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Annotated Bibliography by Rosalie Imler

Page history last edited by Rosalie Imler 7 years, 5 months ago

Annotated Bibliography Assignment


By Rosalie Imler, of The Big Brothers


 1. Booker, M. Keith. The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature. Westport: Westport Press, 1994. Print.

            As the title implies, this book examines the purpose and merit of dystopian thought as it is manifested in literature. Booker focuses on the importance of dystopias as the negation of meaningless utopian escapism. Introducing the nature of his work, Booker quotes Gary Saul Morson: “Whereas Utopias describe an escape from history, these anti-utopias describe an escape to… the world of contingency, conflict, and uncertainty” in which we all exist (Booker, pp 4). He gestures to Disneyworld and other such theme parks as representing our desire to retreat into a peaceful vacation world where magic and technology seamlessly meld. But in another light, Disneyworld is both an idealization of the conspicuous consumerism of the American dream and a carceral society where docile masses move from one attraction to the next under the watchful eye of uniformed conductors.
            In his research, Booker seeks to elucidate why many modern thinkers are skeptical of the utopian impulse, viewing it as a vision that ultimately benefits the status quo and refuses accountability for the history we have created for ourselves. Dystopias are typically classified as science fiction, and “science allows no retreating in time… [it] insists on contemplating the consequences of actions” (Booker, pp 5). We live in a world where supposed ‘advances’ like the industrial revolution and research on nuclear energy have proved to be double-faced, causing damage along with their successes. Booker rationalizes the writing of future dystopias as investigative thought experiments about how our fast-paced technological evolution could go wrong. He examines books like Zamyatin’s We, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Orwell’s 1984 in tracing this trend. Booker’s ideas give a substantial starting point for research on the evolution of the utopian novel into its twisted and pessimistic descendent. His examination of the aforementioned novels also provides one useful source for identifying specific themes and commonalities in dystopias of the 20th century.



2. Clasen, Mathias. “Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s I am Legend.academia.edu. Web. 7 November 2013.


This essay by Mathias Clasen examines I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. I Am Legend is a 1954 work of horror fiction that is considered to be a milestone in gothic literature, as well as an important precursor to a plethora of books and movies utilizing the zombie apocalypse trope and/or vampirism. Clasen here seeks to understand the basis for this novel’s enduring popularity, indeed, the popularity of speculative fiction and fantasy as a whole. Clasen explains that I Am Legend is “at once intensely personal and highly dependent on local, sociohistorical anxieties” (Clasen, pp 313). Clasen is able to locate Matheson's fears as both indicative of the psychology caused by the Cold War in the United States and our evolutionarily based human fears of isolation and predation.
            Taking an evolutionary stance on the subject, he justifies I Am Legend’s place in the canon of science fiction and fantasy literature by its appeal to three elements: “universal human fears, local cultural conditions, and the peculiarities of individual identity” (Clasen, pp 313). He examines the adaptive evolution that produced human psychology with its capacity for decoupled cognition, the ability to imagine situations and possibilities outside the scope of what we know. This ability along with our instinct for fear has helped the species predict and develop solutions to various threats, from starvation to war with a neighboring country. Matheson utilizes these abilities in depicting the psychological tribulations of an isolated man struggling to survive in a severely threatening world where almost all of humanity has been infected with a virus (of alluded nuclear weapon related origin) that turns them into a type of vampire/zombie. The longevity of this novel’s place in popular awareness can be attributed to its sensitivity to the human fear response and the complex emotions one might experience in such a situation. There is great interest in exploring the ‘what if’s” of various situations humanity might find itself, and I Am Legend is important for its effective speculation on how people might experience those possibilities.



3. Embrick, David G., Andras Lukacs, and J. Talmadge Wright, eds. Utopic Dreams and Apocalyptic Fantasies: Critical Approaches to Researching Video Game      Play. Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2010. Print.


