Basma Abdel Aziz
After a popular uprising in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, one day out of nowhere there appears a Gate the citizens don’t understand. Soon the Gate becomes the source of all governmental authority, and the country’s ruler disappears from public eye. Often, a person will discover that they need a form signed, or a document issued, or a certificate to file—whatever it is, whether they’ve been summoned or chose to go voluntarily—and for these and all other civic quandaries they must wait in the queue, the now two-km-long line that extends from the Gate’s ominous façade out into the city. But in Basma Abdel Aziz’s brilliant political allegory, the Gate doesn’t open, and for the characters in The Queue, the waiting functions as the novel’s plot. In the wake of a recently defeated uprising (referred to as the Disgraceful Events), the citizens of Aziz’s unnamed country face a tyranny made all the more insurmountable by its paucity of human symbols and by the overwhelming power of the Gate’s loom. In elegant prose (fantastically translated from the Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette), Aziz’s scope widens beyond the queue and into the unlucky lives of those who form it. There’s a bit of Kafka and Beckett going on here, but Aziz’s grasp on the way life under despotism can, sadly, adapt to absurdity and authoritarianism, is entirely her own.
If you were to base your attitude toward the future on fiction writers, your outlook would probably be pretty bleak, as novels tend to depict one of two potential outcomes for any given civilization: either it’s full-on dystopic—replete with mass deaths, razed cities, droughts, paucities of food, even cannibalism—or it merely appears utopic but is actually a totalitarian regime disguised (or not so disguised) as harmony, unwaveringly to the benefit of the rich and elite. So in the coming decades, we’re either going to be lost in a post-apocalyptic world where we fight amidst anarchy for survival, or we’ll be deeply embedded in a corrupt system that exploits the complacent nature of societies.
Cool. That sounds awesome.
But I figure if everything’s going to turn to shit we might as well be as prepared as possible, and who better to equip us than the very people imagining these dreary futures? Maybe their precise predictions won’t come true, but at least by engaging with as many scenarios as we can we might be a little less surprised when culture takes that inevitable (it seems) turn toward collapse. Thus, here are a few recent novels that imagine, to use the ubiquitous sci-fi phrase, the shape of things to come, so that we might plan some way to fit into the world’s new form.
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