The pull of dystopia might be that it allows us to explore present-day anxieties more easily by setting them safely in the future. This week’s column explored what we’re worrying about:

“I am Borne. I talking talking talking.” One of the first complete sentences he says to Rachel introduces one of the great conundrums of the future — how will we communicate with other intelligences, whether these are machine or animal? VanderMeer suggests a disturbing idea that might be essential to our future — the human species may have to jettison its sense of uniqueness if it wishes to progress.

In one exchange, Rachel asks Borne:

“Are you a machine?”

“What is a machine?”

“A made thing. A thing made by people.”

This puzzled Borne, and it was a long time before he said, “You are a made thing. Two people made you.”


“The nightmare near-future city that a writer like Prayaag Akbar, by contrast, summons in his first novel, Leila (2017), rests on a distinctly South Asian set of fears. About a mother’s search for the daughter she was separated from, it is set in a frightening world where cities are segregated into zones of Purity, citizens sorted by their community, surnames, castes and religion.

This background came out of his discomfort with the way Indian cities have developed. “They are segmented, self-enclosing,” he told me recently. “We practise a kind of blindness — you teach yourself not to see the tragedies that unfold in public spaces.”

These concerns — about cities splitting into walled enclaves, residents separated from each other’s lives by fears of pollution, contamination, or a striving after purity — find startling expression in Hao Jingfang’s Hugo award-winning Folding Beijing…”

Read more: