Recommended reading – WE

I pride myself on having a pretty good knowledge of dystopian film and fiction. Sometimes, though, you discover a gap in your knowledge that leaves you scratching your head and thinking, ‘how did I not know about this?’ I made such a discovery earlier this year when I found out about WE, a Russian novel from the 1920s, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin. I’d been intending to post about it, but was prompted to do so now when I heard that a new Russian film version is due to be released shortly. You can see the trailer at the end of this.

The reason I was so surprised not to have come across WE before, is because the book was clearly so influential. George Orwell accused Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD of taking cues from WE (though Huxley denied this). Later, prior to writing 1984, Orwell stated that he intended to use WE as his ‘model’ for his next novel. Whatever each writer’s influences were, there’s no doubt that, collectively, these novels form the foundation of the modern dystopian genre.

In a glass-enclosed city of absolute straight lines, ruled over by the all-powerful “Benefactor,” the citizens of the totalitarian society of OneState live out lives devoid of passion and creativity—until D-503, a mathematician who dreams in numbers, makes a discovery: He has an individual soul. Set in the twenty-sixth century AD, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is the archetype of the modern dystopia and the forerunner of works such as George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Suppressed for many years in Russia, it details the fate that might befall us all if we surrender to some collective dream of technology, and remains a resounding cry for individual freedom.

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War of the Worlds

Whenever I’ve been asked to list the books that have most influenced me as a writer, WAR OF THE WORLDS by HG WELLS is up there. I’ve always been fascinated by the impact Wells’s tale must have had on readers in the late nineteenth century, who’d never before come across the idea of Earth being invaded by creatures from another planet. It’s rightly regarded as a classic of the genre, but it’s a strange book because, in terms of action, it’s quite top-heavy. What I mean by that is, the most visceral and memorable scenes are to do with the initial arrival of the aliens and their first attacks. I’m sure if you’re reading this you already know how the original novel ends: the invaders are undone by bacteria. The story starts with a bang but ends with a cough.

This unusual structure has presented problems for many filmmakers over the years, because in retelling the story, it’s almost as if you’re working backwards from the climax. Many adaptations have been unsatisfying (the less said about the recent BBC adaptation, the better… what were they thinking?).

STEVEN SPIELBERG‘s version of WAR OF THE WORLDS was released in 2005. A new 4k Blu ray edition has just hit the shelves, and I thought now would be a good time to reappraise the movie. Having just watched it again for the first time in a decade or so, I think this is just about the best film adaptation of the novel there is (having grown up with JEFF WAYNE’s musical adaptation though – which terrified me and a whole generation of kids in the late seventies with its prog rock soundtrack and iconic artwork – I have to say that’s still my favourite adaptation of all; it shouldn’t work, but it does!).

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