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More! (02/2021)

Dystopia as a mirror to society.

Text: Anna Karško

My book: literary scholar Anna Karško recommends two of her favorite books about futuristic dystopias.

Portrait of Anna Karško
Anna Karško (Photo: Andreas Zimmermann)

I love dystopias. There is nothing better than snuggling up on the sofa and reading texts about an alternative present or future. The eerier the story, the more deeply I immerse myself in it, spurred on by the question, “What if …?” For me, the true art of the thought experiment lies in imagining a future that we would not wish for ourselves.

This is the kind of frighteningly plausible scenario created by Zoe Beck in her futuristic thriller Paradise City (2020). The book is set 100 years into the future, in a Germany whose population has been slashed by climate disasters and pandemics. Everyone lives in the megacity of Frankfurt, where there are no longer any private cars and everyone is in perfect health. The city is also home to Liina – and Liina is curious. Curious about the world that lies behind the controlling algorithm, which, despite state control, can be glimpsed through cracks here and there – for instance, in the form of the so-called ‘parallels’. These people with impairments or chronic diseases have been pushed by the Government to the edge of town, where they live without any infrastructure. Liina is also curious about the strange deaths that seem to be happening all around her. In the end, she gets caught up in a struggle with the technological system. Zoe Beck demonstrates the ability to take something we can already see signs of in the present and follow it through to its logical conclusion. For me, that is what defines a good futuristic thriller.

In his novel Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten (I will be here in sunshine and in shadow) (2008), Christian Kracht shows the same ability, combined with wit and irony. He imagines an alternative historiography in which Lenin, instead of traveling to Russia in 1917, brings about a revolution in Switzerland, turning it into a Soviet republic. The country has been at war for 100 years and has colonized almost the entire African continent, while the military has largely withdrawn to the National Redoubt. A state forged in war and for war. This novel, too, contains the proverbial grain of truth, raising questions such as, ‘Would Switzerland have taken part in the colonization of Africa, given the chance?’ and, ‘How would the history of the world have been different if Lenin had not boarded the sealed train carriage?’ Beck’s and Kracht’s thought experiments show us an alternative past and future. In doing so, they hold up a critical mirror to our own society and our own moral standards. 

Anna Karško is a literary scholar and works as a research assistant in the German Department at the University of Basel. Her doctoral research focuses on intercultural and transcultural encounters between Germany and Africa in contemporary literature. When she is not busy writing, she likes to travel, especially to African countries.

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