but these movies are the ones that occupy a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because they are not so widely known, like the Star Wars’ and and Indiana Jones‘ of our time. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t get the recognition or the money they deserved, at least in their own time. Or it could be that they were simply the kind of things that got better with time.

In any case, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite cult classics, movies which I saw during my childhood, teen years and even in my twenties, and keep coming back too. Some were adventurous, some were funny, some were downright cheesy. But all have two things in common: One, none of them are known beyond a select group of appreciators, at least in this country. And two, those who like them, like them a lot! Check out the list below and see if you agree, and feel free to tell me your own favorites as well. I know we all got em!

Akira:
One of the greatest animes I have ever seen, and with a very poignant and intriguing story to boot, Akira starts this list off right! The movie adapted several volumes of manga to screen, and did so in such a way that didn’t skimp on either story or detail. Even shortened, the plot still manages to convey the sense of awe and dread of atomic war, revolution, and evolutionary cataclysm. And the fact that the bulk of it is told from the point of view of disillusioned orphans who are all part of a bier gang only heightens the sense on confusion and angst of little people being thrown into situations far greater than they can handle.

And then there was the quality of the movie itself. Having seen this movie several times now and different versions thereof, I can tell you that no matter what the format, every single frame was animated in such a way as to be saturated. And not with digital effects, mind you, but with hand-drawn animations that really manage to capture the post apocalyptic and cyberpunk feel of Katsuhiro Otomo’s original graphic novel.

All in all, I consider this movie to be compatible in many respects to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they both deal with grandiose of questions of existence, biological evolution, and both managed to blow my mind! And having first been exposed to both of them in my teen years, they are partly responsible for kindling my love of science fiction.

Army of Darkness:
Here’s a movie I kept being told to see, but did not get around to seeing until I was in university. And truth be told, it took me two viewings to really get the appeal of it. After that, it grew on me until I finally found myself thinking it hilarious, and quoting from it whenever I could. “Come get some!” “Groovy!” “This be my BOOMSTICK!” and “Good? Bad? I’m the one with the gun!” All classic lines!

Yeah, this movie is definitely filed in the guilty pleasure section, the space reserved for movies that are deliberately cheesy, over the top, and have a robust sense of humor about themselves. It’s also one of the many that gave Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) his start, and established Bruce Campbell (who appeared in all three) as a gifted ham actor.

Taking the position that decapitations and flesh-eating demons can be funny, this movie tells the story of a blue-collar, rough and tumble, one-liner spouting man named Ash who’s been sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. Automatically, hijinks ensue as he tries to convince people he’s not a demon himself, but instead chooses to establish who’s boss by demonstrating the power of his chainsaw and “boomstick” (aka. his sawed-off double-barrel shotgun).

But predictably, this anti-hero rises to the challenge and becomes a real hero, and does so with as little grace as possible! And of course, there’s a love story as well, which is similarly graceless thanks to Ash’s lowbrow romantic sensibilities. Nothing is left untouched by the ham and cheese! And all throughout, the gun fights, duels, and confrontations with creepy, evil forces are hilarious, made possible by Campbell’s hammy acting, facial expressions, one-liners and some wonderfully bad cinematography. Think Xena: Warrior Princess, but with guns and foul language!

Blade Runner:
Another personal favorite, and one which I wish I had come to know sooner. But lucky for me I was still a teen when I saw this movie, hence I can say that I saw it while still in my formative years. And today, years later, I still find myself appreciating it and loving it as one can only love a cult hit. It’s just that kind of movie which you can enjoy over and over again, finding new things to notice and appreciate each time.

And once again, my appreciation for this movie is due to two undeniable aspects. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a very rich and detailed setting, a Los Angeles of the 21st century dominated by megastructures, urban sprawl, pollution and polarized wealth. It was the picture perfect setting of cyberpunk, combining high-tech and low-life.

On the other hand, there was the story. Loosely adapted from PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this version of a future differed greatly in that the artificial humans, the antagonists of the original story, were about the only sympathetic characters in the story. The result was not a cautionary tale on the dangers of creating life in our own image as much as a commentary about the line between the artificial and the real.

The question it asked was: if you overcome all boundaries, if machines possess memory, feelings and a fear of death, is there anything at all to separate them from the rest of us? Will their lives be worth any less than ours, and what will it even mean to be alive?

Conan The Barbarian:
Here’s a movie which has appeared in some friends “guilty pleasure” list, usually next to Predator, Commando and other Anrie classics. But I am here today to tell you it really doesn’t belong. Unlike many 80’s Arnie movies that were so bad, they were good, this movie had some genuine quality and depth to it.

Examples? Well, for starters, this movie was a faithful adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s original concept, Conan the Cimmerian, which was first published in 1932. This franchise, which went through countless adaptations over the ensuing decades, wove real history and myth together with fantasy to create a tale of a bronze age adventurer who traveled across the ancient world, seeking fortune and glory.

One can see this in the movie as well. To create the setting and the various people that make up the universe, imagery, mythology and even names were borrowed from various real sources. For example, the Cimmerians (Conan’s people) were inspired by Celtic and Norse sources. The followers of Thulsa Doom, black-clad warriors from the East, were meant to resemble the Huns, the Goths, and other Eastern invaders. There are also several scenes showing a warlike people meant to resemble the Mongol Hoards, and much of the setting was made to resemble ancient cities of lore – Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, et al.

Add to all this some pretty damn good writing and good storytelling, and you can see why this movie has remained enduringly popular with many people over the years. Arnie excelled as the stone-faced barbarian of few words, but who made them count when he chose to spoke. James Earl Jones was exceptional as the amoral, Nietzschean warlord Thulsa Doom, and the production value was surprisingly good for a low-budget flick.

Serenity:
Yeah, I get the feeling everybody knows what I’m talking about with this one! After losing the wonderful show in the midst of its first season, every fan of Firefly was pleased to know that Joss Whedon would be making a full length movie. And personally, I th0ught he did a pretty good job with it too!

Picking up where the show left off, we are reunited with our favorite characters as they continue to work freelance jobs and try to stay one step ahead of the law and the expanding Alliance. From the outset, it is clear that things are getting desperate, as the jobs are proving more risky, and the Reavers are moving in from the Outer Rim. At the same time, a new threat has been thrown in in the form of an Alliance agent known only as the “Operative”, who has made it his business to bring River in at any cost.

And I personally loved how all these threads came together in a singular way, showing how the Reavers, River’s condition, and the Alliance’s ultimate agenda were all connected. Not only was it a tight and entertaining plot that captured the same sense of loss and desperation as the show, it also gave a sense of closure to the series, which ended before its time.

Yes, for myself and many fans, this movie is a way of commemorating a truly great show and idea that faltered because of insensitive boobs couldn’t see the value in it. But that seemed thematically consistent with the series itself, which was all about rebels in a hopeless fight against an evil empire. Take a lesson from this Fox Network, sooner or late,r the bad guys lose!

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For brevity’s sake and the fact that I’m a busy man, I’ve decided to divide this list in half. Stay tuned for entries six through ten, coming up tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

Modern Warfare 3

Hey gamers! Today, I will be wrapping things up in my Modern Warfare commentary with my review of the third and final game in the MW series. Having just purchased it a few weeks ago, and played it through for the second time, I can honestly say that I was pretty pleased with it.

As the climax to the series, it was chock full of action and expanded on many of the strengths from the first and second games. And of course, it took things a step further from the last, developing the multiplayer and special ops features even more. This consisted of larger, more detailed environments, more immersive game features, and plenty of new weapons and added features. But of course, all of that takes a bit of a backseat, at least in this reviewers mind, to the plot.

Naturally, it had its share of drawbacks too, most which were similarly consistent with the previous installments. There were plot holes, some over-the-top elements, and an unnecessary scene (which, like last time, pushed the boundaries of good taste). But overall, I’d say it was a fitting and very fun final installment. But like I said, the plot first…

Plot Synopsis:
The story picks up where MW2 left off, with a grand introduction that lets the player know that they are now in the midst of World War 3. In fact, that’s probably one of the coolest aspects of the intro, where after a montage of chaotic scenes from the first two games, we see WW3, and then the first letter flips to reveal the title MW3. Effective, and accurate since the actions of Makarov and Shepherd in the last game led to an open state of war between the Russian bloc and the US.

The intro then extends to a movie/flash-back scene where what is left of Task Force 141 is heading to a field hospital run by Russian Loyalists in northern India. Things in this scene take place from Soap’s POV as Nikolai and Price are hauling him off the chopper and rushing to get him inside. All the while, Soap experiences flash-backs of everything that brought them to this point, including Zakhaev’s death, Makarov’s terrorist acts, and Soap killing General Shepherd. Price’s voice provides narration, saying how the actions of one man can change the world, even bring it all to the precipice.

Once inside, they begin fighting to save Soap’s life. However, matters are complicated when Makarov’s forces arrive on the scene hoping to take out Soap and Price and anyone helping them. Here, you play as Yuri, one of Nikolai’s men, and are tasked with defeating the assault with the help of a remote-controlled drone. Together, the four of you (Soap, Price, Nikolai and Yuri) escape together, as the last of the now-disavowed Task Force 141.

