A dystopian novel

Like a lot of other writers, I keep thinking that I am able to write fiction. I’ve written a few short stories, and I’ve started drafts of three or four novels over the years, but so far I haven’t really produced anything significant. In all likelihood, I’m just not a fiction writer. My form appears to be personal essays, which I churn out every day.

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about writing a dystopian novel. It is a popular genre these days. Margaret Atwood’s novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” was made into a television series that was very popular. N.K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season” was gripping enough that it got me to read the entire trilogy she wrote.

The future of humanity lies in the balance in Jemisin’s stories and the reader is left wondering whether or not our species will survive. Atwood’s tale may not put humanity itself in danger, but rather our most human qualities such as justice, fairness, compassion, and understanding.

I think it would be fairly easy to write a dystopian novel about the collapse of American democracy. You could imagine a scenario in which the basic rights, enshrined in the first ten amendments of the constitution were suspended and people were forced into submission without due process.

In such a novel, the troubles might not occur in the same order as the bill of rights, but instead of slipping away slowly, the rights might fade quickly in the midst of a panic. Perhaps something dramatic, like an asteroid speeding towards a collision with our planet or a pandemic virus.

In the novel all of the freedoms that get stripped away are taken away for the good of the people. The leaders continually say that the restrictions in freedom are temporary and that they are mandated by extraordinary circumstances.

Take the freedom of assembly, guaranteed by the first amendment. In this dystopian novel, leaders first call for an end of assemblies of more than 250 people, then reduce it to no assemblies of more than 50 the very next day and the day after that, call for no assemblies of more than 10 people.

In the novel, they would ignore the eighth amendment to the constitution, the protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Without any du process, they would order that certain citizens, perhaps the frail and elderly, be detained in solitary confinement, restricted to a single room with meals brought to them, and denied any visitors, even the closest of family members. This would be said to be for their own good, to protect them from illness that would be brought in by their families.

Along with the suspension of freedoms, basic rights would begin to be denied. For example the right to vote could be taken away in the middle of a primary election. It wouldn’t happen in all of the states at once. Maybe it could take place in a populous and significant state, say Ohio. The governor would suggest that the election be delayed, a judge would reject that postponement, as a “terrible precedent,” then the governor would respond by ordering the polls to be closed.

This is starting to become a very frightening picture of the world. The novel seems to be heading toward all kinds of terrible consequences.

Somewhere along the line, the entertainers and artists who have provided social commentary and voiced opposition and dissent would be silenced. Perhaps they would start by not allowing studio audiences to gather. Without audiences, the comedy routines would fall flat. Shortly after a few final shows, filmed without audiences, the late night shows would be taken off of the air completely, the voices of the critics silenced. I can imagine working that into the novel one way or another.

In order for the totalitarian state to quickly gain control with a minimum of opposition all of the restrictions would be promoted as essential and for the good of the people. Even worse things might happen if the restrictions on freedom weren’t imposed. Stories of mass disease and death would be circulated by news media. The coming threat would be billed as much more severe here than in other countries. All borders would be sealed. International airline travel would be suspended. Contact with the rest of the world would be restricted to the stories reported on a select few media outlets. Rumors would run wild on the Internet and people would stop trying to verify the truth of the reports of what they heard.

In the dystopian novel, they would suspend all schools. College students would be sent home and told to take online classes instead of going to class. Those who had access to high speed internet would be able to access the classes. Those who did not would not be able to study. High school closures would start with the suspension of all sports, concerts, plays and extra-curricular activities. Within a few days classes would be suspended. At first the students and parents would be told the closures would be temporary, perhaps for a week. That would be expanded to six weeks and more. Elementary schools would be closed and all of the social programs such as free meals suspended. At first churches would try to pick up the slack, providing meals for the children, but they would be told not to allow gatherings of more than 10 people and soon the volunteer pool would disappear. Preschools that followed the schedules of public schools also would cease to meet.

I know myself well enough to also know that I will never get around to writing such a terrible dystopian novel. I don’t enjoy reading dystopian literature all that much. I prefer stories with happy endings and a lot less crazy scenarios. So don’t expect to ever see this novel on the shelves of your bookstore. Of course in the novel, there would be no more bookstores, having been replaced by online vendors that become monopolies and engage in individualized price gouging.

Since I won’t write the dystopian novel, perhaps I could start a conspiracy theory. Probably no one would believe it.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!