The work I will be reviewing is an essay titled “Too Dystopian For Whom?” By Donald Ekpeki published in Uncanny magazine.
This essay currently holds the spot of the most brilliant thing I have read this year. My partner and I have this tradition where we read articles and short stories on Sunday mornings. It’s one of the most sublime parts of our lives. I look forward to it because my partner never runs out of articles.
I read this some two weeks ago and it has not left my memory. I took a lot of screenshots of talking points and will be going by that.
A quick summary: The essay talks about why dystopian fiction is no longer in vogue. He enunciates a number of great reasons. I remember after reading this, I praised the writer on Twitter. It was just too brilliant.
First, the writer speaks about how Dystopian fiction is always seen as a faraway concept. Something that is slightly far removed from reality. I used the word ‘slightly’ deliberately. That’s because as you read further, he draws parallels to how dystopia and reality are now not far from each other. Citing the pandemic and the wickedness of people. He points out that one strong reason characters like zombies and vampires are often employed is for them to embody ‘a thoughtless wickedness’ that humans ‘cannot possibly possess’.
As a writer, I can confirm that sometimes when you want to write certain ‘extreme’ traits into characters, you almost always have a real-life paradigm.
“It has often been surmised, most especially around discussions of war, climate change, natural disasters, and more recently the outbreak of COVID-19, in articles like this in Wired and on The Apeiron Blog we are living in a dystopia. This realization has weaned many of the need for apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian fiction, and has them preferring instead to immerse themselves in lighter, more upbeat and positive work.”
He however continues to point out that these things have been happening for years to minorities but no attention was paid until it was laid on those with privilege. Remarkable.
“Dystopian fiction is when you take things that happen in real life to marginalized populations and apply them to people with privilege.”
Second, he draws some parallels between real life and dystopian fiction. For one he cites the overturning of Roe v Wade. I wrote an essay on that decision and you can read it here on Medium.
An act like that can liken reality to “The Handmaid's Tale”
In this pipeline, he touches on the fact that someone else’s dystopia is another person’s reality. It is on this premise he titles the essay. ‘Too Dystopian for whom?’
“In essence, some people experience a reality that is beyond the wildest imaginings of some other people. This is why when people from certain regions have been dubbed Third World or developing marginalized people write dystopias, even non-dystopias, any kind of reflection of their reality which is flavored with a certain harshness, it’s considered too unpalatable, unbelievable, too dystopian, especially at the moment, by the global publishing machinery which is largely Western. The question we should be asking though is too dystopian for whom?”
On this, he circles back to the first point and says that with a reality like this, there is no need to escape into dystopia.
The third and final point I will touch on, he rebuffs the assertion that reality is the reason dystopian fiction has faded. I took away from a friend that I was discussing this article with that it is a time thing. It will return. To quote the article one last time;
“There is of course reality fatigue, and one may need to step away from it all for the sake of their mental health. And that is an entirely valid reaction. But claiming that all fictional dystopias are redundant because we NOW live in one is a dangerously high level of presumption and an inaccurate assertion. Because we have always lived in one, there has always been a dystopia somewhere in this world that we were only unaware of.”
The praise I have for this work hinges highly on the coherence and thought process. It flows like a river and I really liked reading it. It’s something that makes you reflect and I’m a sucker for cultural observations as this one. Here is the link you want to read!