Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Bad Dystopian Novel

Found in the Daily Planet archives, dated April 31, 1984

USA 2020—a review

by Jim E Olsun

First time novelist, Peter Parker, has produced one of the most outlandish pieces of fiction of the year. While USA 2020 is certainly an imaginative work, it stretches credulity past the breaking point by throwing in disaster on top of disaster and imagines a year where the president of the United States is a failed businessman, casino operator, and former TV star who attempts to use the office to make himself into the type of dictator more often found in Latin American countries and spends his time sending crazy messages to the public who apparently carry personal computers in their pockets disguised as mobile phones. (I am imagining the author intends this as some type of satire.)

The book has five gigantic wildfires sweeping across California and three burning through Colorado, so many hurricanes cropping up in the Atlantic Ocean that the meteorologists run out of people's names and have to use Greek letters, and a derecho (I had to look that one up—it's a rare windstorm) devastating much of Iowa and Illinois. The book also has multiple killings of Black men and women by police culminating in over 10,000 protests throughout the summer. A whole novel could have been written about any of these horrors but to claim that they all occurred in one year is way too much. There is even the mention of something called “murder hornets”.

Yet this doesn't even approach the biggest disaster facing the various people caught up in this insane imagining of a year in this country. The author actually throws in a plague-like pandemic which virtually shuts down the nation (and most of the world) and makes it completely unlikely that half of this stuff would occur. Then the author throws in characters who claim that the pandemic is a hoax and refuse to take measures to ensure their safety even as hundreds of thousands die around them.

To top all of this off, there is a presidential election that is unimaginable, won by career politician who barely campaigns. Although he is your typical presidential figure, his wife is a college professor who insists on being called Doctor and intends to keep her career rather than settling into being a first lady, his vice president is not only a woman but born of immigrant parents from Jamaica and India, and her Jewish husband refers to himself as the “Second Gentleman”. (The author certainly subscribes to political correctness) Although they win both the popular and electoral votes, the sitting president (who comes across as an out of control narcissist) refuses to acknowledge this and incites his followers claiming that the election was stolen through voter fraud.

This leads to the most unbelievable part of the novel, as it ends with a mob breaking into the Capitol building wearing fur and horned helmets and carrying spears and a Confederate flag, running around trying to find the vice-president so they could hang him while members of congress hide under their desks. Just the idea that so many people could just break into the US Capitol, one of the most secure buildings on the planet, with that much ease is simply highly unrealistic.

I am giving this book a C+ rating, only because it is a first attempt and is so highly imaginative, if equally improbable. My suggestion is that the author focus on only one disaster at a time in his next book. A year that had that many things go wrong in it is obviously impossible.