GENDER INEQUALITY, SURVEILLANCE, homophobia, controlled birth rates, cranial digital chips – these sound dystopian, but also strangely familiar. How far are we actually from these developments in the United States? China had the one-child policy for decades, homophobia is existent worldwide, and women still have to fight for equal rights in almost every aspect of life. A People’s Future Of The United States, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, is a collection of 25 short stories from various established and emerging writers that focus on how the United States could look in the future. Through these dystopias, the stories provide a haunting look at the issues we encounter in news in our daily life.
As a whole, the stories in this collection combine new technology and new social norms with people we would today consider victims of systemic injustice, persecuted under current law. For example, in “It Was Saturday Night, I Guess That Makes It All Right,” by Sam J. Miller, a gay man must hide his sexuality in public, while his job is to install surveillance cameras. In another story, “Our Aim Is Not To Die” by A. Merc Rustad, a transgender woman has to hide their real identity to not face imprisonment. In their society, citizens are required to post pictures of their day to the government for transparency reasons. In both stories, and many others, the narratives show how these policies impede a life in freedom.
Other stories focus on rebellious groups that fight for inalienable rights we have today, which have been taken away by oppressive governments. “Read After Burning,” by Maria Dahvana Headley, tells of a group of people that tattoo stories into their skin in order to remember, as they live in a world where books are burnt; teachers, scientists, and people of knowledge are murdered; and parents are prohibited to teach their children how to speak. As I read the stories, I was shocked that the issues seemed to be taken from the news, exaggerating certain societal or cultural norms to critique specific developments of today. For instance, Headley’s story focused on the prohibition of freedom of speech which exists in some Asian, Middle Eastern, and South American countries. Other stories focus on gender inequality which is still an essential struggle globally.
One story, “Calendar Girls” by Justina Ireland exaggerates the issue of women’s rights to the point of a Sci-Fi dystopia. “Calendar Girls” follows Alyssa, an African American teenager who sells contraceptives on the street illegally. Ireland addresses the polarizing, but crucial topic of governmental regulated birth control. The story goes on by giving Alyssa the chance to fight for a change in her oppressive society, but the “reality was, she didn’t care (about women’s rights). She just wanted to live her life.” (p.204). This story forces the reader to think about our values, and our actions against injustice today. Do we stand up to change the system, or do we try to escape the system? Interestingly, most stories lead to the conclusion that improving his own situation is better than standing up for his own rights and trying to enhance the situation for all.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in dystopian novels, or possible future scenarios of the US. Most of the stories include technology that is already available, but not yet accessible to the public. Other stories exaggerate political and social issues we deal with today, as gender equality, racial equality, and the rights and governmental violation of privacy. The book takes social issues to the extreme and interrogates their effects on society and on certain individuals critically. Since most stories closely relate to life today, it challenges interested readers to think about these scenarios, making it a must read for everyone who wants to ponder about the political and social future of the United States.
–Tim Windbrake ’19