My List of Things you Should Read to Understand Your New Dystopia
Since the election and inauguration of he-who-shall-not-be-named (seriously, that’s a thing that people are saying about him, that we shouldn’t say his name), there has been a) a run on George Orwell’s 1984, and b) a long list of lists of books that you should read in order to prepare to prepare for the (possible) coming nightmare.
I’ve enjoyed these lists immensely. Mostly I’ve enjoyed the shameful smug satisfaction that comes from having read most of the things on these lists. I am, I’m afraid, at heart, a snob. The second most enjoyable thing about these lists is generating my own to-read list of books that are on the lists that I don’t know yet.
So, in the spirit of being at once a helpful person and a know-it-all, I’m presenting my own list of books that you ought to read.
Because it’s awesome. Because when we think dystopia we think of Orwell. He gave us an adjective, for god’s sake. If you haven’t read this yet, then read it. Then build a time machine and go back and smack past you for having let present you down. It’s sad and frightening and beautiful.
Brave New World
Because this shows us that we don’t need other people to subjugate us; we are far better at subjugating ourselves. It’s also a valuable lesson that a dystopia may not look dystopian from the inside, which is a pretty fundamental thing that we need to get our heads around.
This book is awesome. If you know Neal Stephenson, then you know he doesn’t do little ideas. Or rather, he does little ideas, and big ideas, and middle-sized ideas, and he does them all bigly. This book has archaeology, linguistics, anthropology, and psychology all crammed into a really bitchin’ cyberpunk thriller. The idea that there’s a virus that can hack our own operating system (I’m oversimplifying) is just so goddamn cool. Also, fun tech, and the protagonist delivers pizza.
I’m doing all the dystopia at once, to get it out of the way. Most (all?) dystopia takes something that’s happening now and takes it to its logical endpoint. This novel was pretty fucking prescient when it was written: it takes the idea put forth in the 14th amendment — that corporations are people — and it takes it to the conclusion that we are seeing now. The government has basically starved itself into oblivion, and corporations basically control everything, including our identities: your surname becomes your employer (so the protagonist, as a bureaucrat, is Jennifer Government). This is some dark shit, but Max Barry writes some really good, fast-paced, digestible stuff. Big ideas in bite-sized tidbits.
The Plot Against America
Alternative history by Pulitzer-winning Philip Roth, in which American hero and noted Nazi Sympathizer/Anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh becomes President of the United States. Rather like “It Can’t Happen Here”, but with a history degree. Like we’ve seen in the States today, the election of a bigot brings out the worst in people, and hate crimes spike. There’s a bit of a deus ex machina happy(ish) ending, but still prescient and spooky. This is what you’re living in now.
It Can’t Happen Here
Nobel-prize winner Sinclair Lewis’ conjecture on how America could evolve into a proto-fascist regime. Buzz Windrip rides a populist wave of racism and xenophobia to the White House, promising a guaranteed annual income, and being just awful. His targets are Japanese, rather than Middle Eastern, but it’s not exactly a stretch. Add actual refugees fleeing to Canada, and it’s turned out to be pretty goddamn on the nose.
Homage to Catalonia
Orwell again, this time an account of his time in the Spanish Civil War, in which he was wounded. In case you are curious, he was fighting against the fascists. As an Englishman, he really had no dog in that fight, but was moved enough by the threat of Franco that he put his ass on the line and joined the communist coalition. This might be helpful for those of us who aren’t currently in the states, but might feel compelled to try to stop the spread of totalitarianism.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
This is Ernest Hemingway’s novel of the Spanish Civil War. It follows the story of Robert Jordan, an American who joins the resistance to Franco. It’s a really great story, and maybe it’ll remind the rest of us that sometimes the Americans were the good guys. It’s my favourite of the Hemingway novels I’ve read, and the scene of the fascists being driven off a cliff in a small village is pretty riveting.
Steal this Book
Abbie Hoffman’s guide to overthrowing the government. One of the great things about this one is that you can find free electronic versions online, and you don’t have to feel guilty about not paying for it. Damn the man! Screw capitalism. Kudos to the Internet Archive for hosting a copy. They’re superheroes. Three sections tell you how to “Survive!”, “Fight!”, and “Liberate!”. It also contains recommended reading.
The Anarchist Cookbook
This is a manual, of sorts, with instructions on everything to making drugs to organizing a resistance. First published in 1971, the purported idea was to let squares in on the things that radicals were already doing. The coolest thing about this is that it keeps getting updated. The Internet Archive has a copy, and it’s more current than the copy I bought back in the 90s. It’s pretty great, and it contains all kinds of useful and not so useful information (like how to make hallucinogens from banana peels).
The SAS Self Defense Handbook
This won’t likely help you if you are being assaulted by a militarized police force, but it should help you deal with neonazis, so that’s a plus. I’d recommend any kind of martial art (karate, jiu jitsu, krav maga, or whatever), but if you don’t fell like you can, or you simply don’t want to, then I’d suggest you stay fit and learn a little about fighting. The Internet Archive has a copy of this, too, which makes them just about the coolest thing on the net. If you are being oppressed by the state and by radicalized civilians, you’ll need to defend yourself. This book is a good place to start.
Not a book. Watch the 1976 film starring Gregory Peck, and directed by Richard Donner. It’s awesome. That’s not enough by itself to make it on this list, but it might help put a few things in context: for instance, evangelicals’ support for Trump. It might help you see that a president need not be a godly man to be an instrument for god. At least, that’s how some of the evangelical community is rationalizing their support for such a raging asshole.
This movie also makes the list because Barron Trump reminds me of Damien Thorn.