On May 6th, I had a great time talking to S. Evan Townsend of Speculative Fiction Cantina online radio show. You can check out the podcast here. Sadly, Ms. Pembroke Sinclair, whose photo appears in the slider, had an abrupt change of plans, so my intrepid host was stuck with yours truly for the full hour.
I have done several online radio appearances, but the flow of this one surprised me. We ended up speaking less of my novel, specifically, than of the general theme of freedom and how some people appreciate it more than others. While "don't know what you got till it's gone" is a cliche, like most cliches it became so for a reason, and it applies to freedom perhaps more than to other values.
During the interview, the closest analogy that popped into my head is that healthy individuals don't truly know what it's like to be chronically sick. They can understand it through research or being around the sick, but they never quite appreciate what a gift it is to be healthy, free of pain, with all of one's organs functioning as intended. I did touch on this in one of my earlier posts when I spoke of gratitude. We don't tend to be grateful for what we don't notice on a daily basis. Health is a given. As a cancer survivor, I can confirm that once recovery is complete, the temporary gratitude wears off and the little annoyances of life very quickly outweigh the simple joy of being alive, mobile and relatively whole.
So it is for Americans with freedom. I know we're all aware that our country has major issues on that front. But not only are we more free than nearly every other nation, we have inside us an ingrained assumption that this is a natural state of human existence. Even those eager to trade some of their freedom away in exchange for either tangible rewards or a promise of security come from the knowledge that freedom is theirs, something that belongs to them at the outset and something they can choose to diminish, as foolhardy as it might be.
As I pointed out to my host during our discussion, most of the world does not have that assumption. On the contrary, it is entirely foreign to them. Immigrants who come to this country, even those who seek not the promise of economic advancement but specifically an escape from oppression, have a hard time adjusting to the concept. A more common premise throughout the world, whether civilized or less so, is that freedom is something granted to you by the government (or your friendly warlord, as the case may be). You don't even have a chance to trade your freedom away. It is doled out in small pieces to those deemed deserving. There's a quote from V. I. Lenin somewhere on the 'net precisely to that effect. Which, of course, makes it something entirely different from freedom as we understand it.
I think the reason for the current proliferation of dystopian novels is that time is right for us to once again to start appreciating the baseline of what we have. Just as zombie and vampire novels allow us to work out our anxieties as to our safety and lack of trust in our fellow human beings (hey, that's a whole 'nother blog post right there, isn't it?), politically themed dystopias show us a "what if" of freedom lost so we can vicariously put ourselves into that situation and then come back to our normal life with a new appreciation of what we still have.
Since this was originally meant to be a self-promotional post (yeah, I'm not great at those), what I tried to do with my particular take on the genre is to not only scare us to the possibilities, for I believe the real world had already scared us enough. My main goal was to show that lost freedom can in fact come back, if sometimes at a terrible cost.
The problem freedom fighters across all times and societies face is that the more entrenched the forces of oppression, the less natural the instinct for freedom becomes. We as Americans are not yet at that point, but should keep that lesson in mind as we watch the world around us and make decisions, whether it's to choose a political leader or to speak up against censorship (looking at you, Facebook!). We should respond to any threat and refuse to give ground so that we, or our children, would never have to find out the cost of bringing back something that we had no business losing in the first place.