An Introduction To The Hopeful Messages Of Nightmare Worlds And Dystopian Fiction - by Jesse Pohlman
I want to thank Elira Barnes for the opportunity to be one of the thirty contributers to her blog for the Month of June!
My name is Jesse Pohlman, and I'm a denizen of Long Island, New York who loves to write Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and the occasional personal or political article.
Lately, though, I've been re-exploring my love of Dystopian Literature, and engaging with my creativity through writing scripts for videos, which I've been producing through the Youtube channel “Dystopian Review.”
Dystopian Literature is a genre of fiction centered around “Nightmare Worlds.” Whether there's a horrible war, an oppressive government, or an apocalypse afoot; whether it's in book form, film, or television; whether it features sympathetic protagonists who generate victories, or loathesome wretches doomed to failure, Dystopian Literature offers us a look at worlds which have gone horribly wrong, some of which may or may not be possible, and – thus – give us warnings about what to avoid in our real world.
Presently, it's hard to argue that the most prescient Dystopian fiction in American political discourse is Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which features a protagonist named Offred who has survived a coup against the United States Government perpetrated by the Jacobites, an extremist Christian-masquerading movement which, among other things, has made many women into de-facto property of the state and its agents. Offred is a Handmaid, which means she is a woman regularly
required to subject herself to his sexual conquest – with the Commander's wife on hand, of course! Surviving a possible forced birth is the highest honor amongst Handmaids, mainly as failure to produce children can lead to dismissal to a toxic colony if she is declared “barren.” Handmaids wear distinctive outfits; red cloaks, with their faces covered by a veil-like object called “Wings.”
If that triggers your visual memory to any recent photographs, it's because “The Handmaid” is a popular Women's Rights protest symbol, and for good reason.
I know it seems like the topic can be overwhelming, but oftentimes it's the hope a piece of literature can inspire that most loudly justifies its existence. The nightmare world which I've been spending most of my time in lately, is the “Terminator” Franchise; particularly, the first film (“The Terminator”); the second film (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day”); and, in a fit of pure nostalgia, a Television show (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) which aired over a decade ago on Fox, starring Lena Headey taking the protagonist character of Sarah Connor out for a spin. With a new film, “Terminator: Dark Fate” on the horizon and tentatively scheduled for a November, 2019 release, we'll
get to see Linda Hamilton back at the helm as Sarah Connor.
In the first movie, released in the ancient, proto-internet era of 1984, Sarah is a young waitress who discovers that other women with her name are being brutally murdered. When a gunfight erupts at a bar she's taken refuge in, she's kidnapped by a wild-eyed man with a shotgun calling himself Kyle Reese and telling her that the man he unloaded a half-dozen slugs into was actually a machine from the future. It was sent back in time by a Sapient AI called “Skynet” which the United States built to manage our national defense, an AI that ultimately decided Humans in general were a threat to it, and launched a nuclear holocaust (later known as “Judgment Day”) across the planet. Oh, and did I mention that in the future, in 2029, Sarah Connor's son John – she's never been pregnant, that we know of! - is going to save Humankind, which is why it targeted her.
If that sounds complicated, that's because the first movie was more of a blend of Science Fiction with Horror. The Terminator promises a grim future of nuclear war, killer robots, but – thankfully! - it also offers us a tale of Humans teaming up to overcome the odds and winning another victory over the machines, one that might even help them figure out a way to prevent it!
Now, I won't go too much into details on the films, because honestly, you should watch them yourselves. If you're a big fan of the ways Artificial Intelligence might develop, I'm digging into Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles quite heavily for that, these days. I won't lie; it was a big inspiration to Protostar: An Automatic Apocalypse, but it also touches on issues like a family member getting cancer which was, given that it came out not long after my mother met her peace, a strange comfort given the fact that the films themselves could be – and, in my case, were – nightmare-inducing.
There's a strange comfort many take from looking over the proverbial edge, peering down into whatever portentous madness they happen to find in a particular Dystopian work of art, and – for a moment – embracing that horror of, “what if?” As someone who truly believes that sometimes we create fiction simply so we have a means of avoiding a real-life version of it, there can't be a better thrill – or shock – than assuming all of the peaceful days you've ever lived by might some day be blown away, replaced, or otherwise ruined. Sometimes, just knowing that your peace may be threatened is enough to galvanize people to act against Dystopian-grade opposition.
It's our reaction to this art, when it's given real life, that will determine our fate; for it will be a fate only we have made.
Jesse Pohlman is a Science Fiction and Fantasy writer from Long Island, New York. His website is full of information about what he writes and other things he creates, so check it out!
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Jesse Pohlman on Twitter @JPohlmanWriting
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