Dystopian fiction is all about the other—about a reality that is just similar enough to our own to be recognizable, and just twisted enough to be chilling. It is one of the most popular genres, giving readers a taste of danger and excitement from the safety of their daily lives.
Dystopian novels evoke images of barren cities, smashed cars abandoned in streets, and bands of hardened survivors fighting for their lives and freedoms. Each book is crammed with descriptions of brutal dictators lording over poverty-stricken revolutionaries or clinical societies full of holograms and drones. Every far-off, otherworldly storyline seems utterly impossible in the real world.
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But if 2020 and 2021 have proved anything, it’s how quickly the impossible can become the familiar, and the familiar can become the norm. With the overwhelming slew of unprecedented events crammed into the last couple of years, we’ve been primed to accept the next disaster as just another Friday.
From pandemics to extraterrestrial life, these seven dystopian-worthy phenomena are no longer confined to the fiction section of the library.
In a move seemingly straight out of the biblical play(gue) book, billions of cicadas are set to ascend out of the ground this summer across the United States. Brood X is the swarm of cicadas that emerges every 17 years to shed their skins, mate, and hatch eggs before they die. The eggs then shelter underground until their next mass migration.
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Brood X has the largest geographical range and the highest concentration of any of the 17-year cicadas, with appearances spanning across 15 states from New York to Tennessee. And if the sight of billions of cicadas tunneling out of your yard wasn’t scary enough for you, the males will be emitting their mating call at around 100 decibels—essentially a power lawn mower with wings.
Pentagon Confirmed UFO Sightings
It really says something about a year when the Pentagon releases videos of UFOs and it’s considered a slow news day. The Department of Defense released three videos captured by naval aviators of “unidentified aerial phenomena” that were previously published in 2017 and 2018. Experts cautioned that there are often familiar explanations behind such events, but several of the pilots involved have expressed doubts.
One pilot said that the objects moved in unexplainable ways, comparing them to ping pong balls and describing the incredible speed at which they appeared and disappeared. Luis Elizondo, the former head of a classified program at the Pentagon dedicated to studying such objects, also said he believed there was significant evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial life.
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The Pentagon itself has stated only that they wanted to confirm that the previously released videos were real, but the seemingly unexplainable footage has reignited the conversation surrounding the unknowns of space and life.
And speaking of weird space-related news… Storm Area 51 was also a thing that happened.
The takeover of artificial intelligence isn’t quite the Hal 9000 that past dystopian fiction predicted. Rather, it is the significantly more horrifying concept that one google search will leave you seeing ads for nice floral rugs until you die.
Algorithms are created to be able to evolve in their response based on how humans react and interact with material presented. Rather than being faced with an overt, power-hungry supercomputer, we’re subjected to tailored search results, confirmation bubbles, and personalized marketing.
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From the countless trials of Facebook officials to the FBI agent watching you memes, it is obvious that 1984-level surveillance is a little less dystopian fiction than we would like these days. At least we can all commiserate online about it.
2020 gave a whole new meaning to the call to “save the bees,” with the introduction of the ‘murder hornet’ to North America. The Asian giant hornet, or Vespa Mandarinia, is known for targeting honeybees by climbing into their hives and ripping their heads off.
One hornet will mark a potential target with pheromones that attracts other hornets to join the siege. Asian bees, who are familiar with this threat, can recognize and respond to the scent, swarming and even killing hornets who come into the hive. Bees in North America, who haven’t previously encountered these hornets, are wholly unprepared and vulnerable to attack.
The hornet’s vicious attack comes with an equally chilling name—the slaughter and occupation phase. The giant hornet can grow to nearly an inch and a half, with larger doses of venom and stingers that can pierce through the protective suits of beekeepers.
Even worse, the hornets can sting multiple times, and have been reported to kill up to 50 people in Japan per year.
Armed Rioters Storm the Capitol
In protest against the vote that would formally acknowledge President Biden’s victory, Trump supporters jumped police barriers, scaled the walls of the Capitol building, and stormed the session of congress taking place in Washington, D.C. Rioters attacked police officers, raided offices, and even erected a gallows amid the chaos. Pipe bombs were later found at both the DNC and RNC, as well as Molotov cocktails in vehicles near the Capitol.
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Lawmakers were evacuated as rioters breached the inner chambers and police called for backup. The vote continued and was finalized the next day with Vice President Pence announcing the results in favor of Biden.
The attack lead to over 140 injuries, five deaths, an historic second impeachment, and the banning of the former president from every major social media platform.
The Black Summer
Throughout 2019 and 2020, over 5.7 million hectares of Australian forests burned in massive bushfires. Amid record-breaking temperatures and drought, unprecedented fires burned 21% of Australia’s temperate broadleaved forest, displaced or killed nearly three billion animals, and destroyed more than 3,000 homes.
More than 15,000 fires ignited across every Australian state, killing at least 33 people and threatening several species with near extinction. Animals who survived the initial fires then struggled in an aftermath of predation and starvation.
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The same communities weakened by the fires were then hit again in massive flooding.
Following in the wake of the Black Summer, California suffered five of the 10 biggest fires in their history in a single season. Almost three million hectares of forest across the United States burned, spurred on by drought and rising temperatures.
In a fittingly apocalyptic manner, California also experienced ‘firenadoes,’ or fire whirls that are rotated by hot air and resemble a tornado made of fire.
The Misleadingly-Named Covid-19
The pandemic shot well past the few weeks it was initially predicted to pose a threat and into a year-long world-wide quarantine. The infectious virus closed down schools and businesses, overran hospitals, and killed over three million people worldwide. Hallways and walks around the neighborhood became horror movie-esque scenes of possible contact with the virus.
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Stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and social distancing requirements were unable to control the rapid spread of the virus, and hospitals ran out of equipment and space for the number of patients coming in.
Ironically, amid claims that the virus was a hoax and frenzied searches for a viable vaccine, dystopian fiction began to imitate reality with pandemic-themed shows, movies, and novels.
Featured photo: Michael Held / Unsplash