dystopian fiction

State of Terror by John Brown (Dystopian Thriller)

In the interest of full disclosure, here are the books we’ve received in so far in February:

State of Terror by John Brown is a dystopian thriller set in a near-future United States following a new wave of terrorist attacks that have enabled the government to ramp up the domestic war on terror.

Drone Pilot 2061 by Thomas Diogenes is a scifi action tale about a drone pilot fighting to protect the drug trade against Christian and Muslim theocracies.

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We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

In this episode of the Libertarian Tradition podcast series, part of the Mises Institute’s online media library, Jeff Riggenbach makes the case that Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian science fiction novel, We, belongs in the libertarian tradition.

You can also read the transcript below:

When we think of the libertarian tradition, we tend naturally to think of political philosophers and economists of the past. But surely one part of the libertarian tradition belongs to novelists and other fiction writers.

In earlier podcasts in this series, I’ve already discussed two such figures: Ayn Rand, whose 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, is, arguably, one of the half-dozen most important libertarian works of the 20th century, and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the professor of philology at Oxford whose giant fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, published just a few years before Atlas Shrugged, is arguably the most culturally influential single novel published in English in the 20th century.

This week, I’d like to talk about a writer whose level of influence has been much more modest, but whose indirect influence has nevertheless been considerable. Regular listeners to this series know what I mean by indirect influence. I gave an example of it just last week, when I discussed the life and career of Isabel Paterson. Paterson’s libertarian classic, The God of the Machine, has never reached a wide readership, but, thanks to the effort of her protégé, Ayn Rand, Paterson herself has influenced millions of readers who have never even seen a copy of The God of the Machine.

The writer I’m talking about today wrote a novel in which a citizen of a totalitarian state of the future meets a woman and becomes obsessed with her. He begins a forbidden sexual affair with this woman, meeting with her illicitly in a very old part of the city where the intrusive gaze of the all-encompassing government doesn’t seem to penetrate. Through his relationship with her, he becomes involved in the organized underground opposition to the all-encompassing government — an opposition he had never previously realized existed at all. Ultimately, he and the woman are caught, imprisoned, and tortured. In the end, he is sincerely repentant of his crimes and is completely devoted to the all-encompassing government that has done him all this harm.

A familiar story, no? Can you tell me what novel I’ve just described? Ah, I see a hand in the back of the room. Yes? “George Orwell’s 1984,” you cry out confidently. And your answer is correct, but only as far as it goes, which is, perhaps, not quite as far as you thought it would.

That is a description of the plot of 1984, which was published, as we all know, in 1949. But Orwell adapted the plot of 1984 from another novel, one originally published 25 years earlier in 1924. That earlier novel was entitled, simply, We. It was the work of a not-very-well-known Russian writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin. Zamyatin was not very well known outside Russia when We was first published, and he was still not very well known in the West 25 years later, when Orwell published 1984. He remains not very well known in the West to this day.

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Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman

Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman, so far as I am aware, is still the agorist novel par excellence. More than three decades have passed since its publication — not that you would know it without looking at the copyright date — yet in that time no other novel has so successfully mixed the principles of agorism with such a keen perspective on the future. There are not many novels that can top it for entertainment value either.

The story takes place in what was then the future, but which now seems a very prescient present. Not only is the story filled with theretofore unrealized gadgets and technology that differ from what we actually possess sometimes by no more than an appellation, or occasionally a small feature or manner of use, but the economic conditions described in the tale read like a seer’s forecast.

Schulman’s knowledge of economics allowed him to make a forecast every bit as accurate as the one for which Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged, has been lauded of late. In fact, this very knowledge of economics is probably what helped the author predict all those gadgets, for it is well established that science-fiction authors, a group not known for their economic acumen, tend to think on a grand scale when most of the advances, in a consumer-driven society, are modest devices of everyday convenience and entertainment.

It is a dystopian world we are plunged into in Alongside Night, where central control of the economy and erosion of civil liberties proceed, as they must, hand in hand. When the government abducts the protagonist’s father, a noted free-market libertarian economist somewhere between Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Mises in his radicalness, the high school student Elliot Vreeland embarks on a quest to free him. This quest takes him into the world of the agorists, free-market rebels and masters of counter-economics.

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One Nation Under Blood by Tarrin P. Lupo

One Nation Under Blood by Tarrin P. Lupo

With an official release date of October 30, 2012, just in time for Halloween, author Tarrin Lupo presents us with a new sort of vampire tale that is certain to make any libertarian’s skin crawl. While not intended to be a traditional horror novel, One Nation Under Blood is nonetheless a frightening tale of what can happen when government regulation and patriotism go too far.

In Lupo’s dystopian novel, it is discovered that blood transfusions can offer more than the gift of life to a needy recipient. Performed correctly, they serve as a fountain of youth, transferring rejuvenating properties from the blood of a child into the veins of an adult. Older generations are thrilled at the chance to become healed of their ailments and erase years from their appearance, leading to a huge demand for young blood that creates an unparalleled shift in the balance of wealth from the old to the young.

