A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
In C A Fletcher’s, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World (2019), Griz lives on the island of Mingulay, off the West coast of Scotland, with his family and two dogs. It’s been a while since the world has gone through the Gelding, which reduced fertility rates to one person in a million, resulting in a global catastrophe (whose cause is unknown) and the sea levels have risen due to global warming.
Griz lives with his family (or what’s left of his family) on the island, their closest neighbours live a fair distance away on another island. After a family trauma, the family manage to get by, while Griz entertains himself by reading from his secret stash of books from the old world, which includes a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, and Walter M Miller’s, A Canticle for Leibowitz. He addresses the imaginary reader of his journal – a person from the old world, now long dead (the reader). Then, one day, a stranger arrives…
John Lanchester’s, The Wall is a slow burner of a novel that gradually catches up with you to live beyond the immediate reading experience. Its apparent simplicity belies a number of thought-provoking themes and sub-themes. Most of the details about Britain’s future society, the nitty-gritty details that occurred after the ‘change’, are kept deliberately hazy. From the few clues that can be gleaned, society has become more divided (the better off use domestic ‘helpers’) and the ‘elite’ have become savvy at evading conscription on the wall.
- James Dashner’s, The Maze Runner was published in 2009 as the first part of The Maze Runner trilogy, with two prequels later being published after the trilogy. The Maze Runner is, in part, a good old mystery yarn combined with a prison break story. The Maze Runner (2009) is part of the wave of Young Adult fiction that followed Harry Potter. Suzanne Collins’, The Hunger Games, and Patrick Ness’s, The Knife of Never Letting Go were published the year before, in 2008. Veronica Roth’s, Divergent was published two years later, in 2011. The Maze Runner, like the others, seems almost conceived from the outset to work cinematically. The novel ticks the basic storytelling essentials, starting with some great initial ‘hooks’ that ask questions without immediately offering answers (to retain the reader’s interest). Who are the people in the maze? Why are they in a maze? What is the maze for? Plus a strong motive – to find out why they’re in the maze and how to escape from it.
- Literary science fiction novels like Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me incorporate science fiction tropes within literary fiction. This means exploring character and ideas over an action orientated plot. With Machines Like Me it’s always clear that the reader is experiencing a literary fiction novel. Station Eleven, on the other hand, begins with the tone of a post-apocalyptic genre thriller, but switches into literary fiction. This subverts the reader’s expectations, which can be a positive or a negative thing, depending if it’s perceived as a unexpected twist, or cheating the reader.
- Historical fiction is an imagined world that’s set in the past. Science fiction is usually set in the future. The appeal of historical fiction is the notion that this world actually happened, whereas science fiction is a projection. So, in many ways, although very different, they are related.
- Back in the 1970s many futurologists believed that robots would be doing most of the work in the future and that people would be leading lives of idle leisure. The reality in 2020 is slightly different – people are having to work longer and longer, often in casual labour schemes, and retiring in their 70s, just to pay the bills. This was one of many examples where futurologists got things wrong. The future is a strange place. It’s nonsensical and absurd. It always has been and it always will be. People fight for counties and ideas that cease to exist by the time they’ve grown old. In the science fiction future the meanings and values we hold now will shift in strange and unexpected ways.
- The Favourite (2018) takes place in a hierarchical and claustrophobic micro-world of rivalries, power plays, desires and loneliness. It’s great to see three leading female characters who are strong but flawed. Instead of being feminist cardboard cutouts, their strength comes from the fact that they’re survivors, women playing women (in more ways than one) and they’re not trying to be men. There isn’t much more tedious than men trying to be ‘Men’, other than perhaps women trying to be ‘Men’ – like the female characters in the Ghostbusters remake. The power games are vaguely reminiscent of Dangers Liaisons, but whereas that was about male versus female power rivalry this is only about women, and as such it presents a contemporary take on gender politics.
- The Warehouse is a 2019 novel by Rob Hart where three characters collide in a dystopian near-future America dominated by an Orwellian global corporation called, Cloud. The America of the future is a grim place where the infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and global warming has transformed most of the country into an arid semi-desert resembling the dustbowl of the 1930s. Government has grown smaller to become non-existent, effectively being replaced by Cloud. Anything that can be deregulated has been opened up to the free market (mostly due to Cloud’s pressure). Cloud is an Amazon-like mega-business, one of the last employers in the US. The novel is let down by its revelation about the clouds big secret, which turns out to be more satirical than anything I could take too seriously.
- Station Eleven is a novel by Emily St. John Mandel, published in 2014. It’s a story formed by splicing together a before and an after, a future with a backstory. This device is very apparent in the novel, so much so that it feels like two novellas that have been joined together. One part of its duality lives in the ordinary pre ‘collapse’ world with the other half inhabiting a post-apocalyptic landscape (after a viral outbreak has wreaked havoc on society). The result is a literary science fiction take on the post-apocalypse story.
- John Birmingham’s Weapons of Choice is an alternate military history science fiction novel published in 2004. Plot-wise it resembles the 1980s film, The Final Countdown, but, where The Final Countdown focused on modern American jet fighters battling Second World War Japanese propeller aircraft, Weapons of Choice explores the social interactions between the military personal from 2021 and the ‘locals’ from 1942. The novel highlights political and social differences between the two groups of fellow ‘Americans’. The exploration of the cultural differences between the two worlds is intriguing. The ‘locals’ from 1942 see the ‘rocket men’ from the future as aliens. It’s not the advanced technology that shocks the ‘locals’ it’s the fact that the ships from the future are crewed by an ethnically diverse crew that includes women. The ‘locals’ are unable to accept non-whites and women in positions of authority. The visitors from 2021 realise that they will never fit in to the world of 1942.
- Stories about time travellers going back into history have been around for a while. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, for example, was published in 1889. Weapons of choice follows in this long established tradition. Harry Turtledove’s series of novels covered an alien invasion of Earth during the Second World War, and Philip K Dick’s, The Man in The High Castle (which has been turned into a Netflix series) imagines an outcome where the Axis forces were triumphant. Fatherland by Robert Harris is another example. It’s a brilliantly researched ‘page turner’ that’s horrifically believable while also offering a compelling human story. Time travelling stories allow modern characters to enter into a living history. They are about cultural differences as well as technology.
- Today, the government announced that 563 more people, infected with COVID-19, had died. That’s slightly more than double the number of British military personnel who died during the entire Falkland’s Conflict.