What interests me about dystopian novels is their tendency to create worlds in which people are controlled by technology intended to help them. It’s similar to the common science fiction trope of a robot revolution, but the fact that a small group of humans is behind the machines makes it more realistic and possibly more frightening. These technologies range from simple surveillance tools like cameras (and the software necessary to filter through all the information for anything relevant) to augmented realities in the most extreme cases which allow those with the authority to directly observe and change the worlds in which their users live. For my independent reading novel, Under the Never Sky, the latter is used to allow large amounts of people, known as the Dwellers, to live in a small space, while spending most of their attention and time in virtual realms created and monitored by the government.
Even more interesting is the tendency of these novels to antagonize technology completely and have their protagonists revert to more primitive ways of life. In my experience, Marcus in Little Brother is the only protagonist I’ve seen try to use primarily technology to fight back against a dystopian government. Bows and blades are much more commonly used by protagonists, even in worlds where hovercrafts and other advanced war technologies dominate battlefields which is the case in Under the Never Sky. In this novel, the post-apocalyptic world outside of the pods in which the Dwellers live is ruined by war and Aether storms that set the ground ablaze. Savages and cannibals roam the lands unclaimed by tribes, and extreme mutations are not uncommon, yet the reader still gets the sense that this natural way of life is better than the artificial one in the Realms. To emphasize this, mutations in the novel often amplify human senses to superhuman levels, giving the author an excuse to explain how sensuously rich the real world is compared to any artificial one. I wonder why authors so often write stories that seem to suggest that primitive lifestyles are better than the lifestyles permeated with technology that we’re headed towards, rather than stories that show how we can fight to keep our rights as technology inevitably develops further which I believe Doctorow does very well in Little Brother.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.
Rossi, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. Harper Collins, 2012.