I’ve always loved to read dystopian novels. They confirm what I’ve believed all my life: This world is going to heck in a handbasket.

I’ve always loved to read dystopian novels. They confirm what I’ve believed all my life: This world is going to heck in a handbasket.

Probably my first one was “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” which I read long before 1984. I was hooked. Soon I was eating up “Brave New World,” “Animal Farm,” “Player Piano,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “This Perfect Day,” “The Giver” and, most recently, “The Road.”

And there are many others that make the case that our government, or multi-national corporations, or technology, or simply the darker side of human nature will get us in the end. Albert Camus was right in “The Rebel” (not a dystopian novel itself) when he said that each revolution tends to lead to a more authoritarian system. I find many people are happy to give up more and more of their personal rights as long as they are thrown a few bones, such as ever-improving visual entertainment to keep them from thinking too much about what they could be doing instead of passively watching a movie full of truly amazing special effects. That’s a point that quite a few novels make well.

And yet, I bristle when I hear someone claim that everything today is bad, and that everything back in the 1950s or whenever was just peachy.

Yes, we seem to be going to heck in a handbasket. We always have been. We were heading that way in the 1950s and we still are now. But luckily, we never quite get there. We have problems, yes. Serious ones. But isn’t it marvelous to be alive at the birth of the Internet? Sometimes I think we don’t realize what a sea change this is. Each of us has at hand a huge repository of the world’s knowledge and entertainment. The poorest of us can tap in free at the library. Most of the rest of us have access in our homes, and many carry a tiny cell phone capable of instant Web access.

The Internet has revolutionized everything by pushing forward and empowering the individual. This is true in the news media, in the music business and in many other ways we’re just beginning to realize. How many times have you typed a question about your health into Google and skipped a visit to your doctor?

Sometimes we’d do better to keep an expert in place, however. I value the role of the professional though much-maligned press. I certainly value the role of doctors. However, I also find the endless sources of information valuable. It is up to me, the individual, to decide what to believe and what to do.

I wonder how many of us would really like to go back to the 1950s. That was no utopia, especially for women and minorities. For starters, I wouldn’t likely have been able to work as a newspaper editor. I could have more easily afforded medical care then, but that is at least in part because there just wasn’t a lot of high-tech care available. Would you rather have a heart attack in 1950 or 2010?

I’ll keep enjoying novels that imagine a dark future for humankind while remaining optimistic that our future is actually pretty bright, perhaps in part because some very fine storytellers have mapped out some of the dangers of Big Brother and such so we can watch out for them, and avoid them.

Better that than to read nothing but happy or sentimental tales that distract us from the real problems we do face.

In a perfect world, maybe we wouldn’t need to read a dystopian novel once in a while to warn us back onto the right path.

The world will never be perfect but it can be, and often is, pretty darned good. In spite of that handbasket we’re in.

Michelle Teheux may be reached at mteheux@pekintimes.com.