Cut to New York City, where the Russian offensive against the Eastern Seaboard continues. Here, you change POV’s to a member of Delta Force Team Metal named Frost, which is being sent in to Manhattan to take out a Russian jamming device which is preventing US forces from achieving air superiority.

The fight takes you through the streets of downtown Manhattan and into the NYSE, which is itself being occupied by Russian troops. Once you reach the roof and destroy the device, US air forces move in and take out the remaining Russian choppers and Migs, and you get to fly around in a Blackbird and gun some down yourself!

Next, your team joins a bunch of SEALS as you head underwater to take on the Russian fleet that is still occupying the East River. This journey involves traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel, now underwater, and then into the river itself, avoiding Russian mines along the way. Once you reach the sub and force it surface with some charges, board the sub and take out its crew, you set the sub’s ordinance to target all remaining Russian ships in the harbor and make a daring escape on zodiacs.

With this latest victory, the Russian assault on the US which began in MW2 is now defeated. Afterward, Russian President Boris Vorshevsky announces plans to make peace with the United States at a summit in Hamburg. However, Makarov’s men hijack the president’s airfcraft, causing it to crash land while you (playing from the POV of one of his protective detail).

Once on the ground, you and the other survivors rush to find him and his daughter, but Makarov arrives, taking the President hostage and shooting you. In your last seconds, you hear Makarov demanding the launch codes to Russia’s nuclear stockpile, saying he will see Russia standing over Europe, even if it’s a pile of ash.

After recovering from his wounds, Soap and Task Force 141 proceed to Sierra Leone where they are told Makarov’s bomb maker is hiding. After fighting your way through the local villages, which are in the midst of being raided by local warlords, you find your way to the pick up point. Unfortunately, the shipment of chemical weapons is shipped out via helicopter seconds before you arrive. Price then calls up his contacts in the SAS, warning them that the targets are London, Paris and Berlin.

The POV once again shifts to an SAS unit in London which is tasked with raiding one of Makarov’s store houses along the Thames. After an intense chase, which takes you through the London Undergound and back up to Big Ben, the main attack (against Parliament) is thwarted. However, you soon learn that one of the other trucks made it to its destination nearby and is detonated, killing hundreds of people in the immediate vicinity. Similar detonations happen in Berlin and Paris, paving the way for a Russian invasion and World War III.

Team Metal is then sent to Hamburg to rescue the US Vice-President who is still there. The invasion scene calls to mind COD’s many awesome recreations of historic WWII battles, in particular D-Day. After landing on the riverfront and fighting your way up into the streets, you are to provide cover for the tanks as they make their ways down the boulevards to where the VP’s convoy got stranded. Also, you get to be a tank gunner in this mission (finally!), and take out enemy infantry while the M1A1 drives around and blasts the crap out of enemy vehicles.

Meanwhile, Task 141 heads to Somalia to track down a local warlord who was also involved in the shipment of the chemical weapons. After taking him prisoner, Price learns the name and location of Makarov’s bomb maker – a man named Volk who is currently in Paris.

Task Force 141 heads there and teams up with the French GIGN to capture Volk, which involves making your way through some chemical-infested areas. After taking him prisoner, you are then required to get out of Paris before Russian troops can overtake you. Ultimately, this ends in a desperate airlift off of a bridge as the Eiffel Tower is bombed and falls in the distance.

Volk gives up Makarov’s location, who he says will in Prague for a high-level meeting . The next mission involves infiltrating the occupied city with the help of an old friend – the Loyalist commander Kamarov (not to be confused with Makarov, damn anagrams!) As Yuri, you and Soap take up a sniping position in a church overlooking the hotel where the meeting is going down.

However, the op goes awry when Price gets inside and sees that Makorov has taken Kamarov (again, anagrams!) hostage and is onto them. He then sets off a series of bombs which kill Kamarov and blow up the bell tower, sending Soap and Yuri out the window and down onto a scaffolding.

Before the explosion, Makarov reveals that he knows Yuri, information which Soap gives to Price once the three make it to cover. Soap dies on a table from wounds sustained in the fall, and Price puts a gun to Yuri’s head and demands explanations.

Yuri then tells him that he used to be a soldier in Zakhaev’s army, whereupon he met Makarov. Through a series of flashbacks that show events from MW1 and 2, we see that Yuri was there with Makarov when Price shot his arm off outside of Pripyat in the early 90’s.

He was also there when Zakhaev detonated the nuke he gave to Al-Asad, destroying the capitol and killing thousands of American Marines and millions of civilians. Finally, he was there when Makarov and his men murdered hundreds of civilians in the Moscow International Airport. Yuri attempted to prevent the massacre, but was shot by Makarov beforehand, leaving him to die amongst his many other victims.

Having heard all this, Price decides to let Yuri live and begins planning an assault on Makarov’s fortress in the Czech Republic. As Yuri, you storm the old castle and learn that Makarov is holding Russian President Vorshevsky captive and is seeking to capture his daughter who is in Berlin. Rescuing her becomes a priority now, as the President continues to refuse to hand over the launch codes, but wis likely to reconsider if Makarov threatens to kill his daughter. Yuri and Price destroy the base and relay the information to Team Metal.

Switching back to Frost’s POV, you and your team are now responsible for fighting your way through Berlin, which is still contested, and finding the President’s daughter before Makarov’s men do. In the course of this mission, things go sideways, Frost is killed, and the President’s daughter is taken.

However, they are tracked to a Siberian diamond mine where Makarov’s men are also holding the President. A joint strike is planned to rescue both from the mine, which succeeds, even though Metal’s team leader (Sandman) is forced to stay behind and sacrifice himself.

With the Russian President and his daughter alive and well, he travels to D.C. where a truce is declared and all forces with withdrawn. WWIII is over, but PRice is still determined to find Makarov and make him pay for his crimes. In a final mission, he and Yuri travel to hotel in Dubai where they learn Makarov is staying. Now, as Price, you and Yuri break into the buidling wearing Juggernaut suits and fight your way to Makarov on the top floor.

In the ensuing chase, Yuri is impaled and he and Price lose your armor. Price then corners Makarov on the roof as he attempts to board a chopper and the two fight. Makarov gets the upper hand and nearly shoots Price, but Yuri manages to intervene and is shot dead by Makarov. Enraged at the loss of another comrade, Price grabs a hold of Makarov and beats the holy hell out of him.

Realizing that they are also lying on a glass roof that is about to break, he ties the chopper’s metal line around his neck and falls through the roof with him. Makarov is hung while Price falls to a landing below. With Makarov dead and his work done, he pulls himself up and lights a cigar. Mission accomplished!

Summary:
First off, let me just say that this game is stupid-fun! I mean, holy shit, the action and intensity! Boom! Boom! Explosions! Russians! Thugs and militiamen! Urban warfare and infiltration, predators and submarines! Yeah, it was pretty damn bad-ass. They essentially took what they started in MW2, which was to push the boundaries by putting war directly on American soil, and pushed it that extra mile. That was the aim of course, picking up where the last left off with World War III in the wings.

And they expanded on the warfare by adding new environments, most of which involved destroying landmarks and historic places! And there new twists on the available missions, involving underwater infiltration, working with local resistance, tank gunning and wearing a Juggernaut suit. And like last time, they threw in the AC-130 gunships and predators, giving you the ability to deal death from above. Always nice! On top of that, they really went the extra mile to mix up the action. Fighting aboard a jet airliner while it’s in a nose dive, effectively leading to a zero-g gunfight.

As for the multiplayer and special ops, things are similarity awesome. The multiplayer feature has been upgraded with new weapons, new game profiles, and more options, all taken to the extreme! Endless hours of entertainment are available here for those who have a fast machine and internet connection. As for the special ops, things are much the same, but with some noteworthy additions. For example, in the special ops section, there’s the added Survival option alongside the usual Mission feature. In the former, you fight in different environments against increasingly difficult enemies, each win allowing you to upgrade your weapons and options. In the latter, you’re doing much the same as in game two, fighting in different scenarios with different goals, unlocking new missions as you go

I also enjoyed the flashbacks, where material from the first and second installment was included. It was pretty seamless they way they did that. It even added some explanations and background which added a moment or two of plausibility to the plot. Providing Makarov with a dossier was something they neglected to do in the second game, which left a lot of questions of where he came from and why he was conducting terrorism against his own people, especially since the Ultranationalist are supposed to be in charge at that point.

But of course, there was some problems in and around all that. For one, the game shifts locations so often that you really begin to question how the main characters are able to move so much. Especially Task Force 141; how do they get from India to Sierra Leone to Somalia to Europe to Siberia with such ease? All this feels highly unrealistic, especially since this Task Force has been disavowed and don’t have access to government resources anymore. Is Nikolai flying them everywhere? How is he able to do this? What kinds of resources does this guy have?

And for that matter, there’s the issue of Makarov. In this game, his abilities and resources are even more staggering than in the last one. Isn’t this guy supposed to be a freelance terrorist? How then is he able to find an endless supply of men, guns, choppers and chemical weapons to fund his crusade against the west? In Zakhaev’s case, it was understandable. He was leader of a Russian Ultranationist faction in the middle of a civil war. He had almost half the resources of the Russian military at his disposal, including a nuke or two.

