The Haunted Hours, Then And Now

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

Old as I am, I can still remember secretly reading books by flashlight under the covers at a time when my parents thought I was asleep. Those were the haunted hours of my young life, a perfect time -- my early teens -- to check out, say, an Isaac Asimov space opera or some shivery little H.G. Wells nightmare like The Island of Dr. Moreau or The War of the Worlds, or to dip into that other genre of horror, the dystopian novel -- say, Wells's The Time Machine, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, George Orwell's 1984, or Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Dystopian fiction has always been a haunted form, offering the bleak thrill of a futuristic plunge into the black hole of what we humans are capable of doing to ourselves. And I must admit that, even at age 72, once I slip under the covers at night I still find a magnetic fascination in such futuristic fiction, as in, say, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife (a conjuring up of a drought-ridden, climate-changed future Southwest in which water is gold). However, what I find far stranger at the moment, both locally and globally, is the curiously dystopian path that reality seems to be taking before our eyes and in broad daylight rather than in the witching hour of our predictive nightmares. As The Donald puts together the wealthiest cabinet in American memory, possibly in history, on the evident principle that government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, for the billionaires shall not perish from this Earth; as Europe is repeatedly rocked by similar eruptions of right-wing populism and a nationalism that threatens to sink the European Union; as the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa are plunged into a chaos of failed and failing states and extreme jihadist outfits while experiencing a cacophony of conflict and a wave of refugees of a sort not seen since the end of World War II, we increasingly seem to be living in a dystopian novel.

This gives my most recent encounter with the form a certain poignancy. As part of TomDispatch's publishing program with Haymarket Books, we are this very day putting out our latest Dispatch Book, John Feffer's striking new dystopian novel, Splinterlands. It's a look back at our world from the shattered Earth of 2050. What's made the experience so strange for me is that, in these recent months, as we prepared for publication day, as the planet visibly threatened to shatter before our eyes, Feffer's novel has come to read ever less like futuristic fiction and ever more like a vivid journalistic report on the latest developments in our distressed, Trumpian universe. With that in mind, we asked him today to return to the world of Splinterlands, and launch the book at this website by offering us the view not of the "geo-paleontologist" Julian West, the central figure in his novel, but of West's ex-wife, Rachel Leopold, herself looking back from 2050 on the planet that Donald Trump's election helped produce. Slip under the covers and read "Pulling the Lever for Doomsday" late tonight!