- New Orleans Dystopia
Moira Crone's new novel might make you want to die. If so, I believe the author's intention will have been realized. The Not Yet is a richly imagined dystopian novel set about a century from now. Its dark vision of the future on a national and global scale resonates with earlier efforts in the genre, like Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985), A. D. Nauman's Scorch (2001), and even H. G. Wells's The Time Machine (1895). This is not to say that Crone's imagination is derivative or unoriginal, though. Like Atwood, Nauman, and Wells, Crone predicts a hardening of class society and the disappearance of whatever illusions of social mobility that have made class society a consensus society in our own times. There's an environmental angle, too, as current as one could hope, with due attention to global warming and sea level rise and how these factors have altered the landscape of the planet in drastic ways. The novel falls short of being post-apocalyptic because, even though many regions have been "de-accessioned" and abandoned to lawless Road Warrior/Waterworld primitivism, there remains a powerful and apparently insuperable corporatist state that guarantees the prerogatives of the ruling caste (and democracy has been replaced by corporate authoritarianism, etc.).
The most original aspect of Crone's novel is how it's a regionalist dytopian novel, imagining in very plausible, logical ways how New Orleans and environs would look in a worst-case scenario of today's immanent social, economic, and climatological forces. In doing so, she not only constructs the detailed verisimilitude of a scary future society, but she also makes the case for New Orleans literature as a specific body of work, spanning several genres but containing a set of conventions, themes, and tropes that set it apart from broader catgories like "American" or "Southern" literature.
The social world of the future in broad lineaments (shorn of the imaginative details that make these books, the good ones, fun to read) matches up well with other dystopian projections of the left, like Atwood, Nauman, Wells, or even Jack London's The Iron Heel (1908). Economic elites have solidified their grip and blocked off avenues of advance or resistance once open (at least theoretically) to the "99 percent." But the fun really is in the details, and Crone does not skimp on them. As in Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), the vanguard of the elite have figured out a way to evolve in a different manner than the mass, leading them to become actually physically quite different. Also like Dick, Crone's social imagination brims with metaphysical implications. This is because the "Heirs," the elites of The Not Yet, have figured out—maybe—the secret of immortality. They go in for regular treatments ("Re-jobs," "Re-description") that suit them up with brand new organic oversuits. There's some uncertainty about how long they can actually live, but the earliest who took the treatments (the "protos") are over two hundred years old. A technology like this can be expected to wreak havoc on pre-existing social and economic relations, and it has, with the "Heirs" (those who can afford the treatments) retreating into heavily fortified walled cities with artificial environments, connected by underground trains. A big multi-national company (WELLFI) runs everything. The other people live outside these cities under varying ideologies and forms of social organization (also rendered in fascinating detail), yet share the commonality of being "nats" ("naturals"), unaltered by the complex treatments undergone by the Heirs. This means, most significantly for the novel, that they die (indeed, their average life span has contracted as medical resources get sucked up by the Heirs and treatments for heart disease, cancer, etc. become unavailable).
Having conceived of this kind of future, the question for the novelist becomes whether the protagonist(s) should belong to the elite "Heirs" or downtrodden "nats." Crone...