But as I recall, his movement went on to win power after he was killed. After that, Makarov took his place and continues the campaign, clearly not happy with the extent to which the Russian government has gone and wanting it to go further. Makes sense, and since General Shepherd was helping to create WWIII, some of what he pulled of in MW2 made sense. But this time around? The way he is able to always get away, take the Russian President hostage, allude the SAS and Task Force 141, and start WWIII is all kind of ridiculous. It’s like the Joker in The Dark Knight, where the villain has some massive master plan and is somehow prepared for everything.

And there was a small trace of the same controversial aspect that made MW2 a bit iffy. This time around, they avoided the scenes of big shoot ups in crowded airports. Most importantly, you aren’t the one doing it! I still don’t get that, that was messed up! However, there is the one scene where you watch one of the chemical bombs going off in the middle of a London street. It all takes place from the POV of a father who’s recording a video of his wife and little daughter as they walk along the sidewalk and point to Big Ben. Then boom! The truck blows up, and the little girl and mother are the first to die. It’s not gruesome or graphic, but what the hell? Was it really necessary to illustrate how bad the bad guys are? We already know they’re setting off bombs in civilian centers and shot up an airport. What else needs to be said?

In the end, the weaknesses smack of a plot where the creators are trying too hard. More action, more locations, more twists, more adventure. It all makes for a pretty skookum gaming experience, but it’s not what you’d call in-depth, and it’s definitely not what you call realistic. But of course, all that can be overlooked the moment you remember that it’s a first-person shooter! Be thankful you get a plot at all, fool! Now get back to shooting stuff and blowing shit up!

Happy Hunting!

The Post-Apocalypse in Sci-Fi (Part II)

Akira:
This futuristic tale takes place in Neo-Tokyo, an ultra-modern city that was built on the ruins of the old after an incident touched off World War III. This is a major them in the movie Akira and manga it was adapted from. Throughout the entire story, there is a pervasive sense of shock and horror over the destruction of the old city, and a sense of dread that it might happen again very soon…

Enter into this story the characters of Kaneda and Tetsuo, two orphan boys who belong to a biker gang that is constantly engaged in battles with other gangs for control of the streets. Being children of the system after their parents died in the war, all they really have is each other and the other members of their biker gang. These surrogate families and their ongoing feuds provide a sense of community and an outlet for their pent-up energies, living in a world characterized by boredom and angst and haunted by a past filled with horror.

In addition, you have Colonel Shikishima, a man who witnessed WWIII and has dedicated himself to the rebuilding and ensuring that it never happens again. In addition to being a main character, he is representative of the generational gap in the story. As a stern, disciplined military man who was shaped by apocalyptic events, he is appalled by the sense 0f self-indulgence which he feels has set in with the younger generation.

And the apocalyptic nature of the story is something which is demonstrated over and over through intense scenes and nightmarish visions. In short, it’s an awesome take on the post-apocalyptic scenario, which could only come from firsthand experience.

Alas, Babylon:
This 1959 novel by Pat Frank is one of the first post-apocalyptic stories of the nuclear age and has remained a science fiction ever since. Taking place in small town in Central Florida, Fort Repose, the story opens with a veteran-turned-lawyer named Randy Bragg who gets a cryptic telegram from his brother who works for the Strategic Air Command. He informs his brother that he will be sending his wife and kids to stay with his Randy, and ends it with “Alas Babylon”, a biblical reference which his brother uses as a euphemism ford disaster.

In time, he learns that the bad news concerns a potential Soviet attack, which inevitably takes place after much escalation. After bringing his sister-in-law and her kids to their home, they are all awoken in the night to the sounds of Miami being bombed. They residents awake to witness a mushroom cloud forming over Tampa shortly thereafter, and the events which characterize the following 24 hours they come to name “The Day” – i.e. a one day war.

The story delves into the effects of “The Day”, which are felt differently by people in Fort Repose. Tourists are trapped in their hotels, convicts escape from jails and prisons, the local retirement homes are filled with panicked people, and just about everyone tries to withdraw their money from the local bank and buy up supplies. The only reliable means of news comes through short wave radio.

As chaos begin to set in, Randy begins to organize neighbors to provide housing, food, and water for themselves and organizes the community to defense itself against highwaymen. As an active Army Reserve officer, Randy learns that he has the legal right to exercise martial law, and an order comes in over the short wave from the acting Chief Executive (who is governing from a bunker in Colorado) for any surviving officers to form local militias.

In the end, military helicopters arrive to evacuate people, but are refused as the locals tell them that they want to stay in the new home they have built. They learn the war is over, that the USA prevailed, and that country is now being run from Denver. However, the victory came at a tremendous cost, Millions are dead, entire stretches of the country are irradiated and won’t be habitable for a thousand years, and the US is now a third-rate power that is dependent on third world countries for aid. Faced with this prospect, the people of Fort Repose settle in and decide to face the “thousand year” night that is coming.

This book not only introduced readers to the likely prospect of what would happen in the event of WWIII, it also presented a likely scenario of how that was going to happen. While it the Soviets were apparently planning an attack in the first place, it was an accident that touched everything off. And in the end, how people went about rebuilding and trying to restore some semblance of normalcy was quite classic. In addition to inspiring numerous generations of nuclear holocaust fiction, numerous apocalyptic franchises owe an allegiance to him, not the least of which is the re-imagined series of Battlestar Galactica.

The City of Ember:
This post-apocalyptic story, written by Jeanne DuPrau in 2003, takes place in an underground city named Ember. After many years of continuous habitation, the city is slowly running out of power and supplies. Similar to in tone and structure to Suzanne Martel’s 1963 story The City Under Ground, this city was apparently built to ensure that humanity had a place to live and wait out the effects of nuclear war.

The story begins when a two protagonists, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, receive a message which is apparently left by “the Builders” containing clues that could lead them back to the outside world. This message was kept in a box that was passed down from mayor to mayor, with instructions that it be opened after two hundred years. Until recently, the box had been lost, but as soon as Mayfleet and Harrow find it, the race is on to decipher it and find a way to the surface.

In the end, the children follow the note’s instructions through a series of caves that lead them towards the surface. When they see the city from above, they realize that they are underground, something which they never knew before. This scene, which calls to mind Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”, provides the story’s big revelation. The story then ends on a cliffhanger note with the girls trying to alert the other inhabitants of what they’ve found.

The Matrix:
The setting and back story of the Matrix revolve around two fundamental facts: One, that a terrible war between humanity and AI’s took place in the future; and two, that what is left of humanity lives underground due to the devastation wrought on the planet’s surface. Enter into this the concept of the Matrix, a simulated reality where humans are kept docile by being fed the lie that they live in the pre-millenial world, at a time when human’s were still in charge.

But of course, not all human beings are able to accept the program and experience a sort of existential crisis as a result. When Mr. Anderson, hacker alias Neo, is presented with the answers he so desperately seeks, he is horrified to learn the terrible truth. Not only was it the year significantly later than he thought, but the world as he knows it was destroyed long ago. All major cities reduced to rubble, the sky itself has been “scorched”, and the surface rendered a cold, uninhabitable shadow of its former self.

This is a crucial element of the Matrix, which is not just a sci-fi story set in a post-apocalyptic world, but a metaphor for truth and “false consciousness”. With reality so displeasing and harsh, there are many who would prefer the warm comfort of a simulated world, which just happens to be a recreation of happier, stabler times. The metaphor is not just thick, but multi-layered!

It is for this reason that the majority of human beings accept the programming of the Matrix, even if they are only aware of this acceptance on an unconscious level. It is also the reason why those who choose to opt out of it, due to an innate feeling that their reality isn’t real, is a choice which must be made many times over. As Cypher himself demonstrated in the first movie, not everyone has the stomach for the real world, and will willingly betray their comrades for a chance to be put back inside. Others however, find hope in the prophecy of “The One”, the person who’s arrival will herald the end of the war and peace for humanity at last… or so it seems!

The Omega Man:
Released in 1971 and starring (once again) Charlton Heston, this movie post-apocalyptic film is a classic amongst film buffs. Based on the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, this story has gone through many adaptations over the years and has been spoofed and imitated endlessly. Though the plot was updated for the most recent version (2007, starring Wil Smith), much of the elements – a post-apocalyptic world, a lone human survivor, fighting against mutants – have remained the same.

Essentially, the plot takes place in a world that has been devastated after a terrible plague was unleashed and wreaked havoc on the world. In the film versions, this involved biological warfare between the Soviet Union and China – or a mutated cure for cancer – but was only hinted at in the book. In any case, the story revolves around a man named Robert Neville, a doctor who seems to be the last man on Earth, hence the term “Omega Man”.

Though technically not the last living creature, Neville appears to be the last human being who has not succumbed to the most dreaded aspect of the plague – transformation into a flesh-eating mutant. Whereas most of humanity died after exposure, a small minority was converted, leaving an even smaller minority of infected to be hunted as prey. Living in a fortified apartment with an arsenal, Neville spends his days patrolling the abandoned city and killing members of “The Family” – the albino mutants who are hunting him.