When blood transfusions become a target for politicians eager to profit from the new technology, the demand overwhelms the willing donor population and a new source of young blood must be found. By the power of legislation and with the help of a successful propaganda campaign, orphans and the children of immigrants are soon forced into concentration camps where they are made to give up their blood as a patriotic service to their country.

By telling the story through the eyes of those being taken advantage of, the author allows us to put ourselves in the place of those who face similar discrimination today. Although the novel is fiction, readers will find many similarities between the story world and our own. Perhaps the scariest notion is that we can easily imagine our society being swayed into nearly identical unspeakable actions under the pretense of protecting the children.

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Anthem by Ayn Rand

I’m pleased to see Laissez Faire Books publishing a new edition of this book. I may be unusual in this, but Anthem happens to be my favorite of Rand’s four major works of fiction. It is pithy, pared down to essentials, and more poetic. This guest editorial was originally published as the editorial preface of the new edition. — GAP

Anthem by Ayn Rand

“The author does not understand socialism,” read the letter from MacMillan in reply to the submission of Ayn Rand’s novella, Anthem. They turned it down. Actually, the publisher didn’t understand socialism. Hardly anyone did in 1937, when this book was written. Rand, however, did understand socialism. She understood it so well that she knew it would result in the opposite of what it promised and that its proponents would eventually come to embrace its grim reality, rather than repudiate the system of thought.

In many ways, this book is one of the best dystopian novels ever written because it puts the central focus on the key failing of socialism: its opposition to progress. How is that possible given that progress is a central slogan in socialist thinking? The problem is that by collectivizing private property, socialism removes the machinery of progress itself. It abolishes prices and profits and calculation and the incentive to create. It puts a premium on political control, and politicians resent the revolutionary implications of entrepreneurship. Therefore, a consistently socialist society would not only be poor and backward; it would revel in those features and call them the goal.

Think about it. This was the 1930s, long before the environmental movement and long before the primitivist streak in socialist thinking was to emerge as an outright agenda to be imposed by force. But as a child in the old Soviet Union, Rand had seen it in action. She had seen how entrepreneurship and creativity had to be sacrificed for the collective, and how this drove civilization straight into the ground. A totalitarian society would not be a world with amazing technology and flying cars, but would exist only at a subsistence level. And it would try to stay that way.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

The latest craze to seize the literary world has been transformed, according to the law of Hollywood, into cinema. The Hunger Games, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, is helmed by Gary Ross and co-written by the author herself. Targeting a younger crowd, the movie yet boasts enough maturity and craftsmanship to appeal to other demographics. I continue to await the next science fiction masterpiece, but if the interlude between masterpieces had more movies of this caliber, I would gripe a good deal less.

In the world of the story, an Empire has put down a rebellion by thirteen districts. The thirteenth district was destroyed and the other twelve must, each year, supply a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the Hunger Games. The 24 participants train for a few weeks before competing in a winner-take-all gladiatorial contest that leaves only one alive. Interspersed in their training are interviews with the media, banquets, and chances to impress viewers and thereby win sponsors who can assist the contenders during the competition.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young girl in district twelve. She hunts for food in forbidden territory but is permitted to do so because she sells much of her catch to the guards (the first in a series of welcome demonstrations of governmental corruption). When her younger sister’s name is pulled as the female representative for the Games, Katniss demands to go as a volunteer in her stead.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

Whatever good you have heard about The Hunger Games, the reality is more spectacular. Not only is this the literary phenom of our time, but the movie that created near pandemonium for a week from its opening is a lasting contribution to art and to the understanding of our world. It’s more real than we know.

In the story, a totalitarian and centralized state — it seems to be some kind of unelected autocracy — keeps a tight grip on its colonies to prevent a repeat of the rebellion that occurred some 75 years ago. They do this through the forced imposition of material deprivation, by unrelenting propaganda about the evil of disobedience to the interests of the nation-state and with “Hunger Games” as annual entertainment.

In this national drama and sport, and as a continuing penance for past sedition, the central state randomly selects two teens from each of the 12 districts and puts them into a fight-to-the-death match in the woods, one watched like a reality show by every resident. The districts are supposed to cheer for their representatives and hope that one of their selected teens will be the one person who prevails.

So amidst dazzling pageantry, media glitz and public hysteria, these 24 kids — who would otherwise be living normal lives — are sent to kill each other without mercy in a bloody zero-sum game. They are first transported to the opulent capitol city and wined, dined, and trained. Then the games begin.

At the very outset, many are killed on the spot in the struggle to grab weapons from a stockpile. From there, coalitions form among the groups, however temporary they may be. Everyone knows there can only be one winner in the end, but alliances — formed on the basis of class, race, personality, etc. — can provide a temporary level of protection.

Watching all this take place is harrowing to say the least, but the public in the movie does watch as a type of reality television. This is the ultimate dog-eat-dog setting, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” in the words of Thomas Hobbes. But it is also part of a game the kids are forced to play. This is not a state of nature. In real life, they wouldn’t have the need to kill or be killed. They wouldn’t see each other as enemies. They wouldn’t form into evolving factions for self-protection.

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