25 January 2015

A Novel Exploration of Inequality

Kuan’s Wonderland tells the story of a ten-year old boy being snatched from home and taken to a bizarre world, where he is suspected of being an enemy of the state. As hope of escape begins to fade, he tries to adapt to his new life only to discover the true nightmare awaiting him.

Suitable for anyone aged 14/15 (KS4/Year 10) upwards, Kuan’s Wonderland has been widely acclaimed as a fantasy adventure & political fable, as well as a novel resource to help explore problems of inequality and exploitation:

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.”

Julie Thorpe (Head of School & Youth Programmes, the Co-operative College):
"All the evidence points to the fact that more equal societies are happier places and yet the country we live in remains one of the least egalitarian and most divided in the world. The co-operative movement is committed to creating social institutions and enterprises where all members have an equal right and opportunity to participate and have their voices heard. It is vital that young people understand the problems of power inequality if we are to bring about change and Kuan's Wonderland offers a unique, imaginative, way of introducing them to the issue. We highly recommend it!"

Rachel Roberts (Director, Phoenix Education Trust; & Supporter, Student Voice):
“In our experience of working in schools we see young people are highly concerned with issues of justice, respect and equality. We also realise the value of empowering young people to explore these topics in an open way which captures their imaginations, awakens their curiosity and allows to develop their learning and understanding by following their own motivation. Kuan’s Wonderland and the resource guide which accompanies it enables just this. It is an innovative and valuable way of engaging young people to explore issues surrounding equality and democracy in a way which speaks to them.”

Nicolette Burford (Director, Documentary Film-Makers Cooperative; & Producer/Director, ‘No Room for Manoeuvre’):
Kuan's Wonderland is a mesmerizing novel. It makes the imagination spring to life with amazing visions of strange beings and places. Readers young and old will be intrigued by the story and both teachers and students are going to have much to talk about and around it. There are very few books that offer so complex yet so clear and captivating a plot that mirrors the excesses, impunity, treachery and manipulativeness with which governments and oppressive regimes amass and abuse power to further the selfish interests of a small minority. The learning resource developed by the novelist and the Equality Trust will clearly be of great value to young people and schools.”

Pat Conaty (Fellow, New Economics Foundation; & co-author of 'The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy'):
“There is ample evidence that cooperative forms of interaction, in business as well as in social relations more generally, work much better than the top-down approach which is regrettably still the norm in our economy. To change the prevailing mindset we need to explore new ways to engage people of all ages in thinking about why mutuality and equality are vital to our wellbeing. The Equality Trust and Cambridge University are leading the way in showing how this can be done with Henry Tam’s novel, Kuan’s Wonderland – a thought-provoking political fable, and the accompanying learning resource, ‘A Novel Exploration of Inequality’.”

More details about the 'Novel Exploration of Inequality' project are available from: The Equality Trust.

24 January 2015

Contesting Dystopian Visions

Dystopian stories in novels, films and TV drama, have become fashionable of late. But while they compete in painting nightmarish scenarios of our future, they do not provide a shared vision of what the source of the imminent threat is. That is to be expected if one looks back on the history of dystopian writing. Some have focused on the restrictions placed on individuals – e.g., nameless subjects of a totalitarian state in the case of Zamyatin, or wealthy business executives in the case of Rand. Others have presented a dire fate for humanity resulting from some unexpected disaster – e.g., the arrival of the new-born in Wyndham’s ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’, or what preceded the journey recounted in McCarthy’s ‘The Road’.

However, one strand that runs from Wells’ ‘Time Machine’, through London’s ‘The Iron Heel’, Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, Lewis’ ‘It Can’t Happen Here’, King’s ‘The Running Man’, to Atwood’s ‘The Year of the Flood’, shows that there is a core theme that many dystopian writers are concerned with – namely, the ruthless demarcation of society into the wealthy elite and the vulnerable masses. Of course they weave their contrasting accounts of how the pervasive divisiveness give rise to different kinds of problem – self doubt or even self loathing; starvation; resentment and hatred; environmental destruction; ending of the rule of law. And they come up with strikingly diverse responses – armed rebellion; drug-induced contentment; socio-biological transformation; and suicidal retaliation.

The reason why dystopias about wealth-driven fissures in society resonates with me most is that at the dawn of the 21st century, the inexorable expansion of corporate power is simply the biggest threat to our wellbeing. It is already pushing people into self-numbing consumerism, soul-crushing poverty, or in other cases, seething anger against the prevailing order. It is also fuelling unprecedented profit-led environmental destruction, and paving the way for plutocratic governments that will exclusively serve the rich and impose stringent controls over the rest. Unless writers and activists rouse the public to reverse its hegemony, the worst of all possible dystopias will be upon us soon.

02 January 2015

A Novel Indictment of Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism is nothing more than a fig leaf to cover up the most shameless campaign to reverse the democratic distribution of power, and hand ever more control and resources to the wealthy corporate elite.

Whitehall through the Looking Glass is a dystopian novel that shows what could happen if the current trends of rewarding the privileged and scapegoating the vulnerable were allowed to continue.

Frances O'Grady, the General Secretary of TUC (Trades Union Congress), has described it as “a timely reminder of the dangers of the rapidly-accelerating corporatisation of our political and economic life. With private firms increasingly running our NHS and administering welfare, so many of the services we cherish are at risk from the profit motive. From utilities to railways, we’ve already seen how the interests of shareholders and bosses trump those of workers, service users and taxpayers. As the general election approaches, Tam’s book is an important reminder of the risks of crude neoliberal ideology”.

The novel is available in both e-book and paperback format:
E-book version: Amazon UK or Amazon US
Paperback version: Barnes & Noble or CreateSpace