Apparently dystopia is hot these days. And that's got me thinking about one of my favorite little sub-genres of American literature, which I think of as "near-term dystopia"—fiction set in an imagined future that's, as my mother would say, "too close for comfort." Unlike, say, 1984 or Handmaid's Tale, these books are set in worlds that bear just enough resemblance to our own in the day-to-day particulars that it's harder to comfort oneself that the future they imagine is exaggerated allegory and could never actually come to pass. Even if the writer doesn't mean his fiction as literal prediction—in most cases he probably doesn't—one can't escape the nagging thought that he's onto something.
The old Republican Party has become the Knothead Party, so named during the last Republican convention in Montgomery when a change of name was proposed, the first suggestion being the Christian Conservative Constitutional Party, and campaign buttons were even printed with the letters CCCP before an Eastern-liberal commentator noted the similarity to the initials printed on the backs of the Soviet cosmonauts and called it the most knotheaded political bungle of the century—which the conservatives, in the best tradition, turned to their own advantage, printing a million more buttons reading "Knotheads for America" and banners proclaiming "No Man Can Be Too Knotheaded in the Service of His Country."The old Democrats gave way to the new Left Party. They too were stuck with a nickname not of their own devising and the nickname stuck: in this case a derisive acronym that the Right made up and the Left accepted, accepted in that same curious American tradition by which we allow our enemies to name us, give currency to their curses, perhaps from the need to concede the headstart they want and still beat them, perhaps also from the secret inkling that our enemies know the worst of us best and it's best for them to say it. LEFT usually it is, often LEFTPAPA, sometimes LEFTPAPASAN (with a little Jap bow), hardly ever the original LEFTPAPASANE, which stood for what, according to the Right, the Left believed in: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, The Pill, Atheism, Pot, Anti-Pollution, Sex, Abortion Now, Euthanasia.