A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
--Walter Benjamin, Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History
Mileva Anastasiadou - Once Upon a Dystopia
If someone observed us from afar, they could claim that our civilization was a civilization of walls. That was its main purpose. Such observers would likely not be able to explain why. I cannot either. Walls do not protect. They just trap and kill.
Three short stories about a dystopic future, about people turning into machines, about walls and fences, about the way history works. Three short stories about now.
About the Book
Three short stories of fantasy and science fiction featuring dystopic futures, war, and fences are included in this chapbook. Each one describes the fears of a generation that has grown up in an era when civilization is on the brink of destruction, despite the general belief that humans were about to witness the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama had once claimed. Optimism for a blissful future, where automation takes over, ensures more free time and better living conditions for humans; yet, there is a sad irony to this prospect.
Is that dystopic future still far away? Is it only a figment of our imagination?
The stories are inspired by the worsening living conditions in Greece, due to the economic crisis, where the poverty rate has risen to 40% in the last eight years. Alongside, the expansion of poor living conditions in the rest of the so-called developed world and the rise of racism and extremism worldwide, indicate a grim reality for humankind.
As described in the first story, instead of the long-awaited age of fully automated labor performed by robots, humans enter a phase of worsening working conditions for the majority of people. Human-machine “hybrids” are created to meet the needs of the few.
“They convinced me that the new working conditions would better serve the needs of humankind. When I started wondering which humankind they were referring to—I was human too, after all, or at least so I thought at the time—they got rid of me as a broken machine, whose repair was unprofitable. It was too late. I had already been transformed into machine. A useless one.”
After the fall of the Berlin wall, entering the era of globalization, we were made to believe that walls and fences belonged to the past. Wars, observed throughout human history, were over.
Only to realize that our hopes would not be fulfilled soon. That history proved us wrong.
“If someone observed us from afar, they could claim that our civilization was a civilization of walls. That was its main purpose. Such observers would likely not be able to explain why. I cannot either. Walls do not protect. They just trap and kill.”
All of these long-forgotten, promised utopias proved false dreams. Utopia is always on the periphery, only now it strays away, just out of sight. To paraphrase Fredric Jameson, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to fight back and believe we can change things for the better.
“We were naive enough to believe that human history would have a happy ending. What I now realize is that history will end, our species will disappear, but without experiencing a paradise first, without reaching the promised-land for which humans have hoped since the beginning of time.”
The common theme in these stories in not only the dystopic future that is closer than we ever imagined. There is also despair in the face of all the unfulfilled promises we were once made to believe.
In the three stories, we observe people resigned to their fate, to hopelessness and numbness, as humans seem to enter into a new Dark Age. People surrender to entropy, to despair, in the face of a seemingly unavoidable realization about the failures of human civilization. In the end, a glimpse of hope remains in the form of love and solidarity, our only weapons against cruelty.
“Despair is the easy way out. Turning your life into a fairy tale, full of light and hope, against all odds, could be the only way to fight against any dystopia you are trapped inside.”
And just maybe, “this storm is what we call progress”, according to Benjamin Walter. Perhaps, history is supposed to proceed like this: leaving human debris behind, reaching a better world, one step at a time.
Mileva Anastasiadou is a neurologist living and working in Athens, Greece. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals, such as Menacing Hedge, the Molotov Cocktail, Fear of Monkeys, Infective Ink, Ofi press, Maudlin House and many others. She has published two books in Greek and a chapbook in English (Once Upon a Dystopia) by Cosmic Teapot Publishing.