top of page
  • Writer's pictureJoseph Patrick Pascale


I originally posted this on Twitter, but if you weren't following along live, I thought it'd be easier to read it all listed out from beginning to end. 

A look at some dystopian literature

1. Recently, I've been drawn to read dystopian fiction. It seemed to start with Kindred by Octavia Butler.

2. Kindred depicts an American character who inadvertently travels back in time from 1976 to 1815 and into a horrific, all-too-real dystopia.

3. Dana finds herself in 1815 on a slave plantation. Being a black woman, it couldn't be more of a nightmare scenario for her.

4. The novel is praised for a realistic depiction of slavery, giving insight to being a person in a world that refuses to treat you as a person

5. Butler explores the dynamics of the impossible relationships slaves had to navigate. Her white husband drawn back in time acts as a foil.

6. It's a disturbing novel. People's children are sold away from them. Rape, murder, torture--ears cut off, whippings--things too horrifying

7. But what disturbed me the most was to read that Butler said, "I was not going to be able to come anywhere near presenting slavery as it was.

8. "...I was going to have to do a somewhat cleaned-up version of slavery, or no one would be willing to read it...

9. "...I think that's what most fiction writers do. They almost have to." Depictions that appalling and it wasn't even close to the reality?!

10. The next dystopian novel I read was The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

11. Like with Kindred, it was reading about it afterward that proved more disturbing.

12. Incidentally, I had no idea a show was just made loosely based on it before I finished reading and Googled it. My dad had even seen the show.

13. The novel depicts an alternate reality in which the Axis powers won World War II. Eastern USA is controlled by Nazis. Western by Japan.

14. For some reason the Rocky Mountain region is neutral. Most of the book focuses on California and Colorado.

15. Despite the high concept, the events of The Man in the High Castle are surprisingly mundane. However, I was captivated by it  16. A lot is about Americans trying to adapt to everyday life of Japanese rule--manufacturing and selling fake American antiques.

17. --trying to adopt Japanese customs into their behavior, or just trying to get by

18. But the actual Man in the High Castle is an author. In this alternate history novel,

19. the characters are reading his alternate history novel about an alternate history in which the Allies won World War II.

20. He’s supposedly in a secured area—“High Castle”—in the Rocky Mnts. because the Nazis want to assassinate him for writing the book.

21. So we have our memory of real WWII, what “really” happened in the novel&the meta-novel that also depicts totally different events all mixing

22. It messes with your brain—makes you think about all the alternate realities that are mixing up in there regarding everything else

23. But Dick is actually quite tame in presenting the horrifying elements of this dystopia

24. My heart momentarily stopped in terror when [spoiler] an arrested character was deemed Jewish and to be sent to Germany

25. However, [spoiler] Dick even has the cops change their mind. The Nazis remain an ominous force in the background, apparently unlike the show

26. Reading about the novel afterward, I discovered that Philip K. Dick intended to write a sequel, considering it unfinished.

27. This is where I discovered that the reality, like with Butler’s Kindred, was so much more horrific than the fictional dystopia

28. I don’t know much of Philip K. Dick’s oeuvre to make generalizations, but in this instance, his gentle soul couldn’t handle the Nazis  29. Dick said, “I had to read what those guys [Nazis] wrote in their private journals in order to write THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE...  30. “...That's also why I've never written a sequel to it: it's too horrible, too awful...

31. “...I started several times to write a sequel, but I had to go back and read about Nazis again, so I couldn't do it...

32. Somebody would have to come in and help me--someone who had the stomach for it.” Dick's right. These horrific things are so difficult to face.

33. The next dystopian novel I read was The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood about a misogynistic, totalitarian, theocracy.

34. One day, the protagonist of The Handmaid’s Tale tried to use her debit card at the supermarket & was told there was no money in her account.

35. That’s not right as she should have thousands of dollars. She goes to work & her boss rounds up all the women and fires them.

36. He’s nervous. He’s asking the female employees to please just leave. He was given 15 mins. to get them out of there. There’s an unmarked van

37. Theocrats overthrew the United States government. They immediately stripped women of all rights.

38. In the main timeframe of the novel, the narrator is imprisoned in an old school with other handmaids. They’re ruled by oppressive “Aunts.”

39. The only men are armed soldiers who stand watch outside.

40. The Aunts try to brainwash the handmaids to be ignorant, to be submissive, that it’s their fault if victimized

41. And their job is to have babies, which is why they are periodically sent to live with military officers who can impregnate them

42. It hasn’t been that long, but the narrator’s memories of regular 1980s USA are already so distant

43. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of what happens if the anti-women’s rights, misogynist crap politicians & others say is enacted full-scale

44. And when Atwood was writing during Reagan’s presidency, many of these attacks on women’s rights were coming true--atrocious inspirations

45. Like with the other dystopian novels, as bad as the novel’s events, the reality behind Atwood’s writing is scarier

46. In this case because of how real it is. Everything Atwood depicted is based on something real she researched.

47. Puritans & witch-hunts in early America, totalitarianism in Iran & Afghanistan, Nazis, British rule in India, Philippines, Romanian Communism etc. etc.

48. Just the stark reality that this isn’t some far-fetched fantasy world, but these types of things actually happen

49. I also reread Fahrenheit 451 for the first time since high school, hoping for deeper appreciation—firemen who burn books.


54. They liked distractions—fast cars and TV. But I was even surprised that Ray Bradbury didn’t pin blame on this.

55. Side-note, Bradbury’s novel (1953) appears to have predicted headphones with the seashells and buzzing bees in ears

56. The ex-English professor character says there’s no reason why the wall-sized TVs couldn’t depict the sorts of stories in literature

57. The ex-professor says people just don’t care about any kind of deep programming, critical thinking. They want vapid programming.

58. But we’re reading books. We’re thinking critically. We’re trying to prepare for the future.


60. And in the next track, Manson has the line “You'll never grow up to be a big-rock-star” which made me think of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

61. In Breakfast of Champions, Kilgore Trout is his alter ego failed writer despite writing hundreds of novels and stories

62. And like Philip K. Dick’s alternate realities, that alternate failed version of the creative self exists in every creative person

63. Because creative pursuits are so subjective that even those who were successful have the initial rejections all stacked up in their brains

64. But Breakfast of Champions isn’t quite dystopian. It’s just the sad reality of dehumanized people. ---------------------------------------------------------- UPDATE: January 25, 2017:

"Sales of George Orwell's 1984 surge after Kellyanne Conway's 'alternative facts'" - It was obviously the exact sort of phrase Orwellian newspeak was meant to define. And now Nineteen Eighty Four is at #1 on Amazon. It probably would've been better if people read it before the primaries, but I guess better late than never.

However, I hope Orwell's is not the timeline we're in because: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever." ----------------------------------------------------------


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page