“I don’t think people are inherently evil or selfish,” she said. “We just seem to have a hard-wired stubbornness for rationalizing our own beliefs and behaviors.”
By far, one of my favorite genres is dystopian fiction, and I’m certainly not alone. Few genres are more effective at exploring and extrapolating contemporary issues in hopes of steering society away from impending disasters. Just as political and environmental anxieties have ebbed and flowed over the last century and a half, so too has dystopian fiction’s popularity, almost as if meeting the moments that define it.
So, where am I getting at with all this?
Well, I just read Rules of Order by Jeff Vande Zande, and I was blown away. Brilliantly written, hauntingly atmospheric, and highly entertaining: this is top-notch dystopian fiction that is both reverential of the classics and also fresh and inventive.
Rules of Order is the near-future story of Harvey Crowe, a man who lives within a massive life-sustaining high-rise that, through generations of gross incompetence and exploitative greed, has been pushed well beyond its limits. Outside the tower is an uninhabitable wasteland where nobody can survive. But inside is a toxic class system that has allowed the wealthy elite to lord over the desperately poor. A complete structural collapse is inevitable, but getting both the rich and poor to believe in the severity of the looming danger, let alone agree on solutions, is proving impossible.
Crowe is a member of a group of activists desperate to do something to save the building, but as their peaceful efforts to educate and inform the public are met with cold, arrogant indifference, a more militant faction threatens outright violence in the face of the impending collapse. Crowe finds himself the only one who can bridge the literal fissures tearing the building apart. On the one hand, he can influence the group’s de facto leader, keeping her level-headed and calm. And on the other, he has the ability to convince a handful of wealthy socialites on the upper floors to become allies of their cause. But with the building set to fall at any moment, can he find the inner conviction to pull things together before it’s too late?
“Something is happening,” she said. “To feel like you’re that much of a threat… to attack you like that? They are scared. Our message must be reaching some important people.”
If you couldn’t guess, this is an allegory about climate change. And Vande Zande absolutely nails it. I’ve been a fan of this author for a while now, and I especially enjoyed Parable of Weeds, his previous foray into dystopian fiction (which I highly recommend reading as well — available here.)
A self-contained setting like this is a classic trope of the genre — we’ve seen it before in J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise and most recently in Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer. But it’s cool to see Vande Zande craft such a perfect stage to play out this story; it’s the ideal pressure cooker to explore these themes and highlight just how interconnected our society really is, whether we want to accept that or not.
But what I really applaud about Rules of Order is that, yes, Vande Zande has made a statement about climate change — one that resonates with you; we are, after all, rushing arrogantly toward our own demise — but he’s also presented solutions applicable in the real world. And that’s admirable, even if they are as simple as teaching critical thinking skills to children (this isn’t presented as a magic-wand fix to the story’s imminent disaster nor our real world’s climate crisis, but instead, as a way of educating people to understand the problem and collectively come up with solutions.) In the genre, you don’t often see something like this on the periphery of the main story. It’s something that could be just as easily omitted — the story would be just as engaging and entertaining — but the fact that it’s there tucked away like a little seed for the reader to take and plant on their own — again, I applaud this. As fatalistic as I like my dystopian fiction, that’s a perfect touch of optimism.
“Whatever our circumstances, whatever our skills, whatever our wealth, we all deserve at least a modicum of dignity.” He looked out at the faces that seemed to be paying attention. “And dignity is something we feel in ourselves, but receive from others.”
Rules of Order (Montag Press, 2022) is available to purchase here. You should absolutely check it out. It’s a fast read, full of vivid descriptions, memorable characters, rich dialogue, and strong world-building. And be sure to check out Jeff Vande Zande’s blog. There you can find news and reviews, as well as his musings on various topics! You can also find him on Twitter at @jcvandez – thanks for reading, folks!