Monday, June 21, 2004

No humorous Poltical T-Shirts This Morning

Since I posted about The Day After Tommorrow earlier, and have come to describing the film as The Poseidon Adventure where the Earth is the ship, I decided to take a brief sidestep to Genre Fiction. "What Genre?", you ask. Post-apocalyptic narrative, that's what. While doing a google search, this essay came up that discusses the genre, but I figure it may have nothing to do with what I am about to say. Yes, I do think it is funny that I am recommending a site with an essay I have yet to read. Sue me.

We all know that Utopian novels have a long history in literature. The search for the perfect society is not a new one. From Plato's Republic to Thomas Moore's Utopia men have dreamed (or presented in speech) Golden Ages and potentially perfect societies. I know that these are sometimes written to show us that even "perfect" societies aren't perfect, but let's move on. In the 19th century, one of the most famous utopian novels Looking Backward was written as a critique of then modern culture. So utopian novels have a long history and a great deal of it worth while. But what about dystopian fiction?

I don't know what the first dystopian novel was, but I would like to point out some of the important ones and one in particular that I think is overlooked. Why? Well, because the Day After Tommorrow is a part of this noble tradition. Regardless of how noble you think the film is, it is part of a tradition. Personally, I had great fun with this movie. If you have to choose between this and Riddick, please God choose Day After Tommorrow.

No list of famous dystopian novels would be complete without HG Wells' The Time Machine and The Last War. For me, Wells essentially invented the Genre, though I am sure that there are dystopian novels written before him. He seemed to make a great career of them, and utopian novels as well. Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Anthem, We, 1984, most everyone knows these classics. A Clockwork Orange, The Handmaiden's Tale, Stand On Zanzabar, many know these. In film, we've seen the Mad Max series, Waterworld, Planet of the Apes, The Day After, and Threads, to name a few.

But many overlook one of my favorite authors, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Now his work wasn't as poetic as Robert E. Howard's or as obsure and avant garde as HP Lovecraft's. Nor was his work as sophisticated as Wells or many of the above writers. In fact, his politics (more than his writing) have made him a controversial figure in many respects. Critics seem to get more joy out of "discovering" whether the green martians represent Native Americans than they do with actually enjoying his stories. Regardless of the lack of poetry or sophistication in his books Burroughs wrote many wonderful yarns. One of my favorites is a dystopian novel (calling it a novel is really a stretch) titled Beyond Thirty. It is a quick and easy to read yarn about a future where Europe has been destroyed and an explorer quests to find the secrets of the "Old World." Burroughs, it can be argued, wrote this story to warn of the consequences of the horrors of war. And I think that is a fair assessment. But most importantly it is about searching for a past and identity and about how America needs to know its history. Another of my favorite Burroughs tales is the Moon Maid. One of the stories, Under a Blood Red Moon, was originally titled Under a Blood Red Flag and describes a world under Bolshevik rule. Well, at least it originally did. Due to editors repeatedly rejecting the story, Burroughs changed the Bolsheviks into aliens from the moon and low and behold the story sold. Even in the early 20th century the best selling author of his day couldn't write without being accused of creating a "chilling effect" on public discourse.

Contemplate this on the TREE OF WOE.
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