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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Dystopia


I have a confession to make. No, not that kind; the kind where I admit that I am a life-long science fiction fan. While I enjoy reading in general, and my tastes are eclectic to say the least, a well written science fiction story never fails to satisfy me. Apologies to those of you who do not share this affliction, I will keep your secret love for all things gothic, western, and supernatural, for mysteries, political thrillers and English countryside romances vouchsafe, never to see the light of day. I will, however, draw the line at books about Amish girls—yes there is such a genre, check your library if you think I am kidding. But as they say, each to his or her own.

I was thinking about some of my favorite Sci-Fi books the other day and had one of those stunningly obvious realizations. I have no idea why I failed to notice this before, but it suddenly dawned on me that they all shared one theme in common. The future they envisioned was bleak. As a writer I understand this. Conflict makes for interesting and complex storylines that allow us to explore a wide range of human behavior and character development. But on another level, it also reveals something about us as human beings.

For one thing, it suggests a shared view that things are going to get worse, and that we are not likely to see an end to our struggles hundreds or even thousands of years into our imagined future. Even in those stories that end on a triumphant note, there is almost always a tiny bit of literary finger crossing. Writers in general do not like endings that are too tidy—they just don’t resemble real life. In real life, good does not always win out over evil and stories don’t always end well—at least within the narrative arc.

Buy why such dark dystopias? Do we believe that things must get much worse before they get better, or are we so cynical about the direction of our world that we cannot imagine things improving? What makes this all the more curious, is that most science fiction writers are optimists at heart. They have to be to imagine characters and plot lines in which the human struggle to persist and thrive is pitted against sinister forces bent on destruction and yet so often prevails.

A friend of mine, a physician by training and a theologian by study observed that scripture itself, and particularly the Judeo-Christian leitmotif shares this same duality. It presents two vastly different views of the future. One is apocalyptic—an end time preceded by violent, pervasive struggle on a scale we have never before witnessed. The other, posits culmination and rebirth into utopian peace. Judging by my science fiction library, it seems we humans tend to favor the former storyline over the latter. We just can’t seem to accept a future in which we do not have to fight to prevail. As far as human history goes it is in violent agreement with that perspective.

Yet, when we think about the immensity of space and the vast unknown, humans so often see it as a hopeful place where humankind can escape itself and start over. That is the point of tension—we are poised between a dystopian sense of our own history that we project into our future and a resilient hope in a utopian outcome.

Is it any wonder then that faith projects this same duality? As humans we seem to believe we are destined to fight for a better life tomorrow but do so in the hope that ultimately, we will find a place of acceptance and peace. Wiser heads than mine may have an answer to this. For my part I believe that the act of overcoming adversity is redemptive and as humans we understand that we need redemption. At the same time, we long for and believe that having attained redemption we are not condemned to an eternity of suffering.

I wish we could just skip ahead to the good part, but as any good writer knows there is no story in that. So, I guess we will just have to take up our individual struggles and carry on in the knowledge that redemption is around the corner we cannot yet see. As long as it doesn’t involve Amish girls I am okay with that.


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