I didn’t make up the problems,” I pointed out. “All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters.”
“Okay,” the young man challenged. “So what’s the answer?”
“There isn’t one,” I told him.
“No answer? You mean we’re just doomed?” He smiled as though he thought this might be a joke.
No,” I said. “I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers—at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”
-Octavia Butler, from A Few Rules for Predicting the Future
All creeds spring from catastrophe.
The late Octavia Butler, as keen an explorer of the human soul as ever trod a future-scape, understood that far better than most. In plain, well-turned prose she charted the bonds that hold (or fail to hold) us together through time, space and tragedy.
Perhaps the pinnacle of this search is her 1993 novel Parable of the Sower (also: read Kindred, trust me). The tale is framed as the journals of Lauren Olamino, a woman who might one day be revered as a prophet or messiah. For now though, she’s just a terrified teen in the middle of an apocalypse, praying for survival.
Dystopian fiction, along with its post-apocalyptic sister, is a popular genre these days, and with the fractious times we live in it’s not hard to see why. Since I’ve begun writing this column, I’ve had more than one reader comment how energizing rebelling against a dystopia would be or how freeing it would be to “see it all burn down.” The recently departed J.G. Ballard was right when he noted that “The suburbs dream of violence… they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.”
In "Parable" Butler strips any bit of glamour away right out of the gate: dystopian times are mostly death, fear and desperation (ask anyone who’s ever lived through a warzone). But while she topples down one dream, she gives the reader a wondrous and utterly rare thing in novels of a dark tomorrow: hope.
There's a lot of different visions of the future out there, and even for those of us who agree (mostly) on where we want to go, some very different ideas about how the hell we actually get there.
A little while later, he replied, volleying back at several of my points. This is my immensely overdue reply, divided into several convenient categories.
Also, this isn't ending. We're going to be making this dialogue a weekly feature at both places. You should read. It's going to get very interesting.
Wells in the area have been found to be contaminated with TCE. The map was sent to Xpress by Tate McQueen, a resident of the Mills Gap Road area that’s been affected by the contamination.
A large version of the map was displayed at a recent Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting, as McQueen, serving as spokesperson for residents of the area, blasted federal, state and local agencies’ handling of the cleanup.
An Xpress-requested 2008 analysis by the North Carolina Central Cancer Registry covering a 1-mile radius around the site found no increased rate of cancer, but was, by the admission of health officials, “very limited.”
“The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.”
The glozing word that led me to my will -
Hear how I shrink not to unsay it all!
How else should one who willeth to requite
Evil for evil to an enemy
Disguised as friend, weave the mesh straitly round him,
Not to be overleaped, a net of doom?
This is the sum and issue of old strife,
Of me deep-pondered and at length fulfilled.
All is avowed, and as I smote I stand
With foot set firm upon a finished thing!
I turn not to denial: thus I wrought
So that he could nor flee nor ward his doom.
Even as the trammel hems the scaly shoal,
I trapped him with inextricable toils,
The ill abundance of a baffling robe;
Then smote him, once, again - and at each wound
He cried aloud, then as in death relaxed
Each limb and sank to earth; and as he lay,
Once more I smote him, with the last third blow,
Sacred to Hades, saviour of the dead.
And thus he fell, and as he passed away,
Spirit with body chafed; each dying breath
Flung from his breast swift bubbling jets of gore,
And the dark sprinklings of the rain of blood
Fell upon me; and I was fain to feel
That dew - not sweeter is the rain of heaven
To cornland, when the green sheath teems with grain.
Elders of Argos - since the thing stands so,
I bid you to rejoice, if such your will:
Rejoice or not, I vaunt and praise the deed,
And well I ween, if seemly it could be,
`Twere not ill done to pour libations here,
Justly - ay, more than justly - on his corpse
Who filled his home with curses as with wine,
And thus returned to drain the cup he filled.