I read and review most genres on Linda’s Book Bag, but I’m not so keen on dystopian fiction. When I found eminent social scientist Peter Taylor-Gooby had written a dystopian novel, The Baby Auction, after literally hundreds of papers and non-fiction books I just had to ask him why he has chosen this particular genre. Luckily he agreed to explain.
The Baby Auction was published by The Conrad Press in paperback and ebook on 15th July 2016 and is available for purchase from The Conrad Press (post free), Amazon, Google Books and all good booksellers.
The Baby Auction
Auctioning babies makes sense, at least that’s what Market World thinks. After all the baby goes to someone who can give them a good start in life, and the parents get a return for their pain and trouble.
For Ed and Matt, the Baby Auction sums up everything that’s wrong with a society based on profit. Then one day Matt rescues a drowning child and they face the question: can love and compassion overcome the harsh laws of Market World?
Why I Write Dystopian Fiction
A Guest Post by Peter Taylor-Gooby
I write dystopian fiction, set in imaginary (and generally depressing worlds) for two reasons: first, I’m a social scientist in my day job, an expert on the welfare state, and what’s happening there is pretty depressing much of the time. Dystopias offer me the chance to experiment, to think ‘what if…?’ For example, what if we could clone people and we had a society without parenting? What if life-expectancy was reduced to 35 by pollution and general disaster? What if internet surveillance meant that big business knew more about our desires and fears than we did ourselves? and so on.
That’s all great fun and not all dystopias are necessarily bad, they’re just different. The second reason why I write about them, and far away the most important one, is that dystopian fiction allows me to address something that’s missing in my work, something that is (I believe) a real problem for social science.
I study society. Society is made up of people and people do what they do and live their lives through emotions as well as reason. Feelings, passions, dread, trust dominate our lives. Social science is pretty good at dealing with reason but not so good at understanding our feelings. Economists believed they understood how markets work – then there was a market panic, compounded by mistrust and we had the Great Recession of 2007-8, the biggest economic fact of our time.
Sociologists and political scientists were convinced that the right and rational answer to the EU referendum was to stay in the EU. They (we) failed to take seriously the fears about the impact of immigration and the distrust of Brussels law-making that drove Brexit, the biggest political fact of our time.
Social science will always get it wrong if it doesn’t find ways of dealing with the feelings, the passions and fears that dominate how people behave. That’s the big reason I write dystopian fiction, to face up to the challenge of creating real believable, characters and seeing how they might plausibly behave in a particular kind of imaginary world.
One of the things I find most pleasurable, engrossing and frustrating in writing is the way that characters, once created and established suddenly say and do things that I certainly don’t expect. One model of the novelist is of a creator, controlling the puppets she has willed into being. Balzac apparently had the plot structure of all 137 works in La Comédie Humaine mapped out in advance.
I can only comment ‘Wow!’ For me, it’s never like that. All my plans for the lives of these people I’ve thought about for hours and feel I know intimately, continually fall apart (a bit like bringing up children). They want to do something I didn’t expect, or a bit player becomes pivotal, or an interaction I expected to be resolved suddenly turns into conflict. Everything has to be replanned – but that’s the point. The author does not control their characters. Writing is among other things about discovery, discovery about oneself and the limitations of one’s own ideas, and also about other people and what they do and might do.
That is the real reason for writing dystopia. In The Baby Auction the imaginary world is run on strict market lines: everyone is equal, no discrimination of grounds or sex, age, religion, ethnicity, only on what you can pay for; only fair bargains: no slavery, no exploitation, but no compassion, no charity; every bargain driven by self-interest and the principle of buyer beware: you always get what you pay for, but no trust, no empathy and ultimately no love.
The market is increasingly important in our world. I wanted to see what it meant to take current trends to extremes, what it might mean if two people fell in love in such a world. Pretty soon things moved on beyond what I’d planned and the novel is ultimately about trust and self-sacrifice and the shortcomings of fairness and about people and how surprising they are – and I really enjoyed writing it.
P.S. I don’t always write dystopian fiction. My next novel Ardent Justice, is a thriller set in the world of tax fraud and currency laundering, the dark underside of the City of London.
About Peter Taylor-Gooby
When he’s not writing Peter enjoys hill-walking, riding his bike, holidays and looking after his grand-daughter (not in that order). Peter became interested in social policy issues after working on adventure playgrounds, teaching, claiming benefits and working in a social security office in Newcastle. He has worked in the UK, most European countries, Canada, the US, China, Korea and Japan, Australia and South Africa.
You can follow Peter on Twitter.