Anything Can Happen: Election Day Story Recs

Cubs win! Cubs win! Holy cow! The Cubs winning the world series has long been rumored to be one of the signs of the apocalypse, and now we might get a chance to find out if that’s true. Today is election day and by the end of it, no matter who wins, some people will call it the end of the world. Both of these candidates have stirred up consternation in the American public and polarized the political conversation. For many there is no middle ground, if the opposition wins, the world is done for. We can certainly hope that this is an exaggeration, but hey, if the Cubs can win the world series, anything is possible. Here are a couple pieces that deal with dystopian societies that are startlingly similar to the world we could be living in as a result of this election. Some of these stories are hopeful, some of them are downright horrific, but they all speak in some manner to our current political discourse and how we’ve come to interact with each other over the last year. At least in terms of this election, the end is nigh.

If Hillary Wins…

Ursula K. Le Guin Always Coming Home (1985)

The Story: Always Coming Home is a somewhat forgotten, but tremendously ambitious piece of post-post-apocalyptic literature. Set in the far, far future, the three-piece novella is tucked between maps, poems, other anthropological goodies, and even a cassette full of folk songs. The story has a very Tolkien-esque feel as Le Guin creates the Kesh’s entire culture, language system, and political relations with neighboring societies. The Kesh are a matriarchal society who try to strike a balance between nature and the way they interact with technology. Their society is primarily at odds with the Condor people who are more patriarchal and militaristic in nature and although a conflict doesn’t arise, the threat remains eminent.

One of the central questions posed by the novella is “how can you prevent the storage of information from becoming yet another source of power to the powerful– another piston in the great machine?” The novella suggests a path to this type of freedom comes from dismantling the past with a constant flow of new ideas, even in the face of a world perpetually stuck in war.

How it Could Relate: A Clinton presidency will mark a shift in the face of our country’s leadership, but will it matter? In Le Guin’s story, despite the matriarchal Kesh being more concerned about their place in nature and caring, the society around the Kesh are still patriarchal and militarized. In the world today there is a pulsing undercurrent of violence and unrest. In addition, while the internet seems like a great way to prevent the storage of information from becoming a tool– it might only work if net neutrality is maintained. There are a lot of questions surrounding how a Clinton presidency will answer these questions. Is war with Russia, North Korea, and/or Iran inevitable? How will Clinton deal with environmental issues like the Dakota pipeline, which she has yet to speak on? Will she maintain her position on open internet even after what occurred with WikiLeaks? While this story’s vision of the future isn’t as bleak some, it still paints a depressing picture of the world.

George Saunders “The Red Bow” (2009)

The Story: In “The Red Bow,” a girl, Emily, is killed by a dog infected with some kind of virus or disease. The townspeople are shaken by the tragedy and struggling for answers for the mysterious virus infecting their dogs. Emily’s Uncle Matt, who had rarely spoken to children, becomes the central figure in the story. He has a red bow, that is not actually Emily’s red bow, that he uses as a symbol of the tragedy, something that he uses to appeal to the emotions of the townspeople. In the story it becomes obvious that Uncle Matt is using this issue as a means to make himself important. Since the townspeople are unsure of what dogs are infected, or even how the infection spreads, there is considerable time considering what should be done about all the dog’s in the town. Out of the compassion and concern of the town, something sinister grows and takes root.

How it Could Relate: Hillary Clinton’s stance on gun control has been hotly debated. Although she has a history of being tough on guns, she did briefly position herself as more conservative on the issue than Barrack Obama in 2008. Her presumed point of focus prior to this election season had been that she was going to push marriage equality as her major campaign issue. However, once Obama marked that one off his To-Do List, Clinton pivoted her campaign to being tough on guns, a move that some claim plays off the powerful emotions people feel about the gun violence our country faces. Saunders himself remarks that “The Red Bow is about (at least in my mind) a certain human tendency, the tendency, when afraid, to become aggressive, say. Or for love to convert to aggression. That comes out of and, I hope, resonates with, the current cultural moment, but I don’t know what exactly I’m advocating or expressing, if you see what I mean.” So while Clinton may have the best of intentions regarding gun-control, for many Americans it comes across as an extreme (and ineffective) over-reaction.

