A new take on an old genre?

A new take on an old genre?

Gwynn Scheltema

So much dystopian literature is big on a military or quasi-military response from authorities to a global pandemic. Sheep-like broken people follow orders because of fear of the authorities and are hostile to anyone showing signs of infection.

But here we are in a global pandemic crisis and I’m learning that things can be very different and that there are many facets to consider. I don’t see people locking their doors and guarding their “territory” with a gun. I see instead so many kind and generous actions. I see cooperation and compassion. And I’m wondering if a new dystopian genre will (or should) reflect some of what I’m seeing.

The pace of change

If I had to name one thing about the COVID-19 crisis that really boggled my mind, it was the rapid pace of change. I remember doing the math around projected rates of spread at the beginning of March and rechecking my figures because I couldn’t believe the answers I was getting. What I knew yesterday is different today and who knows what tomorrow will bring– that’s a huge source of tension. Any story that mined and recreated that tension would keep me on the edge of my seat.

The hidden human consequences

I don’t see muscled men riding in jeeps brandishing sub-machine guns, or fenced off confinement areas full of people dressed in grey ragged clothes. I see very little of every-man-for-himself attitude (except around TP!!) But the virus aside, there are a host of dangers to be considered–just more subtle hidden consequences:

  • leaders who won’t heed the advice of experts
  • a lack of resources for frontline workers
  • the effects of isolation.

Yes, isolation is vital to stop the spread of the virus, but what dangers can bubble up:

  • women or children with abusers in the home
  • caregivers who get no respite
  • addicts with no access to their poison
  • street people forced inside
  • people living alone not having human contact for prolonged periods
  • mounting stress levels…

Currency

In this new take on the genre, will military, money and politics talk as loudly as before? Or will human interaction, village co-operative strength and simple needs become the top currency? Already dystopian literature often features barter rather than money as water and food resources become currency. In this revisionist genre will digital communications, farming and medical skills, and even art also play a part?

New sets of characters

In the cast of characters, I hope dystopian writers will give due weight to the “unseen” workers. I’m seeing grocery cashiers, fast-food servers, truckers, delivery people, the “unseen” hospital workers and so on, all being as vital to survival as first responders and lawmakers.

The change in attitudes

My observation has been that many people during the COVID-19 distancing have had very little trouble ditching the malls and stadiums and old “must haves”. Some of us quickly realized that we like the extra time with family, no commuting, less waste, less smog, and simpler expectations.

Shifts in values

I saw a post on Facebook that said “In the rush to return to normal, give great thought to what you want that normal to be.”

For dystopian writers— and indeed for all of us—will we find that more companies will allow work from home? Will retail shift from physical stores to online? Will we continue to take walks in the woods, be grateful for fresh produce, take better care of our planet? Will we take more time to connect with family and friends and be more grateful for what we have?

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2 thoughts on “A new take on an old genre?

  1. Many of my own thoughts reflected in your piece, Gwynn, although much more eloquently. Thanks for writing them down and sharing. I think armed men in jeeps will be replaced by a different kind of villain in future fiction, those that didn’t help the situation by following social rules – the CoVidiots

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