Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos, published in 1985, is a novel whose events take place between 1986 and 1,001,986. It is narrated by a spirit following a group of people who would eventually become the progenitors of all of humanity. These people embark on the “Nature Cruise of the Century” to the Galapagos Islands and, having shipwrecked there, are spared from the tragedies of World War III and a disease rendering humans outside of the Galapagos infertile. From these very few survivors the human race begins again and eventually, over the course of a million years, evolves into a species more like a seal than a human and lacking all of the things that distinguish humans from their animal brethren. Through the sequence of events that take place in Galápagos, the novel takes on a different stance to evolution—perhaps a more informed one—than seen in other speculative fictions such as Wells’ The Time Machine and warns that all of the problems currently plaguing humanity are the result of our large brains, and that these would all be fixed if only we weren’t so complicated.
Unlike the future utopia that Edward Bellamy created in Looking Backward, in which he sought to fix perceived social problems of the late 19th century, Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court instead looks to highlight the positive aspects of the United States in 1889 by placing all that knowledge in the time of King Arthur. Twain’s Yankee protagonist, Hank Morgan, brings new technology and ideas into the 6th century and shows the power of education and critical thought in the formation of what he views as a proper society.
In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the reader is introduced to Winston Smith, an outsider in a society under totalitarian rule by Big Brother. Though Smith works for the Party he feels himself outside of it, relishing in small rebellions against the state. Smith, like many dystopian protagonists, begins his downfall by writing in a journal, there by committing the sin of individual thought. The Thought Police, one of the main forms of State Control in the novel, exist to prevent and punish those who are disloyal to the party. Even the children have been implemented as tools of the state, as they are loyal only to the state, even going so far as to send their own parents to prison. This idea is a reflection on the Hitler youth program implemented by the Nazi’s leading up to and during Nazi control in Europe.
Written by Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway who are both history of science professors at Harvard and the California Institute of Technology respectively, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future (2014) is not a dystopian novel; it is an essay. It is an essay divided into three parts, which tells the ominous tale of potential future events in the world that are the result of very real climate change and the willful ignorance of it. The essay is written from the perspective of a future historian living in the Second People’s Republic of China and recounts the events of the Period of the Penumbra (1988-2093), also known as the collapse of western civilization. Continue reading
The film Planet of the Apes stood out to me for exposing the effect of placing humans as inferior to apes. The use of the Statue of Liberty in the closing scene highlights the fact that the Americans and Europeans certainly held a superior attitude over more “primitive” cultures. An example of this may be the treatment of the Viet Cong by the Americans and their allies during the Vietnam War. The film is an expose on American superiority complex and a hyperbole of our role in invading communist countries. Planet of the Apes was written during 1963 and was released in 1968, during the Vietnam War. Continue reading
Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” is a clear illustration of a feudalistic form of government dating back to the early 6th century. Twain had his own thoughts on this particular way of rule and because of that, creates a fictitious utopian society to explore his views. Certain themes and quotes truly struck as Twain was frank and thoughtful about some very controversial topics. Specifically, Twain was timely in his critique of the established oppressive government, while simultaneously discussing the historical issue of division between church and state. Within this rich narrative, the reader also sees Twain’s philosophic view of nature versus nurture. Continue reading
In H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel, The Time Machine, the reader follows an unnamed protagonist known only as “the Time Traveler” into the distant future. Initially the Time Traveler is met by the small and happy, though dimwitted, descendants of the human race known as the Eloi. A peaceful society, they eat only fruit and live in the slowly deteriorating buildings of the past, which they seem to have no capability or desire to fix. The Time Traveler notices that they have little worry in their lives except for darkness. Their fear of the dark is due to the Morlocks, a second descendent of humanity who lives under ground, coming out only at night. The Morlocks produce the goods which the Eloi use in their day to day lives, a role they have presumably filled since they were first forced underground. While the Eloi are described as almost childlike, the Morlocks are white and apelike, with “pale, chinless faces and great, lidless pinkish-grey eyes” (Wells 47). The Morlocks capture and eat the Eloi when they surface at nighttime, hence the Eloi fear of darkness. Throughout Wells’ novel he highlights the potential dangers of a capitalist society, using a science fiction angle to point out the split that naturally occurs when classes are so severely separated. Tied into these ideas are the common thoughts on the evolutionary process at the time, as Lamarckism is instituted to further illustrate the split between the classes.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, published in 1889, is an often anachronistic portrayal of the middle ages through the eyes of a 19th century engineer. The engineer, Hank Morgan, suffers a blow to the head by a man named Hercules and awakens from his stupor in the 6th century. What ensues is essentially the triumph of modern 19th century knowledge and technology over the comparable barbarism and backwardness of 6th century (anachronistic) chivalry, infrastructure, and rule. Morgan proceeds to superimpose 19th century inventions onto the 6th century King Arthur’s court.
Written by British novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic George Orwell, the novel Nineteen Eight- Four (often written 1984) was first published in 1949. It is a dystopian novel that follows in the tradition of Zamyatin’s We, Wells’ The Time Machine, and Rand’s novella Anthem. In 1984, Orwell examines the consequences of oligarchy, totalitarianism, and collectivism through the literary lens of a social dissenter. It is important to understand that Orwell is not railing against socialism; in fact, he was an ardent supporter of democratic socialism. The novel 1984 is Orwell’s rebuttal to World War II and communism as a governmental practice. Continue reading
Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos is a dash of fantasy, part social experiment, and a touch of sea story, all within a narrative giant. This piece is meant to illustrate how humans are pure animals. It tells the bizarre tale of humanity nearing extinction, while one lone island’s inhabitants are becoming animalistic. The characters on the island are dehumanized, as they are purely survival focused. The narrator is a deep human character who is a product of the Vietnam War, a battle wrought with brutalizing warfare. If the piece serves to show how humans are mere animals, the conflict most proximate to it, the Vietnam War, is direct evidence of exactly that. As the narrator must have seen in combat during Vietnam, the reader sees characters in the story act like animals.