Speculative fiction writer Nalo Hopkinson’s award-winning dystopian novel Brown Girl in the Ring takes place in a walled-off inner city filled with crime, drug addiction, and poverty, where the causes of the city’s downward spiral are economic. In the novel, conditions worsen when those with money flee from the city to the suburbs. Policy after government policy fails to “revitalize” the inner-city, and the situation becomes little more than a theoretical policy problem that politicians invoke when they’re running for re-election.
Sound familiar? Indeed, the city that inspired this story was Detroit–but Hopkinson’s novel was written in 1998. And 15 years later, with recent news that a political candidate in a wealthy Detroit suburb is actually proposing that a wall be built along the border of the now-bankrupt city, Hopkinson’s dystopic vision has become a disturbing reality–and is well-worth revisiting.
Dystopias have made a comeback recently, from the seemingly unending number of YA dystopian novels and subsequent movie adaptations like The Hunger Games or the Divergent trilogy to the newfound relevance of modern classics of the genre. The cover art of the recent re-issue of George Orwell’s 1949 classic 1984, for example, reflects the Western worlds growing unease with both the surveillance state and government secrets. Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World was prescient in predicting our society’s obsession with better living through pharmacology and never-ending leisure activities. Ray Bradbury, right up until his death, was vocal on insisting that his 1953 dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 was not actually about censorship, but about the destructive forces of mass media, such as TV and video games. Margaret Atwood has also been vocal about the current relevance of her 1985 book The Handmaids Tale in the face of recent surges of religious intolerance, particularly towards women.