Few can deny that video games have become a central part of modern life. They are more than just a pastime: video games manifest elements of the society, culture, and political atmosphere in which they are designed and played. This book compiles a variety of essays seeking to contextualize the importance of video game play. One essay examines virtual embodiment of the self, and the psychological impact it has on the player’s conception of their real-world identity. Another essay looks at the degree to which video games challenge or reinforce stereotypes. The conclusions drawn by the editors of this compilation are presented in the final section of the book: The worlds we imagine, be they in a literary novel or a virtual game, tend to foreshadow the reality we then proceed to create for ourselves. It is not so much that these creations magically prophesize the direction technology and society will head. Rather, these fictive worlds enter our consciousness and “transgress the restrictions and limitations of everyday life and often evoke reactive, repressed, or hidden fantasies” (Embrick, pp 248).
            They editors then utilize the example of James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar to show how deeply the utopia/dystopia divide is rooted in our apprehensions of what the future may bring. Cameron’s transcendentally sci-fi movie was the highest grossing film production ever, and the reason for its success lies in its ability to resonate with a universal audience. Evidently, “watching the struggle between an exploitative technological dystopia and a spiritual utopia” is something with touches almost everyone. The history of humankind is saturated with bloodshed and many of the advances we have made in science and technology have been used to the detriment of someone or even our planet as a whole. We are disillusioned and somewhat fatalistic about the future because of this undeniable fact, and yet we still cherish a hope for the unreachable world of peace and harmony that utopia represents. Video games, with their classification as mere ‘play’, are allowed free reign in representing the stark utopia/dystopia divide with which we are so preoccupied.
            The study of video games offers valuable insight into both their sociological context and the persistent human fascination with dystopias. In recent years especially, an abundance of post-apocalyptic dystopian video games like Bioshock, Dishonored, Fallout, and Last of Us have hit the market. Bioshock immerses the player in a horrific dystopia populated with genetically mutated and psychotic people. As you explore the underwater city, you come to learn that before everything went awry it was intended to be a perfect utopian world where citizens could splice their own genes to acquire whatever abilities they desired. This anthology of critical analysis on video gaming provides insight on both our interest in dystopias as well as how video games effectively portray the fact that most dystopias are a result of humanity’s own actions and mistakes. You are the player who traverses the hellish world your species has created, just like all of us are culpable members of the species to create the atom bomb and other tools of our own destruction.



4. Mohr, Dunja. Worlds Apart? Dualism and Transgression in Contemporary Female Dystopias. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Company,      Inc., Publishers: 2005. Print.


The demise of the utopian impulse in fiction has been universally noted, and its wildly popular antithesis exhibits many sub-genre elements including environmental destruction, post-nuclear war landscape, totalitarian government surveillance, and technology turning on its creators. This book focuses on another such theme: transgressive feminist utopian dystopias. Mohr takes issue with the dualistic approach that much feminist theory and literature has taken. She introduces her book with a quote from Gwyneth Jones that “anyone who takes the either/or, light/dark, order/chaos dichotomy that feminism has embraced really, really seriously will end up in the same place, falling over the brink into the utter void where there are no more stories” (Mohr, pp 1). Mohr seeks to examine the trend in many recent ‘dystopian’ texts to reject the binarisms that prevail in much of the field.
            Historically, literature has been dominated by clearly delineated categories of genre and traditional canon. Even dystopias reveal the dualistic thinking under which much of our assumptions about the world operate. Unlike utopias of the past, much of the spectrum of speculative literature is encumbered by the “belief that the future could fundamentally surpass the present is stone dead. Few envision the future as anything but a replica of today… There are no alternatives. This is the wisdom of our times, an age of political exhaustion and retreat” (Mohr, pp 2). This is a somewhat startling accusation at the genre, one which essentially negates its very purpose. Mohr however goes on to attest that exceptions do exist, and those exceptions tend to be found in transgressive feminist novels. These stories are set in apparently dystopian settings, but completely subvert and dissolve traditional boundaries of a world view driven by binary logic. These novels are of great importance to the continued growth and development of this type of exposition: from pure utopia to horrifying dystopia to a new and ground-breaking merging of the two.



5. Seed, David, ed. Future Wars: The Anticipations and the Fears. Liverpool, Liverpool University Press: 2012. Print.


This anthology gathers together the ideas of many great thinkers on the topic of the ways in which humanity has predicted, planned for, and dramatized their anxieties about the wars of the future. Many of the anticipatory fictions of the late nineteenth century (when this genre truly began to flourish) were written out a political desire to scare people into action. Fiction has become a powerful weapon, if not entirely replacing, pamphlets and soapbox rhetoric as a medium through which possible negative outcomes of contemporary situations are communicated. The “errors of the past – so evident, so avoidable, so serious – gained a powerful psychological spin from a future history that could handle disaster or victory with equal facility (Seed, pp 15).  An important aspect of 20th century literature of this genre is their portrayal of future nations that resemble real-world ones enough in their political constitution to be feasible. It is from this realism that the state of war these novels present gains relevance and the ability to truly terrify readers.
            One of the most pertinent aspects of this collection is its emphasis on the powerful psychological impact that the world wars and the Cold War had upon the world. There is a stark correlation between these wars and the type of speculative future-war novels that appeared. The increasingly devastating effects of the war weapons we designed meant that each battle came with a higher price, and more collateral damage. If opposing powers continued the antiquated tradition of feuding over every slight or perceived insult, the world would quickly be destroyed. Awareness that another world war could very likely signal the end of humanity as we know it was a sobering realization. Literature that presents a world in the midst of aftermath of such destruction thus serves as a warning and strategic prevention of that fate.




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