Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

By George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland et al. | Go to book overview

Big Brother Antichrist: Orwell, Apocalypse, and Overpopulation

W. M. S. Russell and Claire Russell

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, as everyone knows, George Orwell depicted Britain as part of an American national socialist state. He himself explicitly described the novel as a warning and not a prediction. "I do not believe," he wrote in 1949, "that the kind of society I describe will arrive, but I believe (allowing, of course, for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive" (his italics).1 He had earlier complained of people who tried to "spread the idea that totalitarianism is unavoidable, and that we must therefore do nothing to oppose it" (his italics).2

Orwell himself was well aware, however, that he was prone to apocalyptic feelings and visions, to seeing the future in terms of golden promise and/or fearful menace. His comments on Koestler in 1945 apply equally to himself.3 Koestler had described himself as a "short-term pessimist," and by implication a long-term optimist. Orwell commented that Koestler had no view of the future, or rather "two which cancel out"; but he himself clearly shared this combination of ultimate hopes and immediate forebodings. In 1946, he was writing with sympathy of the utopian dreams underlying democratic socialism,4 and during the blitz he viewed the scenes of destruction with an expectation of "immense changes," ultimately for the better.5 Sometimes hope and fear were exactly balanced. The hero of his novel Coming Up for Air foresees a future of totalitarian oppression and dictator worship. "It's all going to happen," he says. "Or isn't it? Some days I know it's impossible, other days I know it's inevitable."6 But the dark visions generally prevailed. In a poem written when he left Burma, he could conceive of blazing stars raining on the earth in the style of the Book of Revelation.7 In the early 1930s, he wrote of "the horrors that will be happening within

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