Where Did the Hope Go?

May 26, 2012 at 12:09 am (Fervor, Links, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

Or… Why I Embrace the Dystopian Novel

I’ve had the good fortune this week of being presented with a special opportunity – I volunteered to proofread a dystopian novel by Frank Herbert, called High-Opp, from Wordfire Press: http://www.amazon.com/High-Opp-ebook/dp/B007JDN9RM . So far, 40+ pages into the proofread, I’m really enjoying the story. It revolves around class warfare, an attempt to standardize lifestyles and ways of thinking, stamping out individualism, and the notion of governing society on the basis of surveying public opinion. As is typical with most dystopian societies, it’s the result of an attempted utopia gone wrong; the idealism didn’t translate into reality. In this case, there are too many ways the baser nature of humankind, the desire for status and wealth and the transferral of these things to our children, corrupt the processes involved in putting theory into practice. That, and the idea that an “average” is preferable, that general opinion knows best, is flawed to begin with.

Considering when the story was written, I was surprised how relevant it is to modern day circumstances, and how the Separatists in the novel are reminiscent of the current Occupy protestors. This is a notably disturbing story, with very grim undertones and oodles of social commentary, both common traits of dystopian novels. These characteristics are also partially why I love dystopian tales as much as I do, and the reason why I started my own dystopian series, beginning with Fervor (http://www.amazon.com/Fervor-ebook/dp/B004RZ28FE/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1337862257&sr=1-1 ).

But there was a brief time in my life where I preferred happier tales and looked for utopian books instead. I wanted to read stories that supported my optimism.

If I had to approximate, I’d say that this “head-in-the-clouds” period lasted from the time just before I turned 15 to about the time I started university, newly turned 18. I was a proper dreamer then, an extreme idealist, believing in promise for my own future and greater hope for the world as a whole. I was aware that there was strife, war, injustices, cruelty – but trusted that these things could conceivably be rectified. I loved the optimism of Roddenberry and lived for books like The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant. I lost that somewhere along the way, when life hit me like a sledgehammer. Once I made my way into the unsheltered real world, it slammed me with cold hard reality, beating me down and tamping down my dreams. Suddenly dystopian novels made a lot more sense. They appealed to me then because I trusted their message more than I did those of the more optimistic books. Life had let me down…hard. And perhaps I was to blame, for being so hopeful in the first place.

I stopped reading utopian books at that time, and I haven’t read them since. They seem too fragile and unrealistic to me now, based on the concept that everyone would give over to whatever ideal is at the centre of that society. I know by now that this just doesn’t happen.

And where did the hope go? It’s not dead. It is still there, but it is hidden beneath disappointment, despair and other forms of negativity – sort of like Pandora’s Box. I still believe in heroes, in struggling for the greater good, in striving for your dreams even if the likelihood of reaching them isn’t all that great. I’m just wary now about the darker side of things, the inescapable darker side that will always make that struggle necessary. That buried hope? – It’s why, while I embrace dystopian novels, I keep looking for the ones that despite their grim outlook, still have a glimmer of hope suggested to the very end, a hint of the bittersweet that says “all is not lost.”

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