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Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

Cthulhu 2016 - When you're tired of choosing the lesser of two evilsAre you trepidatious about Trump? Not happy with Hillary? Over your crush on Cruz? Are you just not "feeling the Bern"?  You may not be alone.  A lot of people have been expressing their disenchantment with the American political process of late.  Happily, Speculative Fiction is here to remind you... things could always be worse.

If there's one thing the Speculative Fiction genre is good at, it's imagining a different world.  In Science Fiction, that "world" might be our own future: take a concept, technology, or a watershed event from our time and work through its possible consequences (good or bad) toward a logical conclusion, and that becomes the reality of the book.  In Horror, you can bet those consequences are "bad," and that some inimical force is behind it.  In Fantasy, the world might be vastly different from our own, full of magic and strange beasts, and yet the people who dwell there could have similar problems to ours: oppressive rulers, social injustice, violence, class struggles.  These imagined worlds might be far finer than our own, offering us a harmonious ideal to strive toward-- but seriously, where's the fun in that?

Dystopias are stories that focus deliberately on the negative consequences of current events, sounding the warning of a grim, dark future if we continue on our current path. Anyone who's picked up a YA novel in the last ten years can tell you that dystopias are most definitely "in" right now, but they've also got a long and proud history.  Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984 were screwing up our future long before Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games and Veronica Roth's Divergent got their hands on it.  (It's worth pointing out that, although they revel in "gritty realism," dystopias are no more realistic than utopias (which are all about perfect, happy futures)-- pessimism aside, good things do sometimes happen in real life.)

Often enough, our own mismanagement of ourselves or our planet creates the setting for a dystopian novel, placing humans in a world plagued by overpopulation, scarcity of resources, pollution, global warming, runaway technology, police states, global thermonuclear war, and the like.  Of course, humanity doesn't have to be responsible for the apocalyptic event that dooms us all-- there are always random meteor strikes, global pandemics, the rise of the undead (vampires or zombies-- you pick), alien invasions, dark prophecies fulfilled, ancient gods returning, Vogons, or (my favorite!) the Mayan calendar running out of numbers. (Wait, I suppose that last one's a human cause... sort of.)

Of course, some dystopian fiction is little more than survivalist drama-- the last remants of a dying planet fighting to stay alive amidst the killer robots/zombies/aliens/horrifically altered humans out to destroy us.  But if we haven't completely managed to annihilate ourselves, it's human nature that we must have found someone (or someTHING) to govern us.  But remember-- dystopias are all about the horrible choices, so our post-apocalyptic government is probably either pretty ineffectual, repressive, greedy and corrupt, or... well... pure evil.  (Cthulhu saves... in case he's hungry later!) 

For this month, I've put together a list of SF worlds with governments or rulers with a decidedly dystopian bent.  They run the gamut from greedy corporations, tyrants, and shadow governments to vampire masters, sentient robots, and alien conquerors.  These titles may make you feel a little better about our own democratic process... or maybe encourage you to examine the issues, make some choices of your own, and vote, if you're eligible.  After all, dystopias happen when people stop caring about their choices.

I, for one, look forward to welcoming our robot overlords.  (Because they're probably reading this right now.)

Read, and OBEY:

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (SF Atwood)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (SF Bacigalupi)
Genesis by Bernard Beckett (SF Beckett)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (SF Bradbury)
The Serene Invasion by Eric Brown (Pbk-SF Brown)
Red Rising by Pierce Brown (SF Brown)
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Fiction Burgess)
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (SF Butler)
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke (Reading List Clarke)
Soda-Pop Soldier by Nick Cole (SF Cole)
The Strain by Guillermo del Toro (Horror del Toro)
The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick (SF Dick)
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (SF Doctorow)
Trees by Warren Ellis (GN Ellis)
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (SF Fforde)
Parasite by Mira Grant (SF Grant)
Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton (SF Hamilton)
"The Puppet Masters," in Three by Heinlein by Robert A. Heinlein (SF Heinlein)
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson (Pbk-SF Hutchinson)
Brave New World: and, Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley (SF Huxley)
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (SF Le Guin)
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (SF Liu)
"The Call of Cthulhu," in Tales by H. P. Lovecraft (Horror Lovecraft)
The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod (SF MacLeod)
Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez (SF Martinez)
The Host by Stephenie Meyer (SF Meyer)
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (Reading List Moore)
Nexus by Ramez Naam (SF Naam)
Juggler of Worlds by Larry Niven (SF Niven)
1984 by George Orwell (SF Orwell)
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (SF Pratchett)
Live Free or Die by John Ringo (SF Ringo)
Lazarus by Greg Rucka, et al. (GN Lazarus v.1)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer (Fiction Shafer)
T2: Infiltrator by S. M. Stirling (SF Stirling)
Daemon by Daniel Suarez (Fiction Suarez)
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (Reading List Takami)
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (Fantasy Tolkien)
Persona by Genevieve Valentine (SF Valentine)
"The Dragon Masters" in The Jack Vance Treasury by Jack Vance (SF Vance)
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig (SF Wendig)
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson (SF Wilson)
The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson (SF Wilson)
DMZ: The Deluxe Edition by Brian Wood, et al. (GN Wood, v.1)
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (SF Zamyatin)


Cthulhu 2016 - When you're tired of choosing the lesser of two evils

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