Welcome to Dystopian High
I didn’t set out to write a dystopian story, but once I imagined teenagers in a not-too-distant future I don’t think it could have been otherwise. Dystopian stories can seem to be about wildly imaginative yet impossible futures, but they are really a version of what is happening in teenage lives right now.
The world is a nice enough place (if you live in the first world,) most decisions are made by others, and the future is a bright and shiny place. But, along comes high school and teenagers are questioning rules that suddenly seem arbitrary and can randomly change. Their bodies are no longer under their control and seem to operate independently from their brains. They are watched, assessed, and assigned to a social group they may or may not want to be a part of. Adults are constantly monitoring communication channels, and nonconformity attracts bullies. No one cares who they really are, even though they themselves haven’t quite figured out who they are yet.
And then they discover the Big Lie. There are things going on that no one told them about, and there are places in the world that, for good or ill, are utterly different from their own existence. They realize that it’s their turn to change the world.
Reimagine all of that and you end up with young adult dystopian fiction.
My reimagining began with Scientific American. It has fascinating articles from every branch of scientific discovery. It also has a lot of bad news. Well, potential bad news. I began to ask myself what would happen if those dire warnings came true, or if those breakthroughs led to something unexpected.
What if scientific theory could be challenged and declared untrue by people with no scientific background? What if Creationists gained political power? What if big pharmaceutical companies ran the American FDA and approved whatever they wanted to? What if all those potential problems with genetically modified food actually happened? What if genetic information was collected during a vaccination program from an unsuspecting population under the guise of national security? What if all the pollinating bees began inexplicably disappearing, threatening food crops? What if there was mass starvation and genocide on the other side of the world and we didn’t do anything about it? What if personal privacy was eradicated and all of our communication was monitored?
All of those things have recently occurred in some form; my imagination only had to take it one step further. And I have to say, it was hard to stay ahead of developments because the future kept catching up with me as I was writing.
None of those possibilities could cause TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) on their own, but what if they happened all at once? What if TEOTWAWKI comes not as an apocalyptic bang, but instead we watch it arrive without giving the slightest whimper?
Reimagine all of that, and, again, we end up with dystopian fiction, the sort that likes to warn us of the consequences of staying calm and carrying on. If those teenagers out there don’t stop and turn things around for us, this is how the future could turn out.