If you are in the global north and want to migrate to a fictional dystopia, then you have lost your grip on reality but also, more worryingly, may have expat colonial/oligarch aspirations: your only possible reason for wanting to move could be to reinforce that dystopia’s ruling elite. This advisory is not for you.
If you’re in the global south and being forced to migrate by your regional totalitarian/oligarch combination, war, invasion, climate catastrophe, or by economic/social devastation caused by that heady mix of corruption, tech/financial upheavals, the pandemic, failed institutions and systems, or the looming prospect of genocide or apartheid being forced on you by an evil regime and their relentless bigotry, please understand we don’t mean to trivialise your plight. In the extremely unlikely chance you are reading this while seeking shelter in hostile lands whose rulers might be at least indirectly responsible for your trauma in the first place: we are sorry.
But. If you’re in a global south region (the definitions are complicated, we know: there are global-south pockets geographically located in the heart of the global north) but you have enough privilege to survive, to not be faced with immediate violence, to not be under immense threat if you obey the ever-shifting rules of the society you’re in… AND if you have spent much of the pandemic lockdown with a roof over your head and food on your table and an internet connection, constantly looking at countries that at least pretend to be better than yours, places where it looks like there are education, social or economic opportunities you don’t have, or governments/oligarchs that say sensible, human-friendly things from time to time that aren’t outrageous lies, and look relatively less chaotic than your local set, or maybe just places where basic systems work, or which aren’t overheated, flooding, mega-polluted and volatile, places you’d never thought of moving to but which just seem safer, and wondering whether you had the stamina and resources to make a switch, and looking at the people you’d have to leave… AND if doomscrolling, multi-directional propaganda, constant history-rewriting or outright fascist reality-distortion have seeped into your life enough to render you unable to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and lie…
Then why not consider moving to a fictional dystopia? Let’s look at some of our most popular destinations and ask ourselves: Are they really all that bad?
Consider: London (A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess)
Feral youths getting high and murdering people at night is of course something that is locally familiar to you. But the idea that a law enforcement system exists that would actually punish said youths, even if they were privileged, makes this worth keeping on your lists. But remember that just as such incidents in your own country do not have the influencer clout to become world news, law enforcement available to privileged citizens in this world would probably behave very differently when the people being attacked by drug-crazed gangs are immigrants. You already know how to stay indoors and out of sight: just find a neighbourhood with no history of droog activity. Move if you like: it might turn out ok.
Avoid: Britain (The Wall, John Lanchester)
There’s nothing behind the wall worth moving to: unnecessary to build it in the first place.
Hard avoid: England (The Children of Men, PD James)
They make indentured servants out of immigrants, even though there’s a fertility crisis and they need people desperately to rescue their nation. Is it clear exactly who they consider human, and if you have children, are they safe? Best to wait for their society to collapse entirely, and consider moving a few years later after other people do the hard work of civilizing it.
Avoid for now: Gilead (The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood)
A brutal religious-fundamentalist state that has seized control over women’s bodies in a fertility crisis? Very plausible anywhere. Chances are this describes at least part of your own society. You’ve probably already seen at least one time when the slow progress of generations has just disappeared in years, or even months. This is a place you escape, not move to, no matter how nice the weather is. Unofficially, we must also point out that there is a resistance in play: perhaps you would prefer to move somewhere that would let you help them effect regime change, or wait until the violence ends? A lot of dystopia is about timing, and all regimes fall.
Recommended: North America (Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel)
Congratulations on being a one-percenter! There’s plenty of room for everyone now, and you already have experience in dealing with scary cults.
Hard avoid: the U.S. (American War, Omar El Akkad)
America treating itself like it treated other countries plus a plague plus domestic terrorists? Do not go to there.
Avoid: the U.S. (Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler)
It might feel too much like home, and the new religion will go the way of the old ones.
Highly Recommended: the World State (Brave New World, Aldous Huxley)
Our most sought after immigration destination. We’re not sure why this is called a dystopia. Augmented, blissed-out, well-fed citizenry. Advanced tech. Excellent drugs. Sure, they’ll see you as savages — but some people would have anyway. Even the outsiders, the ones doing old-school births and deaths, seem to have a decent life. Sure, social roles are enforced, but that’s not new to you, and you already come pre-trained in escaping caste roles or accepting them. Techno-utopian spiel can’t fool you either: all we’re seeing here is a better life for you at most tiers of this society.
Similarly, an Easy Recommend: Oklahoma City (Ready Player One, Ernest Cline)
Totally manageable, not even challenging, if you find a low-racism neighbourhood. Enjoy gaming!
Conditionally Recommended: Panem (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins)
For more of a challenge, and with World-State-esque faction/clique management requirements, we have a series of Conditionally Recommended ratings.
There’s only one question really. Which district? If it’s the Capitol or one of the fancy ones, this is a great place to migrate to! Just try and time your annual holiday to be during the finale of the whole annual teen murder reality show thing.
