Mark Cantrell, Author

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BLOG: Time's Running Out To Avoid Dystopia

Posted by Mark Cantrell on July 18, 2015 at 1:20 PM

Frankie Boyle and the sell-by date dystopia

The point of dystopia is to challenge the now, writes MarkCantrell, but after years waiting for his novel Citizen Zero's now-time to arrive, along comes this...

THIS was quite a startling headline to encounter in my tweetstream the other day, what with being the author of a dystopian novel and all.


Frankie Boyle condemns George Osborne for cuts so inhumane dystopian science fiction 'now has to be set just 18 months in the future' 


Over the last few years, the headlines have come thick andfast, effectively presenting snapshots of my novel's backstory; or, as I've sometimes referred to it, the news and current affairs media have been writing the prequel for me.


There was a part of me that felt a little guilty, doing this; riding on the back of it all to plug my work, harvesting misfortunes and very real misery in an effort to flog a few books. But I couldn't – can't –help it. The news of welfare 'reforms' and widening inequalities, surveillance and threats to privacy, the political shenanigans around all these things, really do feed into the themes and tone inherent in Citizen Zero.


It's almost too terrifying to contemplate, sometimes; no doubt I've scared off more people than sold them on the novel, but each and every snippet of the living 'backstory' I've shared has certainly emphasised its contemporary resonance. So, the headline to Frankie Boyle's recent piece sent a bit of a shiver down my spine.


My novel, Citizen Zero, isn't set 18 months from now, but insome suitably imprecise near future. It's been set in some imprecise near future since I first began writing it in 1994, but it's only in the last five years that the novel has really come into its era, thanks to austerity and welfare 'reform'.


Citizen Zero is about the corruption of the welfare state –what we once called social security – that transforms it from a safety net to a system of social control. In the novel, it's become inextricably linked to the machinery of mass surveillance; a tool to subordinate the populace to the authority of a draconian government intent on protecting a divided and unequal society.


The novel deals with issues of inequality and social justice, security and liberty, democracy and authority, in the context of a terrifying science fiction thriller. Of course, it all goes wrong – with devastating consequences. The novel makes no apologies – and pulls no punches – when it comes to the fate awaiting societies that abandon their future to the whims o fwealth and political ambition.


Society, in this story, has come to be based on grotesque social inequality and the erosion of human rights and civil liberties, but it maintains the façade of a democratic and prosperous consumer society.


Truth is, it's anything but. Britain is a dictatorship, controlled by the sophisticated application of surveillance technology, backed up by the more traditional brute force human element. It's justified on the grounds of protecting citizens from crime, terror, and from the poor, especially a destitute underclass known as 'zeroes'.


It's a society born out of today's austerity and inequality, built to defend itself against the dire social consequences of poverty and destitution on a mass scale, but equally one that can only exist by cultivating such extreme levels of social inequality.


At the core of it is a notion I had way back when: that theSocial Security system, or welfare as we call it today, has a powerful role toplay in monitoring and controlling society – not just those out of work but allof us.


We all know that the CCTV camera is the emblem of the surveillance state, along with a host of technologies that have  since come into being, but suitably reformed, the welfare system itself is an essential part of the surveillance state's social control function.


That idea at the heart of Citizen Zero is that the welfare system completes the 'panoptican' keeping us firmly corralled under state control. Reform is changing social security from a safety net for citizens intoa punitive open gulag created to contain and exclude outcasts.


And it's ready and waiting to claim any one of us.


I'll hold my hand up and admit that in many ways now, Citizen Zero is a dated book – well, as I said, it was written in the 1990s –but these days the Government seems intent in ushering in its era.


Personally, I'm more than happy to wait for my vision of a dystopian future to arrive. I'd quite like it to remain forever in some vague near-future time. I'd hate for it to become anybody's present. It was only ever meant to be fiction.

Citizen Zero was originally self-published by the author in2010 as a Kindle ebook. Publisher Inspired Quill has since picked it up and is preparing for an exciting new release coming in 2016 – including its paperback début. So watch this space – and be prepared. Dystopia is coming...


Mark Cantrell,


15 July 2015


Copyright © July 2015. All Rights Reserved.


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