I was overjoyed yesterday to read an article in the Guardian about the surge in sales of George Orwell’s 1984, probably due to frequent mentions in social media and the press the last few days. At the time the article was written, Orwell’s masterpiece from 1948 had reached sixth place in the bestseller lists at Amazon, and today it hit the number one spot.
Part of my pleasure comes from the fact that I am writing a dystopian novel, and this development gives me hope that the genre is still alive and well …but I also find it incredibly heartening to know that so many people are willing take the effort to read the book for themselves and form their own opinion about this work of classic literature.
I hope that some of the folks new to the genre continue their journey and seek out some of the other classic dystopian works, such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. One of my personal favorites is the short story “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster (which you can read for free online or download as pdf or epub from Goodreads ), written in 1909 and in many ways eerily prescient about the changes to modern culture and our daily lives due to technological advance.
One thing that Orwell and many other dystopian novelists missed is that subjugation to authority doesn’t necessarily have to be forced by the state, because we step into the trap willingly. How many of us have willingly given up our privacy to corporations in the name of convenience? Apple or Google or Microsoft can track our movements, know all of our families and friends, and know what we search for on the internet. Big brother is watching us, indeed, and unlike a nominally democratic government, corporations are by their very nature authoritarian.
As for news and the manipulation of truth … I was visiting family in the U.S. right before the Iraq war, and I was amazed how willing people on both sides of the political spectrum were to believe the “official” line, and quash any dissidence. What struck me the most at that time was that the censorship came not from the government, but from the people themselves, all in the interests of “unity”. So despite sanctimonious calls to unity and peace, just remember that dissidence can be a good thing, no matter which side you might be on.