At the same time, Neville is dedicated to finding other survivors who have not turned. Eventually, he is saved by one such group of people, but discovers that they are not immune as he is. He decides to treat others using his own blood as a serum, while at the same time escaping to the wilderness to start a new life while leaving the mutants to die in the city. Ultimately, Neville is forced to sacrifice himself to stop the Family from overtaking the rest of them, but the survivors make it out, carrying with them a vial of his blood.

Though significantly different from the original novel, all versions of the story deal with a world in which all of humanity has been wiped out by a biological agent, not nuclear war or a natural disaster.

The Road:
This 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, which was adapted into a 2009 movie of the same name, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a father and son wander the landscape together. Though it is not specified what caused the destruction they are forced to witness and endure, what is clear is the effect it had on the survivors. Most people have given up hope in the ashen landscape, while others struggle to stay alive and some even turn to cannibalism to survive.

The plot involves an unnamed father and son who are venturing south towards the coast because they have realized that they will not survive the winter where they lived. Though the father is dying and they have barely any possessions to speak of, and the land in between is filled with horrors, the two keep going, fending off roving bands of cannibals and raiders and maintaining hope that the coast will be their deliverance.

All along, is father assures his son that they are the “good guys” who are “carrying the fire” through a dark terrible land. In the end, they find no refuge when they reach the sea and are forced to venture back inland, but the father finally succumbs to his illness and dies. He tells his son to maintain hope and to speak to him in his mind after he is gone, and the boy holds a vigil for days over his father’s body when he finally passes on.

With no idea what to do or where to go, he is eventually found by another family who claim to have been tracking them. The father of the group assures him he is one of the “good guys” and asks the son to join them. With no other options available to him, he agrees to join them and they set off together to find a new home.

Inspired by McCarthy’s own relationship with his son, and a great deal of speculation about what the apocalypse would look like, this story is a very personal take on the end civilization and the struggle to survive. Whereas a great deal of the survivors have resorted to unspeakable acts in order to stay alive, McCarthy redeems humanity by showing the lengths to which regular people will go to protect their families and ensure that good people live on when all the world goes to hell.

The Scarlet Plague:
Here we have a post-apocalyptic classic that predates the nuclear age. Written by Jack London and published in 1912, this story was the original “last man on Earth” scenario which inspired such works as I Am Legend and many others. In addition to being based on the idea of a plague wiping out nearly all of humanity, the stories resolution involves the main character imparting his knowledge to others to ensure that something survives when he is gone.

The story is set in San Francisco in the year 2073, sixty-years after a terrible epidemic, known as the Red Death,has depopulated the planet. Enter into this the story’s protagonist, a man named James Howard Smith, a survivors from the pre-plague era. As an aging man living in the San Francisco area, he is faced with the unpleasant question of what will happen when he dies. As one of the few people who is old enough to remember the pre-plague days, he possesses rare knowledge which will be lost.

Through Howard’s narrative, we learn how the plague spread throughout the world and of the struggles of the handful of survivors it left in its wake. This is apparently being told to his grandchildren, who he has decided to teach everything he knows to ensure that his knowledge will not be lost.

Much like the novels it helped inspire, the Scarlet Plague’s real value lies in its personal nature, relating how the struggle to survive goes beyond the mere physical. In the end, it is when people are facing death that what is most important in life is realized and affirmed. Or to put it is as Commander Adama did, “It’s not enough to survive. One must be worthy of survival.” Sorry! My mind keeps going back to BSG with all this post-apocalyptic talk. More on that one later…

The Terminator:
Central to the story of the Terminator franchise is “Judgement Day”, the day when humanity was nearly destroyed in a nuclear holocaust that was triggered by the sentient machine known as “Skynet”. This serves as the backdrop to the story, along with the ensuing war between the human resistance and the machines its spawned.

Though the majority of the story takes place in modern-day Los Angeles, a great deal of attention is dedicated to the war in the future and what life is like for those who survived Judgement Day. Kyle Reese described his life in the following way: “There was a nuclear war… There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines… I grew up after. In the ruins… starving… hiding from [Hunter-Killers]. Patrol machines built in automated factories. Most of us were rounded up, put in camps for orderly disposal. ”

Eventually, these camps were liberated by John Conner, the leader of the Resistance. After training and equipping the survivors, effectively turning them into a fighting force, Conner led them in a protracted war against the machines. For the most part, the resistance lived and operated out of underground facilities and went out at night to fight HK’s and Terminator’s, guerrilla-style. Survivors and refugees were gathered in these facilities, and their defenders were forced to constantly be on guard against infiltrators. Eventually, John Conner organized all his fighters into a massive offensive force and led them against the Skynet’s central HQ, destroying it and winning the war for humanity.

It was for this exact reason that the machines built their time machine and began sending Terminators back into the past. Since they could not defeat Resistance in the present, they reasoned that eliminating their commander before he was even born was their only recourse. This provides the set up for the entire franchise, with both the machines and the Resistance sending people back in time; the former to kill him and the latter to protect him and ensure that the war could be prevented.

The Walking Dead:
Fans of this franchise will know instantly why I’ve chosen to include it on this list. Not only is it a gritty, realistic take on the zombie apocalypse, but it also manages to capture the essence of survival and the struggle to stay human when everything around you has fallen. Part of what makes this show so bang on is the fact that the character’s personal struggles go well beyond the need to stay alive.

In addition to finding food, ammo, and a place to set down, there’s also the constant battle to keep hope alive. This takes them at first to the CDC, where the expect to find answers, a cure, and some protection. But of course, all they find is a single scientist who can explain how the zombie illness works, but has no idea how to cure it.

And of course, the familiar and realistic themes of loss, suicide, procreation, betrayal, and brutalization play a central role to the development of the story. Everyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse has lost people near and dear to their heart. As a result, many people have a hard time going on, some of whom commit or actively contemplate suicide. Rick and Sarah, the show’s main protagonists, also face a tough choice when they realize she is pregnant. Essentially, they’re not sure it would a good idea to bring a baby into this post-apocalyptic world. Much like the decision to carry on, it often seems that embracing death would be a far more merciful decision.

Amongst the other main characters, there is also the extremely difficult choice between survival at all costs and maintaining one’s humanity. Whereas Shane seems to favor survival, and becomes a hardened, amoral man who will kill anyone who gets in his way, the elderly Dale is committed to not being pulled down into a world of misery and letting it change him. With everyone else, the decision is the same, with people falling to one side or the other and divisions setting in.

The Post-Apocalypse in Sci-Fi

Thanks to the announcement of “Revolution”, and my impending lawsuit against NBC, JJ Abrams and anyone else who ripped me off, I’ve been thinking a lot about post-apocalyptic stories. This is a very fertile area, and some friends here once again had the foresight to mention examples in advance which I was sure to include. I tell ya, the more time I spend with people, talking about creative stuff, the more we seem to be on the same wavelength… creepy!

I sense another story in the making, so I better patent it soon lest someone try to steal it. You hear that NBC? PATENT PENDING! You too Abrams!

Anyhoo, here is a list of all the post-apocalytpic tales I was able to find from over the years. As usual, this list is just a sampling of some of the ones I and other people have read, watched, and generally enjoyed. In truth, there are far too many examples to list. So, also as usual, any additional suggestions are welcome.

A Boy and His Dog:
This novella, and the 1974 movie which it inspired, takes place in an alternate timeline where JKF survived his assassination attempt and history followed a different course. For starters, instead of the space race, western society focused on the advancement of other technologies, such as household androids, ESP, telepathy, and even animal intelligence.

This new tech race intensified the Cold War, which resulted in WWIII breaking out. This war lasted for many years and was fought with conventional weapons, until a peace was brokered by the Vatican in 1983. After 25 years of uneasy truce and economic turmoil, WWIV broke out in 2007 and nuclear weapons were used, leaving the Earth desolated and scarred. As such, the story takes place in 2024, where the survivors are forced to forage and fight for survival and men outnumber women by a significant margin.

The main character is Vic, a young man who lost both parents in the war and never received any real education or upbringing. As such, his only real concern is gratifying his sexual urges. His companion is a wise-cracking telepathic dog named Blood, the result of genetic engineering in the previous century. While he depends on Vic for food, Vic depends on him for guidance and education, which he accepts only reluctantly.

The plot revolves around the couple’s discovery of a place that is known in myth as “Over the Hill” or “The Promised Land”, an underground colony that survived the nuclear war. Vic finds himself lured in because, in spite of their self-sufficiency, the colonists need sperm donors to keep their reproductive cycle going. He learns that a totalitarian council rules the place and maintains authority by “disappearing” anyone who resists them.

After meeting a young woman named Quilla, he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy to overthrow the council. She asks him, “Do you know what love is?”, something which he has never before pondered. The two have a short-lived affair, which seems to be out of necessity since she soon needs to escape when their conspiracy is foiled and her friends killed. They escape to the surface to find that Blood has nearly starved in his absence. In a twist ending, it is implied that Vic kills Quilla and cooks her flesh to save Blood. He contemplates the question she asked him, and concludes that “A boy loves his dog.”

