I’ve been reading voraciously lately, partly because I was recovering from surgery before Christmas, and knocked out by a bad flu after Christmas. Before Christmas, I read Zamyatin’s "We" in a Soviet literature anthology. I’d never heard of it, no idea it predated Huxley and Orwell. It is chilling, particularly given its Stalinist context. “1984” never did that much for me. I know that it was a classic and it was supposed to. But it seemed kind of forced to me.
A few years ago an off-off Broadway company advertised for a playwright to do an adaptation of Sinclair Lewis’s "It Can’t Happen Here." I remember reading it in my 20s, and talking about it with my brother. We were both intrigued by it- a novel about an Americanized fascist state. So I reread the novel, and got a hold of a copy of Lewis’ stage adaptation. The novel is a truly great idea that suffers in its execution. The characters are that well-drawn, the hero is pompous, the whole thing feels like it was written on deadline and the editing was minimal. It’s still a great idea. Unfortunately, Lewis’ stage adaptation (Dramatists Play Service) only exacerbates the novel’s problems.
I wrote sample scenes and a synopsis of my fairly loose adaptation. It was about three friends who went to Amherst College together, and how they grew up and grew apart. The female friend is taken away and forced to serve in the fascist breeding program (like the Nazi program, but using artificial insemination). One male friend is a newspaper/website editor who loses everything- both his girlfriend and his work. The other male friend, who was always sort of the comic relief guy in the trio, becomes a leader in the fascist regime.
But a few days ago I read a different British dystopia novel- Derek Raymond’s "A State of Denmark." It’s fantastic. It‘s set in the 1970s (a long time ago, granted, but like yesterday compared to how dated Orwell feels). England has been taken over by fascist leader Jobling, and he is out to not only to bring ordinary citizens into line, but to subjugate our hero, Richard Watt. Watt humiliated Jobling in the press before his election, and though Watt is happily living in Tuscany, Jobling manages to bring Watt within his reach. The writing is believable and compelling, and Raymond doesn’t pull any punches on the characters’ development or on the ending. It surprises me no one’s tried to film it.