One of the inspirations for my upcoming novella The Pilgrim’s Digress was the realization that the time of the dystopian genre in the West has come to an end for now.

These cautionary tales were a way for writers to preserve and protect an existing healthy society and culture by warning its people what could happen in the future if certain things were allowed or permitted. Fahrenheit 451 highlighted government censorship and repression of healthy human emotions, while Brave New World examined government promotion of sexual promiscuity and mass drug use to control a population. As Big Brother, the State in 1984 uses mass surveillance, torture, doublespeak, and Newspeak to maintain power.

But now there’s really no more “ifs” and “coulds” left to ponder. We’re living the Orwellian nightmare. Since those novels were published, the West has undergone mass changes due to the sexual revolution, multiple waves of feminism, egalitarianism, multiculturalism, birth control, the Internet, the smartphone, social media, not to mention an ever-growing deep state.

I first sensed this reality back in 2013 when I was working on my novel The Stringers, depicting a world where reporters are the new bootleggers. Before I was finished, I had to redo much of the story due to Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance. The horrible future I planned to depict had already come. The challenge was then how to one-up the existing government’s behavior.

It’s a problem I’ve struggled with ever since while trying to craft additional dystopian stories. It’s hard for a writer today to create a world with problems even greater than those in the West without coming off as absurd, because the present clown world is already full of absurdities.

The things you see and hear every day are freakier and more bizarre than anything Huxley and Orwell could have imagined. Truth isn’t stranger than fiction; it is far more grotesque and degenerate. The problem is that the dystopian genre is fundamentally a futuristic genre. One might mistake it to include the popular Hunger Games series, but from my view the books were more like Planet of the Apes or even the 2019 Joker film: a story set in a different time period that examines existing problems in the now rather than what might be.

There’s a reason why dystopian books aren’t set in Russia. The genre makes no sense where writers had plenty of real-life material to work from at pretty much any point in its history. Russian-born American author Ayn Rand’s first and only readable novel We the Living isn’t dystopian, because it depicts the Soviet Union as it already existed, whereas her 1957 tome Atlas Shrugged is dystopian by featuring a future U.S. that has succumbed to the same ideology.

Even in instances where a writer today can pull off a plausible story by limiting it to one minor issue, by the time you finish writing it, chances are the idea has entered mainstream culture and society.

The only type of dystopian genre that works anymore must come from a secular leftist or feminist perspective, a la The Handmaid’s Tale and V for Vendetta, because only they can show a potential future nightmarish (in their mind) world that is also completely different than the one that exists today. The only other story route is to look just a little bit ahead at where things will be, but the problem with that is the dystopian book seeks to preserve what is against possible change. What if in the eyes of the writer, and the reader, the present is the nightmare that needs to go?

A genre’s relevance is dependent on the era. Dystopian books have no appeal to an up-and-coming generation of young Millennial and GenZ readers ignorant of what it’s like to live in a sane, functioning society. They only know of a broken, unnatural life fraught with drug addiction, prison-like school buildings, and identity politics. The novel Ready Player One attempted to address the miseries of modern life, albeit in the future, and while I enjoyed the film version, it avoided tackling the underlying problem that virtual reality, via the Oasis, allowed people to escape.

Replacing the genre moving forward is the anti-dystopian genre, centered around a question more than a few people are wondering: what comes after the dystopia falls?

The Pilgrim’s Digress tries to answer that in its own way.