Chock of full of dark humor, irony and a pretty low appraisal of human nature, a Boy and His Dog remains a cult-classic amongst cinema buffs and fans of the post-apocalyptic genre. Though it was by no means as commercially successful, amongst its fans it is right up there with films like Mad Max and other such classics.

The Hunger Games:
Following in the tradition of such greats as Brave New World and 1984, The Hunger Games presents us with the a world where apocalyptic evens have given rise to dystopia. Though it not fully specified what these events entailed, it seems relatively clear that it involved nuclear war or some kind of global fallout, possibly economic in nature. It is for this reason that a tyrannical government has taken over control of the 12 districts in the future, ruling the nation of Panem with an iron fist.

Naturally, this oppression involves both police action and forced deprivation, with people in “the capitol” enjoying a lavish, comfortable life while people in the districts live in varying degrees of poverty. However, the truest symbol of the capitol’s power comes in the form of the Hunger Games, a death-match style tournament where every district must send two “tributes” – young people who either teens or pre-teens – to compete for the prize.

The story focuses almost entirely on Katniss Everdeen’s trials as she is unleashed in the arena, trying to survive against the other competitors while at the same time outwitting the game masters. Through all of this, we are made aware of the relationship between the Games and Panem’s odd social structure, where favoritism is common and it is treated as entertainment. We also see how it is used to keep the population of Panem divided, in a state of fear, and otherwise distracted.

Combining gladiatorial combat with the concept of making the oppressed fight each other for the scraps from the head table, the games act as a form of dystopian social control and are also a very apt metaphor for teenage angst and coming of age! In the end, even those who survive are forever marked and must still fear for their lives, knowing that they are never entirely beyond the grasp of the capitol or the rulers who fear and oppress them.

Mad Max:
The franchise that made Mel Gibson’s career – may God have mercy on their souls! – Mad Max takes place in a post-apocalyptic Australia where law and order have broken down. As the franchise goes on, we learn that this was the result of a nuclear war which began after the world’s oil supplies ran out. As a result, gasoline is the most precious commodity of all, with roving bands of thugs and mercenaries fighting and raiding just so they can keep their vehicles running.

The story’s main character, Max Rockatansky, is part of the Main Force Patrol (MFP), a police force that is dedicated to maintaining order on the highways. After his family is murdered by gang members, he hijacks their fastest car and heads out on a personal mission of revenge. Having killed them all, he becomes a roamer, going from place to place in his V-8 Pursuit Special with only a dog as his companion.

In all subsequent movies, events focus on him becoming embroiled in adventures where he must help people in need, all the while looking out for himself as well. More often than not, his journeys take him to shantytowns that have been built around refineries, where small colonies of people are ruled by matriarchs, patriarchs, and are threatened by roaming hoards who want what they have.

In essence, Max’s journeys serve as a vehicle for the story which enable the audience to get a first hand look at what a post-apocalyptic landscape would look like. Key to this is the strange balance of modern and primitive, where gasoline engines, electrical appliances and guns co-exist with improvised weapons, brutal gangs, and lawlessness. All the while, you’ve got bands of people desperately seeking deliverance either in some fabled utopia or safe haven. In the end, the tone and feel of this movie set a new standard for apocalyptic movie making, one which has been imitated many times since.

On The Beach:
Next up is Nevil Shute’s classic tale of nuclear war and how Australia became the last remaining outpost of life and civilization. Published in 1957, during the height of the Cold War, this book was required reading when I was in school, and for good reason! Far from merely telling a tale of nuclear war and the fallout that resulted, it also delved into the psychology of the survivors, how they chose to live out their lives knowing that sooner or later, they would die like the rest.

Taking place in Australia, the story focuses on the lives of people and families who have relocated to the last safe place on Earth. This includes native Australians, ex-pats, and several American military officers who have fled south. Knowing that the Northern Hemisphere has been devastated and is now devoid of all life, the people initially resort to binge drinking and partying, but eventually turn to improving their lives through education, hobbies, and spending time with their families.

Things come to a head when a garbled Morse code reaches them from Seattle, prompting Towers (the American commander) and his fellow officers to mount a mission in their sub. When they arrive, they find that the signal, which is coming from an abandoned naval headquarters, is the result of a broken window sash swinging around and hitting a telegraph key. Their trip also determines that contrary to some hopes, radiation levels are not dissipating.

In the end, all services grind to a halt, people take their suicide pills, and Towers and his officers decide to sail their sub out to international waters and scuttle the ship. In the end, Towers chooses die still serving his country, and avoids having a romance with a woman (Moira) who loves him out of loyalty to his dead wife. The story ends with Moira watching from the beach, imagining him with her as she pops her suicide pill and dies.

What is most interesting about this story is not the plot per se, but the realistic tone it strikes. For starters, how the people of Australia and the government choose to confront the inevitability of death was told with a fair degree of understanding. Instead of looting, rioting, and generally resorting to barbarity, the people, by and large, choose to spend the time they have left enjoying themselves, being with family, and then ending it all painlessly. And the contrast between the people who chose to spend their time partying, versus the stalwart nature of Towers, was also a nice comparison, showing the range of reactions.

It is also interesting in how it speculates on how WWIII began. Rather than being the result of a stand-off between the US and the Soviets, the war began when second-parties, such as Albania and Italy, began bombing each other, forcing their allies to intervene. China and the Soviets even bombed each other when territorial disputes and the general chaos resulted in them invading one another. Thus, much like in WWI, we see a general state of war resulting from tangled alliances and arms races. Oh, the lessons of history…

Planet of the Apes:
Originally a novel that was published in 1963, this book went on to be adapted into film twice, first in 1968 and again in 2001. The story tells the tale of a group of explorers who go into deep space on an exploratory mission, but who end up finding a world where chimpanzees are capable of speech, build cities, wear clothing, and hunt humans for sport. In the end, the explorers flee back to Earth, only to discover that a similar fate has befallen it as well.

Ultimately, the story is being told in a note left by the protagonist, which is uncovered by a young couple who are taking a vacation in their space ship. It is only at the very end that it is revealed that they are intelligent apes, and they conclude that no human could have written this note, as they are not believed to be intelligent enough.

Though different in terms of its overall plot, much of the original story survived the movie adaptation. Here, the explorers were scientists who entered cryogenic sleep, hoping to wake up in a future where mankind was more evolved. Instead, they wake up to find that they are (seemingly) marooned on a mysterious planet where humans live in a primitive state and intelligent apes rule.

When they are attacked, all of the protagonist’s (Taylor, played by Charlton Heston) friend are killed, leaving him alone in a compound where humans are experimented on. He finds an unlikely ally in an ape named Zira who seeks to prove that humans are intelligent and hence worthy of rights (echoes of animal rights activists). All the while, Dr. Zaius, a conservative scientists, expresses strong doubts, though it is clear he is trying to bury Zira’s evidence.

In time, Taylor escapes with the help of the two scientists – Zira and Cornelius – who sought to prove his intelligence, and they flee to the Forbidden Zone. This taboo area contains a cave where Cornelius claims to have found the remains of a non-simian civilization a year earlier. They are intercepted by Zaius and some soldiers, but they manage to convince him to enter the cave and see what lies within. There, they find a number of artifacts, including a set of dentures, a pair of glasses, a heart valve, and (the real prize of the collection!) a talking doll.

Zaius reveals that he already knew of this, and that the Forbidden ZOne was once a paradise that human beings turned into a wasteland. He lets Taylor and his new female companion go, but orders the cave be destroyed and Zira and Cornellius brought back to stand trial for treason. Taylor travels up the coast and eventually reaches the remains of the Statue of Liberty and realizes the awful truth. His party never left Earth at all, but has entered a future where human civilization fell, most likely after a nuclear war, and apes have evolved to take their place.

Between the novel and the film adaptations, the evolutionary allegory is clear. Due to its inherent barbarity, human civilization is destroyed, its people fall into decline, and nature is left selecting from its predecessors to fill the void. In a sense, Boulle and the film adaptations his book inspired were mocking the idea of humanity seeing itself as being at the top of the evolutionary pyramid. In another way, they were demonstrating that the very excesses that make humanity corruptible (i.e. vanity, anthropocentrism) are not reserved to them.

The Postman:
This science fiction novel, written in 1985 by David Brin, tells the story of a post-apocalyptic United States where warlords rule the countryside and terrorize the local people. Enter into this a drifter who stumbles across the uniform of an old US Postal Services letter carrier and begins using it and a letter bag to bring hope to a small community.

Initially, he trades the letters in his mail bag for supplies, not intending to take part in a forgery. However, the letters give people hope that there is a “Restored United States of America”, which eventually leads him to maintain the illusion. He then stumbles upon a facility in Oregon State University where scientists are apparently pretending that an AI they built is still working, as a means to maintain people’s hope that knowledge and science are being kept alive.

Together, they face off against a group of ultra-survivalists who are moving south through the region. The Postman and the scientists join forces to fight them, and in the end find that the survivalists are being beaten back from the south as well, by armies bearing the standard of the State of California. Apparently, the intersection of these symbols, the letter, the scientists, and the state flag, act as a synthesis to show the path towards rebuilding the shattered nation.

This book is not only a celebrated example of a post-apocalyptic tale of hope and redemption; it’s also a fitting commentary on politics and ideology in the modern age. Many times over, the super-survivalist Nathan Holn is parodied in the book, with the survivalists of the story being called Holnists. It is even suggested that it was the followers of Holn who destroyed the government in the not-too-distant future, not nuclear war, biological agents, or even economic fallout. So in the end,  we learn that the nation is wrecked by brutal and ignorant minds, and saved by a combination of true patriots, keepers of knowledge, and those motivated to help their fellow man.

The movie adaptation that was released in 1997 did very poorly, with many critics seeing it as the latest in a string of flops for Kevin Costner. Having not seen the movie, I can’t comment on its quality either way. All I know is, it’s a shame given the value of the source material.

Second Variety:
This short story by Philip K Dick, which was adapted into the movie “Screamers”, deals with the line between artifice and authenticity and is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Hence, much like Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, it is all about machines that can impersonate humans and what happens when technical progress gets away from us.

Though the movie was set on a distant world, the original story takes place on Earth, where World War III has taken place and Soviet forces occupy much of the US. This has prompted the US to develop a race of self-replicating robots that tunnel underground and pop up to slice the enemy to pieces. After many years of death and brutality, where the machines have turned the entire countryside into a mess, the US government has relocated to the moon, leaving what forces they have left on the ground in a series of bunkers.

The story begins when a unexpected message arrives in the US camp from the other side, asking for a ceasefire. The commander heads out to the enemy bunker to speak with the soldiers, who claim that new breeds of robots that can imitate humans have infiltrated them. Apparently, the underground facility that is making the machines has been producing all kinds of upgrades, consistent with its autonomous nature and aim to create better killing machines.

Suspicion soon turns everyone against each other, and eventually only the commander and a lone woman make it back to his bunker. There, he finds that humanoid-machines have taken over the base. They fight their way free, and the commander determines that they must fly to the Moon base and alert the government that the machines are threatening to take over Earth. When they make it to an emergency craft, the commander finds that it has only one seat and gives it to the woman. Shortly after she flies away, he is attacked by a group of robots, many of which look exactly like her…

Basically, this story tells the tale of how desperation led to the creation of a technology that was so effective, it threatened to completely destroy humanity, friend and foe alike. Much like nuclear devices and biological weapons, the “varieties” of killing machines proved to be a breed of weapon that was designed to fight a war, but eventually turned and consumed its own makers.

The Stand:
Stephen King’s classic tale of mankind’s fall and redemption, all taking place against the backdrop of the American countryside. Written in 1978, this story is based on the now classic concept of a government super-virus that got out and wreaked havoc on society, and those survivors who were left to pick up the pieces. Adding to this the theme of the Rapture and a post-apocalyptic war between good and evil, this book was steeped in metaphor and was a fitting allegory about good and evil and the eventual redemption of humankind.

The story begins when a government facility suffers a fatal accident with the release of an influenza virus, a strain of super flu that is 99% infectious and fatal. Once it gets out, society begins to fall to pieces as everyone, including the government agents responsible for containment, become infected and die. Those who are left behind begin to be contacted in their dreams by one of two people, an old lady and a strange man, each telling them to make their way to one of two places.

The old lady, named Mother Abagail, clearly represents good and is inviting people to form a commune in Boulder, Colorado. The man, named Randall Flagg (who clearly represents the Devil) is bringing people to Las Vegas, where they are arming for an eventual war. In time, the two sides come together after a terrorist attack leaves several dead and Mother Abagail suffers a heart attack and dies. She asks that the main characters walk to Las Vegas to confront the evil there. They do, and become prisoners upon their arrival.

However, things come to a head when the Trashman, one of Flagg’s minions, shows up in the city with an atomic bomb. Obsessed with fire and having suffered a psychotic break, he seems intent to detonate the bomb. The heroes experience a vision where a hand composed of white light and the voice of Mother Abagail appears to them, telling them they will be delivered. The bomb detonates, and Las Vegas and all of Flagg’s followers are killed.

The story ends with the surviving heroes bringing the first post-apocalyptic baby into the world, a baby which is apparently immune to the super flu. With evil vanquished and the knowledge that subsequent generations will survive the plague, humanity’s future seems safe at last.

And that’s the first installment. Tune in again soon for part II, featuring more examples of post-apocalyptic tales. As I said, suggestions are welcome. Get em in before its too late!

Dystopian Science Fiction

Lately, I’ve been feeling kind of dystopian! Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m working on an anthology of dark science fiction with some fellow writer’s over at Goodreads (called Writer’s Worth). Or it might just be that this seemed like the next logical step in the whole “conceptual science fiction” thing. Regardless, when it comes to the future, sci-fi writers love to speculate, and it usually takes one of two forms. Either humanity lives in a utopian society, where technology, time and evolution have ferreted out our various weaknesses. Or, we live in a dystopian world, where humanity has either brought itself to the brink of annihilation or is living in dark, polluted and overpopulated environments, the result of excess and environmental degradation.

As with all things science fiction, the aim here is to use speculative worlds of the future to offer commentary on today. As William Gibson, himself a dark future writer, once said: “Science fiction [is] always about the period in which it was written.” So today, I thought I would acknowledge some truly classic examples of dystopian literature and the books that started it all. Here they are:

Earliest Examples:
Dystopian literature, contrary to popular conception, did not begin in the 20th century with Brave New World. In fact, one can find examples going as far back as the Enlightenment, when philosophers and scholars used fictional contexts to illustrate the weaknesses of society and how they might be reformed. And, in many ways, this form of social critique borrowed from Utopian literature, a genre that takes its name from Thomas More’s seminal book that describes a perfect fictional society. But where More and earlier writers (such as Plato and St. Augustine) used perfect civilizations to parody contemporary society, this newer breed of authors used dark ones to do the same. In short, Utopian literature showed society how it could be, dystopian literature as it was.

Candide:
A true classic, though it is sometimes difficult to classify this work as a true dystopian work of fiction. For one, it is set in the contemporary world, not in a fictionalized society, and revolves around the life of a fictional character who travels from one region to the next, seeking to answer the fundamental question of whether or not this is “the best of all possible worlds”. However, this book remains one of the principle sources of inspiration for science fiction writers when constructing fictional worlds for the sake of satirizing their own.

Published in 1755 by the critic and philosopher Voltaire, the story was inspired by the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake and the church’s and Leibnizian’s attempts to rationalize it. At the beginning, Candide – the main character who’s name means “optimism” – lives a sheltered existence where he is busy studying and living with his friends and companions. However, this existence is quickly interrupted by the arrival of war, and Candide and his companions are forced to travel from place to place, witnessing all the problems of the world.

These include war, slavery, rape, imperialism, abuse of power and exploitation, and takes them from Europe to the Middle East to the Americas. Eventually, they return home and reflect on all they have seen and whether or not this is “the best of all possible worlds”. They conclude that it is not, but offer a resolution by saying that “we must cultivate our garden”.

Gulliver’s Travels:
Another classic example, but which is often considered a combination between utopian and dystopian novels. This is because the plot involves the travels of one man – Gullliver, who’s name is a play on the world gullible – who’s journey takes him through many fictional worlds where life is either perfect or tragically flawed in various ways. However, since the purpose of these worlds is to parody English society of his day, it is often included as an early example of satiric literature that falls into the utopian, dystopian and science fiction camps.

The story involves four journeys where Gulliver travels to several fictional societies and records what he sees for posterity. The first voyage takes him to the land of the Lilliputians, a race of tiny people who’s morals match their physical size. After some rather brief descriptions of how these people select their leaders (limbo tournaments and other stupid games) we learn that they are a parody of the British system of parliament.

His second voyage takes him to a place which is the polar opposite of the first. Here, in the land of the Brobdingnagians, he is presented with giants who’s physical size mirrors their moral outlook. They consider Gulliver to be a curious specimen, who’s descriptions of his country disgust them. In the end, they consider him a cute sideshow attraction and refuse his offer for technological advances (like gunpowder). Gulliver then leaves, thinking the people are out of their minds, but ironically states that he witheld the worse about England out of a desire to save face.

His next voyage involves a little “island-hopping”, first to the flying city of Laputa, an island nation where technological pursuits are followed without a single regard for the consequences. He then detours to another island, Glubbdubdrib, where he visits a magician’s dwelling and discusses history with the ghosts of historical figures. Then onto Luggnagg, where he encounters the struldbrugs – an unfortunate race of people who are immortal but frozen in old age, with all the infirmities that come with it. Gulliver then reaches Japan, which is in the grips of the post-war Shogunate period, and is narrowly excused from taking part in an anti-Christian display which all foreigners were forced to perform at the time.

His final voyage before going home takes him country of the Houyhnhnms, a race of horse-people who see themselves as “the perfection of nature” and who rule over the race of Yahoos – deformed humans who exist in their basest form. Gulliver joins them and comes to adopt their view of humanity – that of base creatures that use reason only to advance their own appetites. However, they soon come to see him as a Yahoo and expel him from their civilization. In the end, Gulliver returns home to regal his family of his adventures, but finds that he cannot relate to them anymore. His journeys have filled him with a sense of misanthropy which he cannot ignore.

