What do we mean anymore when we say “dystopia?” Aren’t there areas of the world that have been living dystopian nightmares for years? Is there a way in which our current political show in America is a form of dystopia? Do the terms “utopian” and “dystopian” serve as literary landmarks any longer? As the writer Jeff Vandermeer says about Borne, “We are rapidly approaching a point of no return after which certain types of survival will be viewed as utopian. Saying that is not dystopian or a downer—it’s called realism and having a respect for the physical laws of the universe, which really don’t care about dissenting opinions on global warming, for example.” In so very many ways, our fears and hopes about the future have already played out in our actual lives or the lives of those around us in ways that we can no longer afford to ignore, global warming being one prominent example. What may have been discussed in the past as “utopian” or “dystopian,” realms for the most part located in Sci Fi and/or speculative fiction is now no longer a matter of imagined universes, if it ever was. Perhaps dystopian/utopian literature of the past planted the ground for understanding our present tense. Our present is definitively tense just now, and the literatures that address those tensions–social tensions, environmental tensions, cosmic tensions–are making and unmaking the very terms we’ve been using to describe our storytelling. Is the gap between science fiction and storytelling about science demonstrated by astrophysicists and writers like Neil Degrassi Tyson, Michio Kaku, and Michelle Thaller, closing?
Let’s have a conversation about dystopian books as a jumping off point to talk about how and why we tell the stories of ourselves, our relationship to the planet and all life on it.
Lidia Yuknavitch’s previous novels include The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children (winner of the Oregon Book Award), both national bestsellers, and Dora: A Headcase. Her widely acclaimed memoir, The Chronology of Water, was a finalist for a PEN Center USA Award, and winner of the PNBA Award, and was named one of 80 Books Every Person Should Read by Esquire. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Ms., and The Rumpus, among many other places, and her TED Talk, “The Beauty of Being a Misfit,” has been viewed two million times. She founded the workshop series Corporeal Writing in Portland, Oregon, where she also teaches women’s studies, writing, film studies, and literature. She received her doctorate in literature from the University of Oregon. She lives in Portland with her husband, filmmaker Andy Mingo, and their Renaissance man son, Miles. She is a very good swimmer.