If it’s not a posh district, we’re assuming that it’s still better than where you live now — or is it? Watch out for false advertising. If you go anyway, just make the best of it, and try not to excel at anything athletic. Ensure that they’re not letting you migrate just to force you to be some sort of angsty gladiator. Similar ratings apply to similar dystopias like Chicago (Divergent, Veronica Roth), Mars (Red Rising, Pierce Brown), Uglyville (Uglies, Scott Westerfield) and the Glade (The Maze Runner, James Dashner).
Essentially, remember that arbitrary castes mean nothing: as long as there are good people in the world, you will find solidarity, support and shelter at the borders between social divisions. But in any of the options in this dystopia cluster, we must caution you to turn away if your Protagonist Quotient is high. You need to stay out of inter-faction drama, never be see near the edgy, stylish “outsider” types. Don’t be a token diverse member of anything. Avoid death battles. Avoid pretending to be shocked by very familiar or moderate social problems just because your local friends are very naive and dramatic. Just avoid drawing attention to yourself in any way, and you’ll do just fine.
Cautious Recommend: the U.S. (Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury)
You’ve always known that only privileged sections of society even in privileged countries ever had anything close to freedom of speech or even thought. You are probably no stranger to censorship. You’re no stranger to distraction or shallowness either: they have value too. Your history has definitely been rewritten a few times: if you know the names of your great-grandparents, you’re probably quite wealthy. You’ve seen book-burning regimes, and attempts at thought control. You’ve seen propaganda backed by infinite resources, thoughtcrime disappearances, ideological prisoners. You’ve seen censorship official, unofficial, social, physical, online, corporate, clique-based, community-based, familial, legal, illegal. You know how to hold on to some stories even if they burn all the books and ban all the words. You know how to code-switch. You know multiple languages. You know that good ideas cannot die. You’ll survive this one, and pass on every story you need to. Move if it makes your life easier.
Premium-Service-Enabled Recommend: High Concept dystopian location (Animal Farm, George Orwell), (Westworld, Michael Crichton), an island (Lord of The Flies, William Golding), New York (Minority Report, Philip K. Dick)
Sorry to upsell you here, but we have an agency that can handle specific immigration-related tasks for a small fee. We are not allowed to discuss specifics, but let’s just say we have no problem chasing away pesky kids, or frying bacon. In some cases, though, a great life is attainable through easy abstinence: have you considered, for example, not going to a crazy robot themepark, or not doing crimes?
Big Recommend: California (The Circle, Dave Eggers)
Please. People from your world have been fighting one another to get into places like this since they began. This isn’t dystopia, it’s a dream. You’re not scared by an anti-privacy corporatocracy. You’ve been living in one for years, and there was no recreation area in it. A more Cautious Recommend is America (Jennifer Government, Max Barry) which has probably already corporate-colonised your country in its world. This world isn’t an easy one, but you’re already used to government as distraction, prepaid medical services, private takeovers of public utilities and oligarchs running riot. At least you’ll have legal drugs. You’ll get by.
Reasonable Recommend: One State (We, Yevgeny Zamyatin)
Glimmering glass panopticon dwellings, emotionless humans, numbers everywhere. A logic-based society. Sounds pretty good to us! Like a nice meditation retreat. Society-mandated procreative pairing is always a lottery but after the chaos you’ve been surrounded by, is One State really that bad? It won’t last, anyway, but while it’s around you might really love it! It’s also one of the definitive dystopian societies, so we’d recommend it above the broadly similar Community (The Giver, Lois Lowry)
Cautious Avoid: Airstrip One, Oceania (1984, George Orwell)
It’s hard to believe that any oppressive regime could be worse than the one currently collecting surveillance reports about you, but in this case it might be true. This is the Big Brother of the whole genre, the dystopian enthusiast’s classic dystopia. In Orwell’s world, you are probably already in a totalitarian nightmare wherever you are, except in a part of the world where you could be casually mass-murdered just to make a point. We’re not so concerned about your ability to handle this conceptually: doublethink or newspeak or hate-minutes or huge personal betrayals are nothing new for you, you’ve been juggling multiple realities all your life. But why do you want to move to the evil empire’s nerve centre? But do consider: are people of your race or gender or sexuality likely to do well under Big Brother’s eye? And why would they possibly allow you to immigrate, unless there is a plan for you so sinister that you can’t even imagine it yet? Maybe we’re overthinking it, and there are just some jobs they have that their local elite find difficult, or boring. But we’ve spent some together now, and we like you, so… don’t do it. Nope nope nope.
However bad things are, no place is a dystopia if you live in it: not if you keep hope alive. Any society can look like a dystopia from far enough away, but we’re confident that if you lived there, you might just think of it as home, and find hope in the people in it with you, or yourself, or the ideas and stories you carry inside you. That you even have the energy to read this advisory indicates there’s still embers of hope left within you: that you haven’t been distracted or manipulated or surveilled into submission. What dystopia could really scare someone who even has the fortitude to contemplate the bureaucratic nightmare of an immigration process? Take it from us: wherever you go, wherever you stay, you’re going to be all right.
The City Inside by Samit Basu is available now from TorDotCom.
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