Throughout the narrative, Swift’s point seems abundantly clear. Each voyage to a fictitious world serves as a means to parody a different element of British society and civilization in general. And ultimately, Gulliver serves as the perfect narrator, in that his ignorance and naivety allow him to absorb the lessons of the journey in a way that is both ironic and sufficiently detached. Can’t just hand the reader the moral, after all! Gotta make them work for it!

The Time Machine:
Published in 1895, this science fiction novella inspired countless adaptations and popularized the very idea of time travel. In addition to introducing readers to the concept of time as the fourth-dimension and temporal paradoxes, H.G. Wells also had some interesting social commentary to share. In this story, the narrator – known only as The Traveller – recounts to a bunch of dinner guests how he used a time machine to travel to the year 802, 701 A.D. where he witnessed a strange culture made up of two distinct people’s.

On the one hand, there were the Eloi,  a society of elegant, beautiful people who live in futuristic (but deteriorating) buildings and do no work. Attempts to communicate with them prove difficult since they seem to possess no innate curiosity or discipline. He assumes that they are a communistic society who have used technology to conquer nature and have therefore evolved (or devolved) to a point where strength and intellect are no longer necessary to survive.

However, this changes when he comes face to face with a separate race of ape-like troglodytes who live in underground enclaves and surface only at night. Within their dwellings he discovers the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground paradise possible. He then realizes that the human race has evolved into two species: the leisured class of the ineffectual Eloi, and the downtrodden working classes that have devolved into the brutish Morlocks. In the course of searching the Morlock enclave, he learns that they also feed on the Eloi from time to time. His revised analysis is that their relationship is not a benign one, but one characterized by animosity and the occasional act of kidnapping and cannibalism.

Is there not a more perfect vision of industrial society or class conflict? Written within the context of turn of the century England, where discrepancies in wealth, class conflict and demands for reform were commonplace, this book was clearly intended to explore social models in addition to scientific ideas. And the commentary was quite effective, if you ask me…

The Iron Heel:
This dystopian work was written by Jack London, the same man who wrote the classic Call of the Wild, and was released in 1908. A clear expression of London’s own socialist beliefs, the novel is set in the distant future when a socialist utopia – known as the Brotherhood of Man – has finally been created. Overall, the plot revolves around the “Everhard Manuscript”, a testament which details the lives of the story’s two main protagonists and which takes place between 1912 to 1932 in the US. The work is known for its big “spoiler”, letting readers know outright that the protagonists die in the course of their pursuits, but that there efforts are rewarded by providing inspiration to later generations who succeed where they fail.

In the course of this speculative story, we learn that an oligarchy – the Oligarchs or “Iron Heel” – has seized power in the US by bankrupting the middle class and reducing farmers to a state of serfdom. Once in power, they maintained order through a combination of preferential treatment and control over the military. After a failed revolt (the First Revolt) takes place, preparations are underway for a second which is expected to succeed in restoring the Republic. Unfortunately, it too fails and the protagonists are killed. However, centuries later, when their Manuscript is discovered, the Oligarchy has been unseated and a debt is being acknowledged to these characters and their actions.

Thus, London speculates that a socialist society would someday emerge in the US, but only after centuries of dominance by oligarchs who would come to power by decimating the middle class, controlling trade unions, and transforming the military into a mercenary front. His main characters, though condemned to death in the present, will be vindicated in the distant future when humanity will at last overcome its greedy tendencies and usher in a state based on equality and fraternity. Apparently, this novel inspired such greats as George Orwell, but not in the way you think. Whereas London chose to offer his readers a sense of consolation by showing them everything turned out okay in the distant future, Orwell chose to take the hopeless rout to make his point!

We:
The story takes place in the distant future, roughly one thousand years after the One State conquered the entire world. After years of living in a perfectly synchronized, rational and orderly world, the people of the One State are busy constructing a ship (the Integral) that will export their way of life to extra-terrestrial worlds. Published in 1921, and written by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the story was clearly inspired by life in post-revolutionary Russia, with its commitment to “scientific Marxism, but was also a commentary on the deification of reason at the expense of feeling and emotion.

The story is told from the point of view of D-503, chief engineer of the Integral who is keeping a journal which he intends to be taken on the voyage. As we learn in the course of the novel, everyone in the One State lives in glass apartments that are monitored by secret police known as the Bureau of Guardians. All sex is conducted strictly for reproductive purposes and cannot be done without state sanction. However, the main character soon comes into contact with a woman named I-330, a liberated woman who flirts with him, smokes, and drinks alcohol without regard for the law.

In time, he learns that I-330 is a member of a revolutionary order known as MEPHI which is committed to bringing down the One State. While accompanying her to the Ancient House, a building notable for being the only opaque structure in the One State where objects of historic and aesthetic importance are preserved, he is escorted through a series of tunnels to the world outside the Green Wall which surrounds the city-state. There, D-503 meets the inhabitants of the outside world – humans whose bodies are covered with animal fur. The aim of the MEPHI are to destroy the Green Wall and reunite the citizens of the One State with the outside world.

In his last entry, D-503 relates that he has undergone an operation that is mandated for all citizens of the One State. Similar to a lobotomy, this operation involved targeted x-rays that eliminate all emotion and imagination from the human brain. Afterwards, D-503 informs on I-330 and MEPHI, but is surprised how she refuses to inform on her compatriots once she is captured. People beyond the wall even succeed toward the story’s end in breaching a part of the Green Wall, thus ending the story on an uncertain note.

In addition to parodying the worst aspects of scientific rationalism, imperialism and the notion of progress, the story also went on to inspire some of the greatest satires ever known. In addition, many of its more esoteric elements have appeared in countless novels and films over the years, most notably the concepts of encapsulating walls, secret museums, government-sanctioned breeding, and machine-based programming.

The Classics:
And now we move onto the dystopian classics that are most widely known, that have inspired the most adaptations and sub-genres of noire fiction. Although updated many times over for the 20th century, these dystopian novels share many characteristics with their predecessors. In addition to timeless social commentary, they also asked the difficult question of what it would take to set humanity free. Whereas some chose to confront this question directly and offer resolutions, other authors chose to leave the question open or chose to offer nothing in the way of consolation. Perhaps they thought their stories more educational this way, or perhaps they could merely merely think of none. Who’s to say? All I know is their works were inspired!

Brave New World:
There’s scarcely a high school student who hasn’t read this famous work of dystopian fiction! And although Aldous Huxley denied ever reading We, his novel nevertheless shared several elements with it. For instance, his story was set in the World State where all reproduction is carried out through a system of eugenics. In addition, several “Savage Reservations” exist beyond the veil of civilization, where people live a dirty, natural existence. But ultimately, Huxley’s aim was to comment on American and Western civilization of the early 20th century, a civilization where leisure and enjoyment were becoming the dominant means of social control.

This last aspect was the overwhelming focus of the novel. In the World State, all people are bred for specific roles. Alphas are the intellectuals and leaders of society, Betas handle high-level bureaucratic tasks, Deltas handle skilled labor, Gammas unskilled labor, and Epsilons menial tasks. Therefore, all vestiges of class conflict and generational conflict have been eliminated from society. But to further ensure social control, all citizens are sleep-conditioned from a young age to obey the World State and follow its rules. These include the use of Soma, a perfectly legal and safe designer drug that cures all emotional ales, promiscuous sex habits, and “feelies” (movies that simulate sensation).

In the end, the story comes to a climax as two of the main characters, Bernard Marx and Lina Crowe, go to a savage reservation and find a lost child named John. His mother was apparently a citizen of the World State who became lost in the reservation and was forced to stay after she learned she was pregnant. Having experienced nothing but alienation and abuse as a “savage”, John agrees to go with Bernard and Lina back to “civilization. However, he quickly realizes he doesn’t fit into their world either and expresses disdain for its excesses and controls. Eventually, the people who sympathize with him are sent into exile and he is forced to flee himself. But in the end, he finds that he cannot escape the people of the World State and commits suicide, a tragic act which symbolizes the inability of the individual to find resolution between insanity and barbarity.

Overall, Huxley’s BNW was a commentary on a number of scientific developments which, under the right circumstances, could be used to deprive humanity of their freedom. In many ways, this was a commentary on how the expanding fields of psychology and the social sciences were being used to find ways to ensure the cooperation of citizens and ensure good work habits. Nowhere was this more apparent than in factories and in the creation of “assembly-line discipline”, which was exemplified by how the people of the World State revered Henry Ford. In addition to performing eugenics on an assembly-line apparatus, the people worship Ford and cross themselves with a T (a reference to his model T car).

But above all, Huxley seemed to be asking the larger question of what is to be done about the process we know as civilization. If it was inimical to freedom, with all its rational, sterile and domesticated luggage, and the alternative  – a dirty, superstitious and painful existence – was not preferable either, than what was the solution? In the end, he offered no solution, allowing the reader to ponder this themselves. In his follow-up essay, Brave New World Revisited, he expressed some remorse over this fact and claimed that he wished he had offered a third option in the form of the exile communities – people who had found their own way through enlightened moderation.

