Today’s Art (4th September 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the second comic in my ‘back to basics’ “Damania Relaxation” webcomic mini series. If you missed the ‘old-school’ mini series (where every comic was self-contained), then you’re in luck!

If you want to catch up on other old-style mini series, or check out some of the more recent story-based ones, links to them all can be found here. You can also check out previous comics in this mini series here: One

As regular readers probably know, I make these comics ages in advance. So, I made this one in 2016 – which really did feel like the beginning of a “dystopian alternate timeline” sub-plot in a sci-fi series. And, yes, I’m terrible at drawing Nigel Farage too.

As usual, this comic update (but not yesterday’s one!) is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Relaxation - Timeline" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Relaxation – Timeline” By C. A. Brown

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Does Dystopian Science Fiction Actually Change Anything?

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Ever since I discovered the genre when I was a teenager, I’ve been a fan of dystopian science fiction. Hell, I even read “Nineteen Eighty-Four” twice when I was about thirteen or fourteen. If I remember rightly, I was absolutely fascinated by the ominously mysterious, yet creepily fascinating, world that the novel is set in. It was a little bit like the vintage 1970s-90s horror novels I enjoyed reading at the time, but it also contained sci-fi too.

Not only that, the cyberpunk genre has been one of those “dystopian” types of science fiction that I’ve been fascinated with for a long time. In fact, I read my first cyberpunk novel when I was about twelve ( one of the “Tom Clancy’s Net Force Explorers” books, I can’t remember which one) without even realising that it was cyberpunk.

Since then, I’ve had something of an on and off fascination with the genre. Most recently, I’ve become fascinated with the genre again because it has proven to be an amazing source of artistic inspiration (like in this recent sci-fi comedy comic of mine).

The cyberpunk genre is often labelled as dystopian science fiction and, whilst there are certainly dystopian stories, films, books, games etc.. in the cyberpunk genre, it never really feels “dystopian”. Not only does the cyberpunk genre often feature breathtakingly beautiful neon-lit cities, but it often includes enough intriguing background details and dark humour to offset any depressingly “dystopian” elements of the genre.

The most recent example of this that I’ve seen is in a computer game called “Technobablyon” that I mentioned yesterday. I’d played some more of it and found myself playing a part of the game (that involves solving a grisly murder) that should have been disturbingly horrific. However, thanks to the dialogue from the characters and the sheer weirdness of the solution to the mystery, this part of the game was more of a hilariously farcical dark comedy than a disturbing glimpse at where a technology-filled future could lead:

Talking of dark comedy, a while before I played this part of the game, I was curious about another work of dystopian science fiction – Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” TV series. I’d been vaguely thinking about getting it on DVD since it was something that should have appealed to me – given my cynical sense of humour. Yet, when I read a few plot summaries on Wikipedia, I realised that it was actually serious dystopian science fiction…. and not in a fun way.

The story outlines I’d read seemed depressingly bleak and genuinely frightening. Even a mere description of some of the technology-based storylines in the series filled me with a real sense of paranoid dread. It was probably where technology might lead to in the future, and it terrified me. This is, of course, what dystopian science fiction is supposed to do.

It’s supposed to show the audience where the future could lead, in the hope that the audience will somehow prevent such a terrible future from coming true.

But, it doesn’t work. When I read those descriptions, I realised that there was literally nothing I could do to prevent any kind of dystopian future. I mean, it’s a long-standing joke that governments don’t see “Nineteen-Eighty Four” as a warning, but as a manual. Extending surveillance (and censorship too) seems to be part of the psyche of many major political parties, so it happens regardless of which one wins an election. The left and the right are just as bad as each other in this regard.

Dystopian science fiction is supposed to be like a vaccine – giving people a small dose of something terrible in the hope that it will prevent something even worse from happening in the future. But, this comes with the assumption that people can actually prevent worse things from happening.

In a more optimistic age, when real news mattered more than fake news, when people cared more about things like free speech and privacy, when people debated ideas instead of being lost in filter bubbles and the many left-wing/right-wing echo chambers on the internet etc… this might have been true.

But, in this modern world, dystopian science fiction is just another genre of entertainment. It can be a really cool one, or it can be an extremely depressing one. But, I think that the argument that it can actually change the world for the better has long since been proven wrong.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Dystopic Sci-Fi Is A Very Modern Genre – A Ramble

2015 Artwork Dystopic sci fi has to be modern article sketch

A few months ago, I happened to watch a rather chilling Youtube video which pointed out some of the many ways that the programs on your smartphone can track you and spy on you. Although I thankfully don’t own a smartphone, this video made me think of the dystopic sci-fi genre.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define “dystopic sci-fi” as being any story that presents a dystopian view of the future at the time it was written, regardless of whether it contains any overt sci-fi elements.

Anyway, the dystopic sci-fi genre is one of the most modern genres out there (for reasons I’ll explain later). Arguably, the first popular dystopic sci-fi novel was George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” which, when it was first published in 1949, tapped into widespread fears about totalitarian governments. After all, it was just four years after the end of World War Two and the Soviet Union was also still a major world power at the time.

Although Orwell’s novel still has a lot of resonance today, it is for very different reasons than the ones that existed in 1949. The theme of all-encompassing government surveillance was kind of a large background detail in the original novel but – when someone compares something to Orwell these days, they’re probably going to be talking about surveillance rather than about communism and/or fascism.

Even in Alan Moore’s “V For Vendetta” graphic novel from the 1980s, he intended the omnipresent government surveillance cameras to be just a background symbol that would emphasise that Britain had been taken over by a fascist government. In addition to this, he also points out the obvious fact that dystopic sci-fi is always about the time that it was written too.

Of course, when you read “V For Vendetta” these days, the thing that jumps out at you isn’t Alan Moore’s fears about 1980s politics, but the fact that – like Orwell – the government is spying on everyone. The fact that we essentially all live in one giant panopticon these days.

So, why am I talking about all of this stuff? Am I just being paranoid?

Well, probably. But, the main reason why I’m talking about all of this stuff is to illustrate something about the dystopic sci-fi genre – namely that it only really “works” when it emphasises current fears. In other words, in order to be taken seriously, a dystopic sci-fi story has to have modern relevance. When a dystopic sci-fi story loses it’s modern relevance, then it becomes nothing more than a cross between a joke and a historical curiosity.

A good example of this would be an old American movie from the 1980s called “Red Dawn“. It’s a dystopic alternate future movie about the Soviets invading America and, at the time, it was probably quite chilling.

But, even though I only watched it once on VHS when I was a teenager (in the early 00s), I just kind of saw it as a silly action movie rather than a chilling warning about the future. After all, the film had long lost it’s modern relevance and – well – it had turned into something of a joke.

In 2012, they tried to remake “Red Dawn”, with North Korea taking the place of the Soviets from the original film. Although I haven’t seen the modern remake, I very much doubt that it had the same impact as the original movie did for the simple reason that no-one is worried about North Korea invading America.

Orginally, the filmmakers had apparently wanted to make a film about China invading the US but decided against it for political and financial reasons. Even this arguably more “plausible” dystopic future story is still laughably absurd, given how China and the US both heavily depend on each other economically. The two countries may not be allies, but it’s fairly obvious that they have something of a mutually-beneficial symbiotic relationship with each other that would be ruined if one tried to invade the other.

So, yes, dystopic sci-fi only really works when it is directly relevant to modern fears about the future. This is why background details from dystopic fiction from the 1940s-80s can still be part of our modern culture, but how single-issue dystopic stories often quickly go out of date after a few years.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