The Dystopia that is London

Dystopia?  What dystopia?  Isn’t London fab?  Full of interesting stuff and people and food and people and things to look at and people and things to do and people.  It’s a holiday destination.  It’s an ancient city.  It’s vibrant and alive and, um (I’m really struggling here) and full of people and you can meet people and there are people everywhere, mostly eating food, it seems, because there are more food-related things in London than anywhere else in the universe.  Does that guy really sell all that paella every Saturday in the Brunswick Centre?  It’s enough for 400 people.  Do 400 people pass by his stall?  Yes, probably . . .

Dystopias are – broadly speaking – depicted as post-apocalyptic struggles to survive.  A big bad thing happens and the planetary population is cut down to a few million, rather than the seven billion who are all either eating too much or not getting anything to eat at all.  This – the big bad thing that destroys most of the population – is generally regarded as A Very Bad Thing Indeed.  All those dead people – well, yes, obviously it’s bad but having fewer people on this planet would solve an AWFUL lot of problems.  My futuristic idea (the one that was supposed to have happened by about 1991) was colonisation of the solar system.  We should already be living on the moon, Mars and several of the less interesting planetary moons (the ones that don’t spew volcanoes on a regular basis).  Instead of mobile phone technology, app creation and weird food combinations (no, I don’t want to eat fucking peas with my ice cream), inventors and creators should have been looking at alternate energy and rocket fuel (vacuum energy doesn’t take up much space, does it?) – and dome construction.  We’re going to need a lot of domes on those other worlds because it might take a bit of time to terraform all the poisonous stuff.

So the idea of less people on this planet is an appealing one for me, or the idea of living somewhere where there are fewer people.  I should just get out of London, I know, but I can’t afford it.  I arrived here 32 years ago (the anniversary is almost upon me) and the moment I crossed the M25 in a crapshit coach, the clang of prison bars sounded in my ears and I’ve not since been able to escape.  Trouble with my body (i.e. pain) has increased my paranoia to almost unmanageable levels so that I never go anywhere if I can help it.  That I can’t afford to is the main problem.  I’ve not managed to crawl out of writers’ poverty and after 32 years, the hope that I will has become laced with increasing terror that I won’t.  So, for now, I’m stuck here.  I can’t get out.  I can’t stand to go out and escaping into my writing only works if I’m actually writing.  Which, as a self-published writer, isn’t as often as I like because I’m usually doing those other things that self-published writers wish an agent/publisher/publicist/editor/accountant/assistant/secretary would do instead.

On the hottest day in London this year, it reached 35 degrees C (that’s in the nineties.)  On a beach, this is fab.  In London, you have to add the heat of the sidewalk that glares in your face and bakes all day until your feet burn even through your sweaty sandal soles.  You also have to add the humidity because there’s no such thing as “dry heat” in London.  It’s not true that it rains all the time in London, not in central London anyway.  Anyone who thinks that hasn’t been paying attention.  Last year it didn’t rain for 8 months.  Christmas was hotter than the following Easter.  Just to make a point.  Anyway, on the hottest day, I had to catch a tube.  I NEVER catch tubes.  I NEVER go on the underground if I can help it.  The heat.  The people.  Did I mention the heat.  And the people.  Don’t forget the people.  At rush hour, around five in the afternoon, I was in Euston station snail-walking with seven million people all trying to get through one single turnstile (the others were broken, duh, of course, what, you think things WORK in London?), then snail-crawling down one single escalator (the other one was broken, see note about things working in London) until I was virtually sobbing with the fucking nightmare of it all.  Not only was I being crushed physically, I felt as if my very being was being squeezed into lava.  My blood was made of chilli (this would explain why I can’t eat it).  My brain was molten.  Sweat ran from more pores than I knew I had.  I was breathing sulphur.

There were no seats on the train (you think fit young men are going to get up for half-fainting middle-aged old bags?) and the BO was at peak levels.  Yes, I know, I’m whinging about something that many, many before me have whinged about.  Many, many have written of the horrors of catching a tube at peak hours in summer.  What no one seems to realise, though, is that THIS is the definition of a dystopia.  Because it’s not life.  It’s not living.  It’s not even surviving.  All those screens and tablets and iThings and eWotsits and games and apps and blah-blahs – they were all invented to distract from the dystopian nightmare.  That’s what they’re for.  That’s why technology hasn’t gone in the right direction.  That’s why we are still here, terrified of bombs and mad fuckers shooting us and the train getting stuck in a tunnel until you think you’re just going to FUCKING SCREAM AND SCREAM AND SCREAM BECAUSE IF YOU DON’T GET OUT YOU’RE DOING TO DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE.

So it’s a vicious circle.  In order to survive being squeezed together with too many other people, one has to be hypnotised by one’s gadget.  And the creation of such gadgets is stifling our desire to escape.  Because why would anyone WANT to live in a soup of sweat?

I’m perfectly aware that there are other nightmare scenarios on this planet.  War zones, for example.  Horrific poverty and starvation and torture.  I know I’m lucky to be living in a relatively free civilised city.  That’s not the point I’m making.  The point is that the future is here.  The dystopia has arrived.  There wasn’t A Big Bad Thing.  There was just more and more and more.  And now we’ve got too much of everything which is slowly crushing us without us realising.  The end isn’t going to come on an asteroid with our name on it (the terror in Terra), but a slow, gruesome, grinding, grubbing towards death, the rich getting richer and stupider, the poor getting eviller.  For every moment of happiness, there are a thousand more that aren’t.  For every soul trying to do some good, there are a hundred thousand who aren’t.  At those odds, it’s easy for hope to run out.  And I think it already has.  It’s just that no one has noticed because the dystopia that is called London – that is called Earth – has been decorated with shiny things to distract us from the doom in which we live.


Personally, I’d like to live in a cave in the mountains with hot and cold running electricity and a huge bear at the entrance to keep away the infestations of inhumanity.  Or anywhere else that’s cold and empty.  Pluto, maybe.



About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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