You might be living in a dystopia if…

I spent this past Saturday at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference in Denver. I got to hang with greats like Todd Mitchell, Ron Cree, Aaron Ritchey and Maggie Stiefvater (And for anyone who is still wondering, I learned how to pronounce her name too – it’s Steve-Otter! I will never again have to refer to her as “Maggie Howeveryoupronounceherlastname”, which is great on lots of levels, the most important being that I fell in love with Maggie, just a little – and in a writerly way, not a creepy stalking way – at the conference. She is one seriously awesome, and totally badass chick. So I want to be able to pronounce her name in case she ever lets that restraining order lapse…)

I also attended a few amazing panels including: “How to Know if You Are Living in a Dystopian Novel” presented by Jessi, a librarian up at High Plains Library District.

handmaids tale

When women's wombs are not their own.

Jessi broke it down for us, blue-collar comedy style.

“You might be living in a dystopia if…”

1. Decisions about marriage and reproduction are out of your hands. (Think The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or Unwind by Neal Shusterman)

2. Technology controls your life. (Think Neuromancer by William Gibson, or The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.)

3. You’re poor and hungry in a world where resources = power. (Think The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Blood Red Road by Moira Young)

4. Big Brother is not just a term from a novel your high school English teacher made you read. Big Brother is real, and HE IS WATCHING. (Think 1984 by George Orwell, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, The Maze Runner by James Dashner.)

Dystopian literature is a great way for us, as writers and readers, to explore the consequences of our decisions down the road. Seed by Rob Ziegler did a marvelous job of that, looking to a future so near that my children might live to see it.

Another book that I just finished last night also looks to the near future and examines the aftermath of our current war over fetal and embryonic rights.

In Living Proof by Kira Peikoff the year is 2027. That’s right, just 15 years away.

Living Proof

Save the Embryos!

The law of the land says that life begins at conception. That war is over – the “pro-life” side has won. Embryos are people, complete with all their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Kira could have taken this premise in a lot of different directions. Even as I type, my head is shattering as I chase down innumerable “what ifs”. But Kira stays tightly focused – and her spotlights sits firmly on an angle I have never examined, not once.

Fertility clinics.

For those of you who don’t know – at a fertility clinic that uses in vitro fertilization, the woman is given hormones to help her mass produce mature, viable eggs. Those eggs are harvested (I believe the book said 15-20 eggs was average), mixed with either her partner’s sperm or donor sperm and then incubated until they begin to rapidly divide – voila! Life!

Of course, the problem is that very few, if any, women want to birth 15-20 babies at once. In fact, it’s not even physically possible. So fertility clinics take the three strongest looking embryos and implant them in the woman’s womb, silently hoping that only one will take, two at most. (The risk for both mom and babies goes up exponentially as you start adding more of the little parasites to the womb.)

This means that every time a woman undergoes this process 12-17 babies are MURDERED.

Yeah, okay, I don’t actually believe that. But, in Living Proof this is the belief de jour. And this is the conflict. Doctors who run fertility clinics now must keep track of every embryo created and preserve them for… eternity. For embedded in each artificially inseminated embryo is LIFE.

embryo

This is an embryo. This is LIFE?

Oh, did you just hear my head pop with the explosive unintended consequences of this law? Did your brain just go skittering down filthy back alleys to catch all the repercussions of this belief?

Kira touches on many, and dives deep into one. She also slides past quite a few. So, me being me, and this blog being mine and all… I’m going to shine my little flashlight in an overlooked corner before I get back to the book.

1. If what we are fighting to protect is the Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness of these little clusters of undifferentiated cells – how, exactly, does freezing them in a petri dish FOREVER do that? And do we really have to freeze them forever? I mean, seriously – we’re all going to die. Shouldn’t these little “people” have expiration dates too? Let’s say they get to be tossed out after they’ve lived to the national average lifespan. There, they lived! Phew.

But wait, did they? Did they LIVE?

Did they have liberty? No – they had no say at all in this. No one asked them if they wanted to be frozen. Maybe they don’t like the cold. Maybe all we did was trap a soul in an arctic hell for 76 years, while it screamed to be set free so it could infuse a new life with its warmth.

Did they pursue happiness? No. These embryos did not pursue anything. They were frozen before they had a single brain cell, a single heart cell, lungs, arms, legs, eyes, before they were anything that you could call human, they were frozen. Forever.

So, we have not protected their rights. They did not get to use their free speech, or their freedom of religion – I mean, what if they’re Atheist embryos…, they did not get to buy a gun without a waiting period, they did not get to vote. They were created, they multiplied like cancer, and then they were turned into fetusicles.

Kira makes a statement in Living Proof that really resonated with me. I forgot to mark it, so I’ll paraphrase.

An acorn has life. But no one would claim that it has the same life as an oak tree. An acorn has potential. An oak tree is.

acorn or oak tree

A seed is not a tree.

An embryo has potential. A person is.

Living Proof is a romantic thriller that follows Arianna, a fertility specialist with a secret and Trent, an agent of the Department of Embryo Preservation (DEP) charged with investigating Arianna who his boss believes is a nefarious and evil baby killer. Trent must learn her motives and methods in order to bring her down and save his agency from the congressional budget cutting block. Along the way, Trent begins to see that there are two sides even to an issue as black and white as life and death.

If your oak tree was sick, and one of its acorns had the power to save it, would you be killing a tree, or saving one if you used the acorn to heal the oak? Would you be saving a life, or killing one, if you let the tree die to save the acorn, but never planted it?

Living Proof is sure to spark controversy, and hopefully conversation. I know it got me thinking in new ways and new directions. This is a timely and pertinent novel.

After Jessi, you remember Jessi, the librarian from the Teen Lit Con? After Jessi broke it down for us, she asked us to raise our hands if we thought we might be living in a dystopia. A few hands went up. Then she asked us to raise our hands if we thought we were getting close. Lots more hands went up.

Then, she dropped the bomb.

revolution

Freedom!

She said it’s up to us to stop our world from becoming dystopic. Remember those four clues that you might be living in dystopia? When you see them approaching, it’s time to take action. When you see headlines that say a new law has just passed allowing employers to fire women who take birth control pill… When you see headlines that say that a prominent politician currently running for president says that women who have been raped should just accept the gift of new life that God has put in their wombs… When a room full of old Catholic men is in charge of deciding whether or not it is legal to require private insurers to cover birth control for women, and when they refuse to hear from women because it’s not about women, it’s about religious freedom, and when one woman dares to speak and is slut shamed for it…

It is time. Men and women, friends and fans, it is time.

And Jessi was kind enough to give us a list of resources – so please, rise up in the cafeteria with your plastic sporks and…

Start a revolution

Rock the Vote

Do Something

Not sure? Then buy Living Proof and see the world 15 short years from now.

11 Comments

Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

11 responses to “You might be living in a dystopia if…

  1. Rose Lake

    In a free society, no company or organization that did not enter voluntarily into a contract to do so, would be required at the point of a government gun (which is what legal requirements are) to pay for a particular service, including birth control. And no woman would be legally required or forbidden to take any particular action with regard to her own embryo or fetus, which is a part of her own body until it is born.

    Abortion should be legal — not as a matter of “privacy” — but as a matter of a woman’s right to her own life, a life that an embryo or fetus is literally only a dependent part of. An ovum does not cease to be a part of a woman’s own body at the moment it is fertilized, nor at any stage of development until separation, by whatever means. Also, parenthood is an enormous life-changing responsibility, i.e. an obligation that rational people only accept *voluntarily.*

    For these reasons, a woman’s right to abortion is part of her right to life, and the support of legal abortion IS pro-life.

    When abortion is illegal, the course of at least two lives, and often more (times the number of unwanted pregnancies carried to term and resulting in live birth) are determined by the state. A state that determines the course of the lives of its citizens is tyrannical, the polar opposite of a politically free nation.

    Legal abortion is just one of the specific requirements for full political freedom, i.e. a state in which individuals can and must choose the course of their own lives. It is an integral part of the individual’s right to his own life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness – the protection of which is the only purpose of a legitimate government.

    • thinkbannedthoughts

      Rose – Wow. I love your arguments for women’s right to abortion. I’ve always believed that, but never quite had the words to explain how it truly is about a woman’s right to life.
      Thank you so much for coming by.

  2. Powerful and thought provoking! I’m going to have to buy that book now!

    Viva La Revolution!!!!!

    • thinkbannedthoughts

      Claire,
      Glad you’re intrigued, it really was a great book.
      Looking forward to meeting you in the revolution!

  3. Bree, thanks for the thought-provoking post. Sounds like a great festival workshop. Brave thoughts, good for you.

    • thinkbannedthoughts

      Chris,
      Yes, the dystopia workshop was great fun. The whole Teen Lit thing was amazing really. I’ll definitely be back next year.
      And I’ll definitely be reading more of the books that Jessi suggested. Unwind is next on my list!

  4. thinkbannedthoughts

    Rose – thanks for those links.
    I’m a huge Ayn Rand fan, and as soon as you mentioned Leonard Peikoff, I realized why Kira’s name seemed so familiar. Another Ah-ha moment!

  5. Frank Lin

    One of the uniquesses of the book is with the originality it’s the only one about what it is.It may be the West in reverse. It’s a make-not. Like Harry Potter, it’s one of the good books one may believe liberals are to praise more.

  6. Frank Lin

    Biology and politics may be like church and state.

  7. Frank Lin

    The book includes an amplification of one of the things. There are more. One of them may be atheism.

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