1984:
Ah yes, the book that did it all! It warned us of the future, taught us the terminology of tyranny, and educated us on the use of “newspeak”, “doublethink” and “thoughtcrime”. Where would dystopian literature be today were it not for George Orwell and his massively influential satire on totalitarianism? True, Orwell’s work was entirely original; in fact, he thoroughly acknowledged a debt to authors like H.G. Wells and Yevgeny Zamyatin. But it was how he synthesized the various elements of dystopia, combining them with his own original thoughts and observations, and crystallized it all so coherently that led to his popularity.

But I digress. Set in the not-too-distant future of 1984 (Orwell completed the book in 48 and supposedly just flipped the digits), the story takes place from the point of view of an Outer Party member named Winston Smith. Winston lives in London, in a time when England has been renamed Airstrip One and is part of a major-state known as Oceania. As the book opens, Oceania finds itself at war with the rival state of Eurasia, though not long ago it was at war with Eastasia and will be so again. As a member of the Ministry of Truth, Winston’s job is that of a censor. Whenever the enemy changes, whenever the Party alters its policies, whenever a person disappears, or the Party just feels the need to rewrite something about the past, men like Winston are charged with destroying and altering documentation to make it fit.

Ultimately, the story involves Winston’s own quest for truth. Living in the constant, shifting lie that is life in the totalitarian state of Oceania, he seeks knowledge of how life was before the revolution, before the Party took control, before objective reality become meaningless. He also meets a woman named Julia with whom he begins an affair and rediscovers love. However, in time the two are captured and taken to the Ministry of Love, where they are tortured, brainwashed, and made to turn on each other. In the end, Winston accepts the Party’s version of reality,simply because he discovers he has no choice. His tragic end is made all the more tragic by the implicit knowledge that he will soon be killed as well.

For discerning fans of science fiction and dystopian literature, the brilliance of 1984 was not so much in how the totalitarian state of the future is run but how it came to be. According to the Goldstein Manifesto, which is the centerpiece of the novel, World War III took place sometime in the 1950’s and ended in a stalemate, all sides having become convinced of the futility of nuclear war. Shortly thereafter, totalitarian revolutionaries with similar ideologies took power all over the planet. In time, they became the three major states of Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, whose boundaries were a natural extension of the post-war spheres of influence.

Also interesting is Orwell’s speculation on how these totalitarian ideologies came to be in the first place. In short, he speculates that dominance by a small group of elites has been an unbroken pattern in human history. In the past, this arrangement seemed natural, even somewhat desirable due to poverty, scarcity, and a general lack of education. However, it was within the context of the 20th century, at a time when industrial technology and availability of resources had virtually eliminated the need for social distinction, that the most vehement totalitarians had emerged. Unlike the elites of the past, these ones had no illusions about their aims or their methods. As the antagonist O’Brien says “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake… Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

This message still resonates with us today. Even though western civilization did technically dodge the bullet of WWIII and does not resemble the world of 1984 in the strictest sense, the cautionary nature of Orwell’s critique remains. Even if the patriculars of how 1984 came to be did not happen, the message remains the same: human freedom – meaning the freedom to live, love and think freely – is the most precious thing we have. Beware those who would deprive you of it for your own safety or in exchange for some earthly utopia, for surely they will themselves to be your master! There is also an ongoing debate about which came true, 1984 or BNW, with the consensus being that it was Huxley’s dystopian vision that seemed more accurate. However, the jury is still out, and the debate ongoing…

Fahrenheit 451:
Here is yet another dystopian novel that has become somewhat of a staple in the industry. In Bradbury’s vision of the future, society is permeated by mindless leisure and decadence. Virtually all forms of literature have been banned, and local “firemen” are responsible for enforcing the ban. Wherever illegal literature is found, firemen are responsible for arriving on scene and putting them to the flame. Yes, in a world where all houses are fireproof, firemen are no longer responsible for putting fires out, but starting them!

In the course of the story, the main character – a fireman named Guy Montag – begins to become intrigued with literature and discovers a sort of magic within it that is missing from his world. In addition, Guy is told by his boss that society became this way willingly. Perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of sloth, they chose convenience, ease and gratuity over subtly, thought and reflection. In time, Guy’s choices make him a fugitive and he is forced to flee and seek refuge with other people who insist on keeping and reading books. It is also made clear that nuclear war is looming, which may provide some explanation as to how society came to be the way it is.

In this way, the book has a lot in common with both 1984 and Brave New World. On the one hand, their is active censorship and repression through the destruction of books and the criminalization of reading. On the other hand, it seems as though the people in Bradbury’s world surrendered these freedoms willingly. It is a fitting commentary on American society of the latter half of the 20th century, where entertainment and convenience seemed like the greatest threats to independent thought and learning. This, in turn, could easily form the basis of dictatorship. For as we all know, a docile, narcotized society is an easily controlled one!

The Handmaids Tale:
Here is another novel that few people get through high school without being forced to read, especially in Canada. But theres a reason for that. Much like 1984, BNW, and F451, The Handmaids Tale is a classical dystopian narrative that has remained relevant despite the passage of time. In this story, the US has been dissolved and replaced by a theocracy known as the Republic of Gilead. In this state, women have been stripped of all rights in accordance with Old Testament and Christian theocracy. The head of this state is known as the Commander, the chief religious-military officer of the state.

The story is told from the point of view of a handmaid, a woman who’s sole purpose is to breed with the ruling class. Her name is Offred, which is a patronym of “Of Fred”, in honor of the man she serves. Like all handmaidens, her worth is a determined by her ability to procreate. And on this, her third assignment, she must get pregnant if she doesn’t want to be discarded. This time around, her assignment is to the Commander himself, a man who quickly becomes infatuated with her. Over time, the infatuation leads to sex that is done as much for pleasure as procreation, and he begins to expose her to aspects of culture that have long been outlawed (like fashion magazines, cosmetics, and reading). She even learns of a Mayday resistance that is concerned with overthrowing Gilead, and that the Commander’s driver is apparently a member.

In the end, Offred is denounced by the Commander’s wife when she learns of their “affair”. Nick orders men from “The Eyes” (i.e. secret police) to come and take her away. However, he privately intimates that these are actually men from the resistance who are going to take her to freedom. The story ends with her Offred stepping into the van, unsure of what her fate will be. In an epilogue, we learn that the story we have been told is a collection of tapes that were discovered many generations later after Gilead fell and a new, more equal society re-emerged. This collection is being presented by academics at a lecture, and is known as “The Handmaids Tale”.

In addition to touching on the key issues of reproductive rights, feminism, and totalitarianism, The Handmaids Tale presents readers with the age-old scenario for the rise of a dictatorship in the US. Apparently, the military-theological forces who run Gilead in the future seized power shortly after a staged terrorist attack which was blamed on Islamic terrorists. In the name of restoring order and ending the decline of their country, the “Sons of Jacob” seized power and disbanded the constitution. Under the twin guises of nationalism and religious orthodoxy, the new rulers rebuilt society along the lines of Old Testament-inspired social and religious orthodoxy.

This angle is not only plausible, but historically relevant. For as Sinclair Lewis said back in 1936 “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” This is paraphrased from his actual, more lengthy comments. But his essential point is the same. If a  tyranny were emerged in the US, he reasoned, it would do so by insisting that it was religiously right and that it was intent on protecting people’s freedoms, not revoking them. In addition, the angle where an Islamic terrorist attack spawned the takeover? Tell me that’s not relevant to Americans today! Though written in 1985, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian scenario received a shot of credibility thanks to eight years of the Bush administration, a government that claimed religious orthodoxy and used security as justification for questionable wars and many repressive policies.

Final Thoughts:
After years of reading dystopian literature, I have begun to notice certain things. For starters, it is clear why they are grouped with science fiction. In all cases, they are set in alternate universes or distant future scenarios, but the point is to offer commentary on the world of today. And in the end, utopian and dystopian satires are inextricably linked, even if the former predates the latter by several centuries.

Whereas Utopian literature was clearly meant to offer a better world as a foil for the world the writer’s were living, dystopian literature offers up a dark future as a warning. And in each case, these worlds very much resemble our own, the only real difference being a matter of degree or a catalyzing event. This is why there is a focus in dystopian literature on explanations, how things came to be the way they are. In many cases, this would involve a series of predictable events: WWIII, a terrorist attack, more overpopulation and pollution, an economic crisis, or a natural disaster.

And in the end, the message is clear: whether it is by fear, poverty, or the manipulation of critical circumstances, power is handed over to people who will deliberately abuse it. Their mandate is clear and their outlook is the exact same as any tyrant who has ever existed. But the important thing to to note is that it is given. Never in dystopian literature do tyrants simply take power. Much like in real life, true totalitarianism in these novels depends upon the willingness of people to exchange their freedom for food, safety, or stability. And in all cases, they inevitably experience buyers remorse!

Quicknote: Since getting “freshly pressed”, a lot of people have wrote in and asked me about my thoughts on “The Hunger Games”. Sorry to say, haven’t read it so I can’t offer any commentary. I will however be commenting on a number of more modern dystopian franchises, specifically examples found in film and other media, in my next post. Stay tuned, hopefully something you like will pop there!