If Trump Wins…

Benjamin Percy “Meltdown” (2007)

The Story: A nuclear accident that occurred in response to terrorist activity causes the Pacific-Northwest portion of American to become irradiated and uninhabitable. There are, however, still people who are stuck to live inside the “Dead Zone” due to economic barriers, most of whom are Mexican. The government themselves don’t police the area and let it fall into a type of ghetto. The protagonist feels a sense of betrayal by his government and embarks on a crusade in the Dead Zone where he comes upon a young girl. He attempts to save her from a ruthless band of marauders that are terrorizing what’s left of the countryside. The story is bleak and incredibly dark. There is an overwhelming feeling that none of this will ever be fixed and no one will be ever be truly saved in this story.

How it Could Relate: A combination of Trump’s fiscal, immigration, and apparent willingness to utilize nuclear capabilities make this story a frightening portent. The possibility of people, mostly immigrants, being  forced to live in a Dead Zone is an imminent possibility of a Trump presidency. Poor people, disadvantaged by economic barriers, are also forced to live within this area. While there is a rather slim possibility that a Trump presidency could push us further away from midnight on the Doomsday Clock, it does not seem like the most prudence choice to put someone with literally zero diplomacy experience in charge of “the Free World” at a time when the Science and Security Board notes that “the probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.” This is far and away the most dire vision of the future, but one that, unfortunately, can not be discounted.

Octavia Butler “Speech Sounds” (1983)

The Story: “Speech Sounds” takes place in a world where a pandemic has taken away people’s ability to speak. The central protagonist of this story, Rye, is on a journey to find her family. It’s revealed that she can speak, but it doesn’t do her a lot of good in a world where people struggle to communicate and resort to violence. People in this story are defined by the symbols they carry around and they have a real difficulty lively peacefully without a means of communication (sign language probably ruins this story). Rye teams up with a man, Obsidian, and through teamwork the two of them embark on the dangerous journey. There is a scene on a bus in which two passengers attempt to communicate to each other, but the violence is inevitable as the two can’t come to a middle ground. The other people on the bus watch in terror as well.

At the end the story takes a somewhat dark turn, but it still manages to end on an upbeat tone. There is some hope for the protagonist and humanity, but it will certainly be a struggle and there’s a lingering question of how much it will matter.

How it Could Relate: There is a lot of ways in which this story could potentially relate to a Trump presidency. One reading could be the way in which these two polarizing candidates have firmly split the American public and dissolved civil discourse. We are becoming defined by symbols (flags, hats, and memes) and becoming less concerned with actually communicating. A more accurate reading though, in line with the author’s original intentions, could be that this story about the voice of minorities. Considering the implications of a Trump presidency, voices such as those of Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, and women in general are at risk of being unheard. What’s more is there is an ever increasing environment of anger and violence against these types of voices, that stems directly from the ways in which Trump has spoken on these issues. In Butler’s world, even though these minorities have a voice, it seems inconsequential in a world in which communication has broken down and violence defines authority.

No Matter What…

Bonus Novel: Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

The Story: Montag. Fire. Books. Huge televisions.

How it Could Relate: A seminal piece of dystopian fiction that seems as if would apply to the ways in which there are censorship concerns on both sides of the aisle, but ironically the book is actually about the way in which mass media has taken away our ability to critically think and reason on complex issues. Most people would agree that at least one of these candidates is not fit for the presidency. What’s more is that this entire election cycle has been defined by mass media, some of it social, some of it visual, some of it television, but all of it seemingly lacking a more in-depth critical view. Memes have raised the awareness of more and more voters, but there are also limitations to trying to condense nuanced political policies into three lines. And while it’s frightening that our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, the silver-lining is that as a country we have taken an active roll in that media. Even if we’re struggling to communicate.

Christopher Wilson is a first year MFA candidate at Virginia Tech. He was born in suburban Chicago and spent the last eight years living in southern Illinois where he graduated from Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Arts degree focused on Early-Mid British Literature. His work is primarily focused on the heartbreak of house pets.


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