Coming from a writer who embraces the strange and sometimes disembodied qualities of society — both real and imagined — it seemed natural that speculative fiction author Margaret Atwood should invent the LongPen, a device that allows authors to sign books and even engage with the adoring public remotely. The device, which comprises a video screen and a digital writing pad, means being there without really being there. It’s almost like science fiction.
Writers of sci fi or spec fiction (which is a little broader in its application of invention — supernatural, superhero, and even steampunk fall into that category) have a tradition of writing a step or two ahead of reality, and yet reflect it, too. George Orwell’s 1984 was chillingly truthful in many ways.
Even Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, set in the near future of a theocratic dictatorship, starts with a terrorist attack on the US blamed on Islamic extremists — and this was written in 1985. In Atwood’s novel, the attack was staged, forming a basis for suspension of rights and the imposition of a new world order of oppression (a notion embraced by conspiracy theorists around the September 11 attack). The lines between truth and fiction do become fuzzy.
I was a big sci fi reader in my 20s, my hero being Philip K. Dick who — despite having a dearth of female characters in his more than 40 novels — was a brilliant storyteller. He, too, dealt with the more dystopian (and familiar) aspects of society: monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments. The main theme through his works: what is it to be authentically human.
That’s one of many themes in Nelson author Kristene Perron’s novel Warpworld, which launches at the Nelson Public Library on Thursday, November 29 at 7:30 p.m. When one world invades another, what was human in one society becomes livestock in another, chillingly reminiscent of human behavior on this world through the ages (think slave trade and holocaust). While it sounds dark, the novel boasts a strong female character (Philip Dick take note) and great moments of hope, interspersed with edge-of-your-seat action.
Perron wrote Warpworld with her Texan writing partner Joshua Simpson. I’d love to know, exactly, who wrote what (where DID the formidable character of Ama come from?), but regardless, that eerie prescience so much a part of science fiction is there in the novel’s rendering of a world struggling against its own dysfunction and an environment that seeks revenge in the form of violent storms. Hmmm. For more, go to warpworld.ca.
What is it about dystopia that so enthralls us? Why is The Hunger Games — both book and movie — such a phenomenal seller (and always checked out)? Perhaps it’s because it’s safe to examine these scary potentials through fiction — disembodied, like Atwood’s LongPen. And maybe, by examining them, we’ll be better positioned to avoid them.
Perron won’t need the LongPen to sign copies the launch of Warpworld, because she’ll be there to read passages and answer questions about all things writerly and dystopian. Simpson, her writing partner, will be in Texas working on the next of this five-book series, and so not bodily available to sign. Maggie, if you’re out there, do you have a pen we could borrow?
Anne DeGrace’s column is featured every second week in the Star