“There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today/ I don’t know what it is” crooned Steven Tyler of Aerosmith in the band’s seminal 90’s hit Livin’ on the Edge. Those opening lines, a cry against the changing and harsh world, are as true today as they were in that almost 30 year gone decade. Turning on the news, reading a Facebook article, or, perhaps, tuning into the Twitterverse will tell you “somethin’ ain’t right.” And while that’s concerning, even downright scary, the art that is produced in these times of hardship is often beautiful, uplifting, and a call-to-action. It tells us to make a change or else. The writers and editors of Engen’s collection of short stories, Dystopia From the Rock, have certainly embodied this movement.
Like fables or parables, dystopian fiction often aims to teach a lesson or to convey a moral. These stories often wag their fingers at readers and say, “if we don’t change, we could end up just like this.” Dystopia From the Rock has tales that attempt to teach us that lesson. Notably are Samuel Bauer’s “In the Rising Flame” and Matthew LeDrew’s “Young Republicans." In both stories, the authors speak to societal trends that we see today. Bauer tackles the possible aftermath of a nuclear war, the segregation of class, and the drug trade. LeDrew also challenges segregation of class, focusing on the dangers of ignoring and denying these issues. In both cases, a lesson can be learned, a warning presented and a challenge made to make a change.
A dystopia is said to be the opposite of utopia. That’s to say, it is a story about when things have gone wrong. In Dystopia From the Rock stories such as David Rimmington’s “The Ninth Wonder” and Ali House’s “Game Plan” give us a glimpse into a future where wrong outweighs the right. Rimmington’s tale paints the picture of a colonized planet in which an unyielding machine continues to run, to work, with horrible efficiency. House, on the other hand, gives us a glimpse into a world where a dictator has gained control but is faced with the problem of a growing resistance. These stories are truly the opposite of Utopia. In both cases, perhaps the world was moving towards some sort of positive future, but something caused it to take a wrong turn that ended in a disaster.
Disaster breeds art. Beauty grows from ruin. Dystopia From the Rock showcases this many times over. Two glowing examples are Michelle Churchill’s “Candles in the Tree” and Nicole Little’s “The Last One Standing." Beautifully written, each story delivers a different tone and message that plays on the reader’s emotions. In Churchill’s story, the first of the collection, we are faced with the gut-wrenching consequences of a terrible accident that leaves the reader teary-eyed, and frightened. In contrast, Little’s story, the final of the collection, gives us back the breath that Churchill stole from us. A sigh of relief and the possibility of a happy ending that leaves us with a sense of hope and, perhaps, even a smile.
From start to finish, Dystopia From the Rock is a great read for those who enjoy speculative fiction. There are so many remarkable authors in the collection that those I mentioned above are only the tip of the talented iceberg. So, pick it up. Read, enjoy, post a review. As Steven Tyler sang, “something right with the world today/ And everybody knows it’s wrong/ But we can tell ‘em no or we could let it go/ But I’d rather be a hangin’ on”. Read, write, resist. Keep hangin’ on.
Jon Dobbin's first novel, The Starving, is to be released this May from Engen Books. Check out Dystopia from the Rock, on sale now from Engen!