17 August 2014

Redrawing the Utopia-Dystopia Roadmap

According to the historian of political ideas, Gregory Claeys, utopias and dystopias lie at opposite ends of a spectrum of human possibilities. Utopias represent the hope for a communitarian coming together of mutually caring people, happy to share equitably, and willing to make sacrifices if called upon to protect the common good. By contrast, dystopias embody the horrors of a fractured society, wherein some have come to wield unchallengeable power over others, and individuals are left in a state of fear, distrust and isolation.

Although conventional thinking treats ‘utopias’ and ‘dystopias’ primarily as genres in fiction, Claeys connects this pair of concepts to the wider activities of political advocacy and social experimentation. This insight shows that attempts to build utopias and guard against dystopias should be considered not simply in terms of appeals to our imagination through storytelling, but also of appeals to our reason through political theory, and appeals to our concerns with improving our lives through new social practice.

The function of utopian advocacy is therefore about guiding people towards a far more communitarian form of human association, utilising a combination of political arguments to set out why it would be preferable to organise for solidarity and democratic cooperation; community practices to demonstrate how alternative social arrangements can work; and fictional drama to rouse interest in the better future that we can yet build.

This can be supplemented by dystopian warning in the form of: political critiques to challenge both the complacency that allows power inequalities to corrode social bonds, and the dangers of pseudo-utopian revolutions that would bring about even worse oppression; community protest to confront misguided reforms that seek to dismantle shared protection; and dark tales to expose the nightmare that may be in store for us unless we join forces to avert it.

Historically, with the exception of the likes of Francis Bacon, William Godwin, and H. G. Wells, few advocates have attempted to use all three approaches to map out the path for society to follow. But some of us have tried to do precisely that more recently, because if those promoting the communitarian ideal in literature, political theory and practical reform are theoretically aligned and strategically united, they stand a much greater chance of success.

Contemporary advocates for a more communitarian form of society may, therefore, want to consider drawing on the political formulation of Communitarianism, the community empowerment practices promoted under the banner of Together We Can, and the dystopian novels Kuan’s Wonderland and Whitehall through the Looking Glass, to present a joined-up set of directions to show where we need to get to, how we can move forward in practice, and why staying where we are is not an option.

13 August 2014

Waking Up to Dystopian Inequalities

In blockbuster drama, our dystopian future is full of cataclysmic horrors and explosions. But what is horrifying is that behind the scene, without a sound, the absolute rule of corporate superpowers is virtually upon us. The chasm between those who can dictate terms to everyone else and the rest of us is so vast that many have given up hope of ever closing it. Yet that is precisely why we must sound the alarm in ever more distinct ways to capture public attention.

Kuan’s Wonderland uses allegory and sci-fi to show up the kind of life people have to endure when inequalities tear the fabric of mutual respect to shreds.

According to Kate Pickett (Director, Equality Trust, & co-author of The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better), “Kuan’s Wonderland is a didactic novel that doesn’t hesitate to entertain the reader. It shows that political theorists can engage a wider public with an imaginative medium such as popular fiction without losing intellectual force. The Equality Trust welcomes this opportunity to work with Henry Tam with the publication of the learning resource for his novel as part of our Young Person’s Guide to Inequality.”

To find out more about why Kuan’s Wonderland is recommended reading to get people thinking anew about what inequalities can do – click here.

11 August 2014

When Plato Met Potter

Political philosophers have come up with some very radical interpretations of the world, yet in trying to change our perception of it, they keep writing fairly traditional books. But if the battle of ideas is really going to stir our imagination, why not try to light the infamous ‘cave of ignorance’ with the wand of popular fiction?

