Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Seven!
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When I came up with this "futuristic" theme for January, I knew I didn't want to write about one very famous future-set novel. To do that, I would have to reread it; and to reread it would be to discover that it had, once again, become a very different book from what I remembered. It always does that, and it drives me crazy--for it does not change randomly, but changes as I change. (Kind of like, you know, the future.)
But as my deadline loomed, I realised I had no other choice. Of all the future-set novels I owned, this was the only one that still screamed to me from the shelf. My own personal Horror fantasy. So yeah, I read parts of it again . . . and yeah, it had changed again . . . and oh, yeah, I'm paranoid again. Just as the author intended . . .
You can guess what it is now, right? =P
by George Orwell
. . . He made an apologetic gesture with his soft-palmed hand. "You see how it is; an empty shop, you might say. Between you and me, the antique trade's about finished. No demand any longer, and no stock either. Furniture, china, glass--it's all been broken up by degrees. And of course the metal stuff's mostly been melted down. I haven't seen a brass candlestick in years."
The tiny interior of the shop was, in fact, uncomfortably full, but there was almost nothing in it of the slightest value . . . Only on a small table on the corner was there a little of odds and ends . . . which looked as though they might include something interesting . . .
I've already done a "time capsule" setting for this challenge--a place in which the past, which happens to be the author's present, lives on in the future: The Palace of Green Porcelain in H.G. Wells' Time Machine. (See Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Five!) And now I wonder whether there is such a setting in every future-set fantasy, since it stirs the imagination so soulfully.
Mr. Charrington's shop initially attracts the tortured Winston Smith because it contains so many relics of a past that Winston has started to suspect have been erased and rewritten into oblivion. All its junk are like ripped pages from books in a language he cannot read, but which he continues to treasure for their silent testimony about a library he has never seen.
But it is after Mr. Charrington shows Winston a little-used upstairs room with no mandatory telescreen (!!!) that this setting become significant to Winston for a richer reason. For while the shop itself has nothing for him but the dry husks and bones of the past, the room is a place where the past can come alive again in the present--or to be more accurate, a place where the more things change, the more they stay the same (which is the first lesson of all history). And if it weren't for "Worlds of Tomorrow": The Movie Edition having been scheduled for next week, this would be the perfect bridge between future settings and the Romantic Rendezvous Challenge of next month, because it is where Winston arranges to meet his secret lover.
Now that they had a secure hiding place, almost a home, it did even seem a hardship that they could only meet infrequently and for a few hours at a time. What mattered was that the room over the junk shop should exist. To know that it was there, inviolate, was almost the same as being in it. The room was a world, a pocket of the past where extinct animals could walk.
I love Orwell's lyricism in the last line; he makes us forget that the room is probably filthy, the bed definitely full of bugs. As he has made the junk shop stand in for the past, he makes its upstairs room another Garden of Eden, where Winston and Julia can be another Adam and Eve. Not dead or extinct, after all--although certainly endangered. And not in love as much as desperate for something of their own, out of the Party's knowledge and control. Just like our first parents, they really seem to think they can conceal something from their own "Big Brother". As if they weren't warned that he is always watching.
So I hope you aren't expecting a Happily Ever After for these two.
A future without privacy, without intimacy, and without the romance for which these are water and sunlight, is a future in which lovers are, to paraphrase Winston himself, nothing but "rebels from the waist down."
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This Week's Other Locus:
Christopher Moore's Wine Country @ What Kate Reads
Image Source: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell