My taste in fiction tends to be dark. As in, Orwell’s 1984 is one of my all-time favorite books. Never has anyone captured the tools of surveillance, tribalism, misinformation, and psychological manipulation by those with power against those without so accurately.
Its representation of how it is possible to turn an individual against all that they believe and all that they love if systematically beaten down enough has been confirmed by contemporary psychiatry. It is all too possible to create a sincere and fanatical belief, if not love, for the very people that have destroyed you. To see them as your only saviors.
Sometimes, I think Orwell wasn’t writing fiction when he wrote 1984 but was a time traveler. His “fiction” from 1949 is actually journalism along the lines of HOMAGE TO CATALONIA or ROAD TO WIGAN PIER. Factual reporting on our times, not the theoretical musings of a fiction author from over fifty years ago.
I also like a lot of sci-fi films from the 70s. Films which tend be about dystopian worlds were resources are in short supply and people do whatever it takes to survive. Even the silliest among them have dark undertones and warnings of grim times ahead.
As for my musical leanings, they’re even darker. Radiohead, with their songs of authoritarian futures, alienation and isolation are possibly my all time favorite band. In high school, my answer would have been Pink Floyd.
Clearly, I like dark. But sometimes, it’s just too much.
So I do what we all do to maintain our sanity. I look for escape. I look for hope. And sometimes I find it in the very same place generations before me had. I find it in the world of Retrofuturism.
Retrofuturism is a stupid, confusing term. If you really want to delve into the definition, watch the video below.
Basically, my personal take on it is this. It’s not necessarily what people thought the future would really be like. It’s what people WANTED the future to be like. A world of spaceships, robots, aliens, ray guns and sexy space suits. A world of fantasy and escape. A world of hope and optimism.
For me, one of my first encounters with such fun space worlds was discovering the original FLASH GORDON serials when I was a child. Even as a kid I knew they were kind of dumb. But they were just so much fun. A perfect compliment to my already developing Godzilla fixation.
It turns out the Thirties, when FLASH GORDON first appeared, was kind of a golden age for that sort of stuff. Movie serials, magazines, radio shows and books were filled with fantasies of visiting far away worlds.
That’s not a coincidence. The Thirties were bleak times. The Great Depression had destroyed much of the world’s economy. Fascism was taking hold in previously democratic nations. War was on the horizon.
With all that going on, it made perfect sense to want to see Flash and his pretty companion, Jean Rogers, take on evil robot armies and the cruel plottings of Ming the Merciless. It was either that or listening to some politician tell you that better days were coming and that those guys in brown shirts over in Germany weren’t bad chaps at all.
I got to play a little in such fantastic worlds in my own book, KAIJU. It’s a novel that mixes a straight police procedural with the (possibly imaginary) battles of the lead detective against aliens, space spiders and giant monsters trying to destroy the world. It was a a blast to write and a world I hope to someday return to as an author.
In the meantime though, it’s time for a little less “Paranoid Android” and a little more T Rex and “Planet Queen.” Time for less fascist rantings of the Thin White Duke and a return to a Bowie about cosmic love.
And I certainly don’t need Orwell right now. If I want to revisit 1984 all I have to do is turn on the news.
It’s time to escape. At least for a little while. Monsters and space babes await. I will look at technology with awe. I will look at the universe with wonder. There will be hope and optimism for brighter days ahead.