With my novel, Kuan’s Wonderland, I decided to splice the DNA of a political philosophy I developed into a gripping sci-fi fantasy adventure. …

Read the rest of the ‘When Plato Met Potter’ article on BookBrunch

05 August 2014

Readers’ Feedback: Whitehall through the Looking Glass

The following extracts are taken from Customer Reviews posted on the ‘Whitehall through the Looking Glass’ page on Amazon:

Great fun for politicos and sci-fi fans
“I was sufficiently enthralled by Whitehall through the Looking Glass that I read it cover to cover (pixel to pixel, perhaps) in a single day - ironically, a day off on a business trip to the former people's paradise of Sweden. What a lot of fun. Science fiction in something of the style of the early Asimov, combined with a biting satire on neoliberal trends in the post Cold War West. Much of this fiction (sadly the politics as much as the technology) is likely to become fact sooner than we imagine.”
By ‘Con Grano Salis’ (5 out of 5)

Amusing yet very disturbing sci fiction
“A disturbing story depicting the state of our world in the not so distant future - a plethora of political characters many with extreme and selfish views. The poor getting poorer; the rich horrifyingly rich and powerful, - the painting of a desperate world on the edge of extinction. But regardless of all this I found myself chuckling at the book's events and people - people, who rang a bell somewhere in the back of my mind - people one had read about or personally come across in work situations - how horribly familiar it all seemed!!! A fascinating read.”
By ‘G. Samuel’ (4 out of 5)

A masterpiece! Best book of the century so far!
Whitehall Through the Looking Glass is a political sci-fi thriller with a fantastic storyline. It is a real page turner! Tam writes with both intelligence and wit, engaging the reader, and forcing them to look past the minutiae of life and into the very mechanisms that control our everyday existence. It is one of those rare novels that has the power to change the way you think, and I would be very surprised if it doesn't win many awards! Thoroughly recommended!”
By ‘Caroline’ (5 out of 5)

A page-turner with purpose
“Henry Tam has done something that's very hard to pull-off. He's written a real page-turner, a novel that is easy to read and full of invention, twists and unexpected turns. But he's also provided an insight into modern government - the craziness of a civil service which is committed to serving the public, but which simply serves the interests of the powerful. Although the novel is set in the future it can be read as a very exact account of how power really works in modern Britain.”
By ‘Dr. J. Duffy’ (5 out of 5)

Cracking good read
‘Cracking good read’ 5 Stars (28 April 2014) By YakinaMac
“Full of Machiavellian characters and dark humour, with a great twist in the tail. Anyone who's worked in Whitehall will find much to smile at in this sharply observed novel.”
By ‘YakinaMac’ (5 out of 5)

Too True
“A deliciously funny book which moves at great speed as the government promotes privatisation and begins to hand over to the all-powerful Consortium. Once you’ve read this, you will listen to the news with fear as you hear echoes of the early moves of the Consortium and how they are preparing to get control of the UK now. As only an ex-insider could do, it exposes with merciless humour the vanity and ambition of the top politicians and their civil servants. It shows just how high they have to jump to please and the terrifying world that emerges, with a disappearing state, no longer willing to provide protection against poverty and vulnerability. All of this against a backdrop where privatisation becomes complete and control of the people is almost successful. With an Orwellian touch, it is full of vision for what can happen if we stop caring about how to share power fairly. This is a call to action to reclaim a fair and positive government of those who still care and take it from those who don't.”
By ‘freedom22’ (5 out of 5)

Disturbingly brilliant
“A great read - engaging characters written by someone who's obviously had first hand experience of the political world. Definitely didn't see the final twist coming!”
By ‘pageturner’ (5 out of 5)

04 August 2014

Readers’ Feedback: Kuan’s Wonderland

The following extracts are taken from Customer Reviews posted on the 'Kuan's Wonderland' page on Amazon:

“This book is not what I expected, it’s fast pace and adventurous. Thinking I would be reading something of a dystopia fantasy novel, which I must say this has many elements of, it’s also has a good mix of fantasy in there but with thought provoking reflections on society. The only thing I think you could compare it too would be the 'His dark materials' series be Philip Pullman.”
By ‘robert a segrott’ (5 out of 5)

Wonderland Indeed
“I can't remember the last time I was so gripped by a book. It kept me up late three nights in a row while I finished it. Indeed I contemplated abandoning work for a day just so I could find out what happened next. It's a very seductive read - you don't have to suspend your disbelief for very long before you're a part of its world. And the main characters are so carefully drawn that you engage with them immediately, so you want to find out what happens to them.

