Dystopian Archetypes – 1. High Tech Utopia vs Savage Natural World

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I finished reading two YA dystopian novels that, while very different to each other, contained a common thread that I have identified as one of the core themes of dystopian literature – The High-tech utopia vs the Savage natural world.

 

Ready Player One and Under the Never Sky both have this as the dominant characteristic of their respective physical worlds. In Ready Player One, the dichotomy takes the form of an online virtual reality called OASIS versus the crumbling urban infrastructure of an environmentally wasted city. In Under the Never Sky, it takes the form of pristine ‘Dweller’ pods and virtual ‘Realms’ versus the aether-blighted wastelands.

RPO & UTNS

In both, the high-tech virtual world is presented as the Utopia – although this is less pronounced in Ready Player One (whereby OASIS is more a kind of advanced Second Life platform) than Under the Never Sky (whereby the Realms are virtual worlds that dominate existence and provide a life free of fear, injury and consequence). Similarly, both present the ‘real’ world as uninhabitable, hostile and dangerous. This clear polarity allows both stories to set up the high-tech world as the false utopia (another core dystopian theme that I will explore in a later post). Again, Ready Player One does this less successfully than Under the Never Sky, the latter showing the inherent flaws of an overly-designed society and virtual existence through the character development of Aria, the novel’s protagonist.

Perhaps the best and well-known example of this dichotomy is found in Brave New World, where the engineered and scientifically-advanced society of Bernard is set in stark contrast to the savage and organic world of John.

brave new world

The plot device is a useful one, in that it sets up the dystopian analysis of the ‘hidden’, almost insidious, dangers of technology. This is, of course, is an old and well-worn theme, seen most notably in robots gone wild texts (Robopocalypse and Terminator) and built on a kind of ‘technophobia’. At the core of these books, films and media is an implied discussion on the ethics of technological development.

Technoethics is a continually-developing field of thought and discussion. Whilst intuitively it may seem only a new consideration, debate about the immorality of new technology has been around as long as Socrates and Plato:

The move from one set of dominant information technologies to another is always morally contentious. Socrates lived during the long transition from a largely oral tradition to a newer information technology consisting of writing down words and information and collecting those writings into scrolls and books. Famously Socrates was somewhat antagonistic to writing and he never wrote anything down himself. Ironically, we only know about Socrates’ argument against writing because his student Plato ignored his teacher and wrote it down in a dialogue called “Phaedrus” (Plato). Towards the end of this dialogue Socrates discusses with his friend Phaedrus the “…conditions which make it (writing) proper or improper” (section 274b–479c). Socrates tells a fable of an Egyptian God he names Theuth who gives the gift of writing to a king named Thamus. Thamus is not pleased with the gift and replies,

If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. (Phaedrus, section 275a)

Socrates, who was adept at quoting lines from poems and epics and placing them into his conversations, fears that those who rely on writing will never be able to truly understand and live by these words. For Socrates there is something immoral or false about writing.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-moral-values/

As technological development continues to advance at a rapid rate and debates about moral imperatives and ethical considerations develop in response to stubborn resistance to change, this dichotomy of High Tech vs Savage Organic will remain a key inspiration for dystopian creators.

As I continue to draft Divided Elements and read a vast range of dystopian literature, I find myself picking up and analysing the core dystopian themes. Over the coming weeks and months, I will share my observations and insight with you all in the hope of generating some great discussion and unearthing new treasures to read.

Update: The second entry in this series is now available: Dystopian Archetypes – 2. Divided Population

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Dystopian Archetypes – 1. High Tech Utopia vs Savage Natural World

Understanding the role of the First Draft

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The messiness of first drafts can either be terrifying or liberating (or occasionally, both). Initially, I wasn’t a big fan. I’m an impatient learner – I want to get things right (if not perfect) the first time around. I’m the sort of person who will pick up a guitar and expect to be playing full melodies within weeks of learning the basic chords. So the idea of labouring through a very average first draft of my novel wasn’t appealing. Twelve thousand words later, I am coming around.

Wise words from authors and bloggers have helped (this post by Standout Books is a great one – Writing your first draft is not as scary as it seems), but there was a particular article which was like a lightning bolt of inspiration directly to my brain.

I wish I could share it with you, because it really was awesome, but alas, I have lost it to the immensity of the internet. I do, however, remember its central tenet, which I will now do my best to faithfully recreate.

Remember the word ladders we used to do in school – the ones where you would have to move from one word to another in a five or so steps by changing one letter at time? First drafts are a lot like the first word, with revisions representing the subsequent words until you get to the final draft – the final word.

Look at the four sentences below:

1. The man stepped out into the cold July winds and buttoned his coat up against the onslaught of icy snowflakes.

2. He stepped out into the night. Icy snowflakes attacked him immediately, striking the bare flesh of his face left unprotected.

3. An icy tempest of bitter winds and sharp snowflakes assaulted him as soon as he stepped out.

4. Beyond the room, snowflakes like icy daggers attacked him with the full force of the winter tempest.

With each sentence there is a clear and easy transition to the next, but when you compare the first and the last, there is a huge gulf between them. The last sentence cannot be reached in a single leap – it is the product of an evolution and can only be generated by way of a series of steps. That’s why you need to find the shape of your novel in the first draft, before you can properly write it.

This idea gives me huge amounts of comfort – firstly, because it declares the necessary evil of a messy first draft; secondly, because it shows that the first draft is really the first step to creating an amazing final draft.

 

Understanding the role of the First Draft