How the Dead Dream: What We’ve Lost

Listening to Lydia Millet talk about her latest novel How the Dead Dream makes me both sad and hopeful. Sad because what she says is true–we’re destroying the planet, we’re practicing a sometimes unintentional genocide against hundreds and hundreds of species–and in the process, although many of us don’t realize this, against ourselves.

Hopeful because I’m glad fiction writers are dealing with these issues in a personal and contemporary way. What perhaps bothers me a little bit is that writers not associated with SF/F are doing more in this regard (the Stone Gods novel by Winterson is another example, in a totally different tone), while the majority of what I’ve read in SF/F in the last couple of years is, in fact, escapist–it is dead set on ignoring, denying, or simply pretending that what’s going on around us is not in fact going on. I’ve loved a lot of this SF/F, to be honest, and it’s been a solace, a way literally of getting away from the thought in my head that we’re witnessing a kind of slow end of the world. I don’t mind that, but it doesn’t make me, as a reader not a writer, comforted in a more general way, because I feel like I’m being lied to.

Another, odd but true thought, that has occurred to me in recent weeks: That when we watch movies from now and the past in, say, thirty years, we will literally be seeing backdrops, seeing animals, that don’t exist anymore. Movies and other media will be repositories of what we’ve lost. In our lifetime.


  1. says

    I’d have thought the problem for sf writers today is that animal extinction and general dystopia are very old genre themes, so the issue becomes one of how you say anything new about the subject. It’s probable that writers outside the genre are happier to deal with these issues since they’re not necessarily aware of sf history. They can write what they want without worrying about the usual complaints of fandom: “It’s been done before, Mr McCarthy!”

  2. says

    That doesn’t stop SF/F writers from recycling all kinds of other themes and ideas–not a criticism, just an observation. Most of literature is finding those new recombinations.

  3. says

    I’ve had the very same thought watching movies recently, specifically wintery scenes. I even wondered how much longer the Santa Claus/North Pole story will be acceptable even to a child.

    ” … we’re witnessing a slow end of the world.”

    Now that’s an anthology I’d like to see: contemporary sf/f/h writers addressing these concerns head on. Despite how much may have been written before, it seems strange that it hasn’t captured the genre’s imagination.

  4. says

    I think that would be a good idea for an anthology, most definitely, especially because there’s the challenge of trying to not be didactic. I’m working on a story called “The Memories of Others” that’s set 50 years from now and is set in a transformed Florida in a US that’s entered into a degraded state, with everything breaking down.


  5. Transfiguring Roar says

    I live in Perth, Western Australia. In the recent election climate change was a huge topic. However, most people I know will readily admit that we (humans) are destroying the planet, but it stops right there. It doesn’t go any further. They just don’t care. As for escapists, half of them (the ones I know, again) don’t even get that literature often (if not always) reflects current trends, issues, etc. And getting them to actually take an interest in something serious is nigh impossible.

    I’m optimistic that the human race can right things, I’m optimistic about our capabilities to do great things without causing great destruction, but I’m also very bitter and cynical about how people are acting now.

    But I think an even more direct method than lit. is required to educate the horde.