It's clever without being clever-clever. It covers a range of emotions without being melodramatic. It's by turns funny, moving and frightening. And the end, and the book's message, are very powerful. (The message is lightly delivered though - this isn't a tub-thumper.) … The fact of the matter is I don't know another book like it. I don't think it has a "kind". Get reading. You won't regret it.”
By ‘A.J. Marks’ (4 out of 5)

A Good Mystery
“I'm always on the look out for a good mystery and this fits the bill. I enjoyed not knowing what was coming next and the way it all came together in the last few chapters was something else. Not sure it fits into the usual fantasy genre, it's totally unique.”
By ‘Pete7Reviews’ (5 out of 5)

Beautifully Descriptive
“This book is beautifully written and paints the surreal landscape with vivid imagery. A page turner which left me thinking... You can't get better than that!”
By ‘GazzaBee’ (5 out of 5)

A political allegory with overtones of Vonnegut and undertones of Kafka
“I was 16 when I first read 1984. I loved it. As I grew older, each time I re-read Orwell's book, I saw a story that was subtly altered. I drew different comparisons, based on the way my life was changing, and my new experiences. Although Kuan's Wonderland has a less straightforward narrative arc than 1984, it's the same kind of book: there are so many layers of meaning, intertextuality, and interwoven themes, that a reader will be able to return again and again, and see fresh details each time. As soon as I'd finished Tam's novel, I had a huge urge to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Although this book may on cursory inspection seem like a science fiction novel, it's a lot more than that. Even if you don't usually like the genre, if you're interested in society and politics, you're likely to be hooked right up until the end.”
By ‘Helen M’ (4 out of 5)

Great Book
“Tam has created an extraordinary world and a story line which makes the book a delight to read. The plot is full of action and constant surprise. But more than that, there is a depth to the book and a clear moral and political challenge for each of us to consider. In short a very enjoyable, stimulating and worthwhile read.”
By ‘Anton’ (5 out of 5)

A many layered masterpiece
“This is a great story you can enjoy at a number of different levels. You can follow Kuan and his collaborators as they move breathlessly through an ever-changing worldscape of technological and psychological challenges. You can enjoy the characters, well-drawn despite their constantly changing external form. You can be intrigued by the religious references in the chapter headings and some of the locations through which Kuan moves. You can reflect on the underlying political analysis, which is evident but not pushy. And you can read to the end (which you must do) and (in my case, at least) still have an intriguing question mark in your mind as you close the book.”
By ‘Charles W’ (5 out of 5)

Fascinating Book
“A dark and worrying fantasy tale … more suited to adults than children.”
By ‘G. Samuel’ (4 out of 5)

Real page turner with a great twist
“Imagine the bastard lovechild of Pan's Labyrinth and 1984 - if you can - and you might get a flavour of what's waiting for you with Kuan's Wonderland. You'll be glued to the page as Kuan is snatched from home and transported to a bizarre, parallel world, full of sinister characters where nothing is ever quite as it seems. The twist at the end is inspired - it will be playing on your mind for days after you finish reading.”
By ‘YakinaMac’ (5 out of 5)

Brilliant Surprise
“Came across Kuan's Wonderland by chance and really loved it. The more I read, the more I realised that nothing was what it first seemed - it's packed full of twists. The first few chapters are a good read but make sure you read it right to the end, you'll have missed out on something special if you don't. It felt a bit Doctor Who in places (the good episodes)... I've recommended it to my friends.”
By ‘pageturner’ (5 out of 5)

A gripping tale of changing worlds and extreme loyalty
“This gripped me from the start and whenever I picked it up, I was straight back in the story with Kuan as a force for good, fearless and challenging to the different powers trying to crush him. Kuan moved swiftly between different worlds, their rules and his dilemmas becoming clear in each place. Shape changing characters and high-speed action kept me curious throughout about the complexities of Kuan's quest. The echoes of our own political world, where cruel power priorities fight with altruism and equality, were portrayed with both horror and a wry humour, making it an enjoyable read, full of political and human depth.”
By ‘freedom22’ (5 out of 5)