Lantern, JP: Dustbowl
By J.P. Lantern
With the world ending around him, Ward flounders for purpose and survival. Resources are gone, disease is rampant, and governments have all but dissolved. The only way off the broken planet is with the Order. Obsessed with technology, the Order is a cult that has developed the means for faster-than-light travel. They claim they can populate the galaxy and save humanity.
Ward joins the Order, inspired by sudden and irrational love for a mysterious beauty named Kansas who saves his life. But quickly, he finds out Kansas and the Order want him to kill adults and kidnap children from across the country. With impressionable youth filling their starships, the Order hopes for their tenets to be spread to all future generations of humanity.
The Order is Ward’s only chance for survival in the wreck the earth has become. Worse than that, those in the Order come to accept him and value his skills for their nightmarish quest across the dystopian landscape of America. But, somewhere inside of him, still, is the strength to strike out on his own and protect whatever good he can find left in the world.
The baby was all asleep before too long. Ward set him down in the pile of blankets. Working quietly, he scanned his map of Missouri. He tried to retrace the colored lines he could remember from months before on Yale’s map, right after he had been re-orphaned by his mistakes.
Dawn arrived again and he had barely slept. He shook her lightly to wake her. She sat up, stretching her neck around, putting a hand on the boy’s tiny arm.
“I didn’t want any of this to happen,” he said, and wondered how he meant it.
“You came back.” She shrugged. “I thought you wouldn’t.”
“I’ll keep coming back,” he said, and knew exactly how he meant it. “But that doesn’t mean . . . that don’t mean I couldn’t have stopped anything. You know why they came, right?”
“Right. Where we’re about to be headed we can’t afford that. Nothing like that, understand? You’re not sure, you need to ask. I can survive out here myself. I can show you.”
She nodded after a time.
“Where are we going?”
“Well,” he said, not exactly sure how to continue. He thought of Nick, dead now. “What do you think about the stars?”
“I think they’re far away.”
He nodded. “Yes they are. And that’s why we’ve got to get going now.”
J.P. Lantern lives in the Midwestern US, though his heart and probably some essential parts of his liver and pancreas and whatnot live metaphorically in Texas. He writes speculative science fiction short stories, novellas, and novels which he has deemed “rugged,” though he would also be fine with “roughhewn” because that is a terrific and wonderfully apt word.
Full of adventure and discovery, these stories examine complex people in situations fraught with conflict as they search for truth in increasingly violent and complicated worlds.
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Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H9UD22C
Why is dystopian fiction so popular?
Dystopian fiction—be it in books or movies or comics or whatever—is a pretty popular genre. As just a casual example, The Hunger Games movies have just demolished at the box office and they were phenomenally successful as books as well. But why is this? Why would something that is rather gloomy, overall, speak so well to so many people?
I think the reason that dystopian fiction is popular is very similar to the reason that romance fiction is popular. The most powerful part of our brains is that bottom lizard-brain, and all that knows how to interpret is fear and desire. So anything that speaks directly to that part of our brain is likely to be pretty effective. Just as romance speaks to our feelings of desire, dystopian stories speak directly to our feelings of fear, and very specifically (probably more than anything else) to our fear of authority. A dystopian world is often made as such by authorities—sometimes governments, sometimes cults, sometimes gangs.
In my novel, Dust Bowl, the premise is sort of the opposite of something like 1984 or Brave New World or The Hunger Games, where the government is highly involved in the lives of the people. Rather, the government has retreated quite a bit, and the main authority has become much more corporation-based. These corporations only really care about the people under their employ, though—so everyone else is basically screwed, and they all try to vie for power and control in their own way. There are a lot of ex-lawmen that join up and start harassing towns, trying to establish control of the roads. There are groups of families and outcasts traveling together in these enormous mobile refugee, trying to find strength in numbers. And there’s the Order—a cult obsessed with interstellar travel, which is the vehicle for a lot of the conflict in the book.
In any case, authorities in dystopias allow us to take certain flaws in the system that make us fear authority in real life, and blow those flaws up and put them on display. Dystopian fiction allows us to say, “Here! That’s why this scares me. Just imagine if they were doing this all the time? It would be madness.” And when we can identify those things that we fear, we feel a little more control over them.
That need for control, I think, stretches rather deep into humans. It also helps to look at our obsession with the past to understand why dystopian works are so popular. We’re constantly looking to the past with youtube—old cartoons and the like—and there’s a big pull to regress to the past with policies or notions or thought patterns that affirm, “it was a better time, then,” and things like that. Fifties diners, biopics of old celebrities and political figures, period pieces for television and film—we focus on the past a lot. And I think that’s perfectly reasonable, to an extent, because we know exactly how to view the past. It’s something that’s very controllable—but the future is completely uncontrollable in most every way.
So, when we read dystopian fiction, and the premises it establishes make sense, then we start to think that we are in control of the future just a little bit. We start to think, “Oh, this might happen, and how could I prepare for that? I’d have to some water, some gasoline, a hammer and nails…” and all of that sort of thinking. Of course, the way I present the future in Dust Bowl or the way any other dystopian novel presents the future is probably completely off the mark of what’s going to happen—but then, most predictions are. But if a novel is good, then the audience can believe that world can really exist, then the audience can have that sense of control—which is a really primal need, I think, and speaks to every reader.
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