Books read in 2014 – 25. The City, Not Long After – Pat Murphy

Genre: Dystopia / Utopia

Narrative Style: Third Person, largely chronological

Rating: 3/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1989

Synopsis: The narrative centres on San Fransisco after a plague. The survivors are all artists or eccentrics and are all peace loving. When a girl comes from outside of the city, warning of war, they realise that they have to $(KGrHqJ,!l!E8EqSozg6BPNuf3zchg~~60_35defend the city somehow.

This is different from other dystopia that I have read, in as much as it doesn’t see the very worst in people. So it may be more apt to call it a utopia. It represents the way that you might hope people would react, the very best that humans can be. Once it occurred to me that this was a utopia, I was able to cope with it a little better.

The characters are all a little bit wacky – a group of dreamers and artists who spend their lives creating works of art rather than struggling to survive. Danny Boy begins a project to paint the Golden Gate Bridge blue. The Machine spends his time creating metal insects and creepy crawlies. Books is trying to write a history of post plague San Fransisco. No one struggles for food.

Jax is guided to the city by an angel (which may have been made by The Machine) and her mother’s ghost. She brings the news that an army is planning to attack. However, the artists are loathe to take her seriously. And even when they do start to prepare, they vow not to kill but scare the army, unnerve them. Even those who have to be dealt with close up are merely sedated.

I understand the points that Murphy is trying to make about warfare and it’s dehumanising effect on the human psyche. She references many historical figures (like Gandhi for example) who used peaceful protest. And the utopian ideas are pertinent. However, I have to admit that I found it a little naive. I couldn’t quite stop my own cynicism from infecting the story. Maybe I’m essentially misanthropic but I find it hard to believe in the best of people. Especially in the area of warfare. At the end of the day, I prefer my post-apocalyptic fiction to be a little harder round the edges. This was too nice by far.



The perfect implications of an imperfect world.

The recent edit of Choose Yr Future has seen some chapters disappear, some change and some needing to be written. When I first started writing some of the details of my future world weren’t as clear as they are now so obviously there have been some pretty big changes. For me, this is the one enjoyable thing to come out of editing. Until you read through the whole of your work, you don’t always realise you have been sidetracked. Sometimes the sidetrack becomes the main road. Sometimes you have to find a way back to the path you actually want to follow. But at the end, the destination should be clear.

One of the things that became clear to me was that while I was concerned about gender and sexuality issues, I hadn’t realised that I was writing about class so much. My future society is very much a class based world with no social mobility at all, apart from the lucky ones who get to win talent shows of one type or another. The sort of thing that gives the impression of mobility when in fact the majority of people are stuck with in the same place as they ever were; the same place where their parents were stuck; the same place their children will be stuck.

Of course, a lot of people believe that class divisions no longer matter and that social mobility is easier than it has ever been. And maybe that is true to an extent. After all, in my suburban house, with my job in education, I’d have a nerve to still call myself working class (although there is no doubt that I still do). If I had children, they would be born into a middle class world. But when a recent study showed that elite surnames still dominate in universities such as Oxford and Cambridge and that underlying social status is more strongly inherited than height, there may be not as much cause to celebrate as you might think. Maybe there is more movement in the middle but as soon as you start to move to the extreme of either end, it becomes more and more difficult to move upwards at one end, less and less likely that you will lose your privilege at the other.

As I have mentioned in an earlier blog, I am currently reading Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds. She discusses her own dystopian world and also the way that she feels that dystopia and utopia are not really the opposites we take them as but ever present within each other. I hadn’t thought about it before but it makes sense that if you create a perfect world then there must be the implication of an imperfect one and vice versa. What about the perfect world implied in my dystopic one? My future humans are caught up with voting on everything, they have no spare time as the government controls their every waking hour with work, exercise, recreation, and so on. They have health plans that they must keep to, they have roles that are chosen for them. They have a place in which they must stay, a time to get married, a time to have children. So I suppose my ideal world would be one where people were able and allowed to think for themselves, where they were given the freedom to be themselves and where you could actually choose your future.