Dystopia Canadian Literature

Dystopia Canadian Literature

When Margaret Atwood passed away in 20XX, Canadian Literature suddenly realized something terrible, which is that they had completely failed, as an industry but also as a culture, to elevate a new crop of writers to replace the old generation. In terms of literary stars, Canada had, what, Alice Munro? Michael Ondaatje? Rupi Kaur? Canadian astronaut and best-selling author Chris Hadfield, who had gone viral by recording a cover of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie while in outer space? Just kidding about that last one, fuck Canadian astronaut and best-selling author Chris Hadfield. Anyway, Canadian Literature had a problem: they needed to create, and quickly, new stars who would sell like Margaret Atwood, could judge countless literary competitions, advocate for literature in public and write important columns in newspapers. “Margaret Atwood was a saint,” someone said during a tense meeting. “We can never replace her. Personally, I thought some of her work was good and some of her work was bad. Her novel Handmaid’s Tale was great, but Blind Assassin was tired garbage, although I could never say that in public. I could never say that Blind Assassin was tired garbage. That would be treason against Canada.” “You’re right,” someone else said, maybe it was Rupi Kaur. “We can never replace Margaret Atwood.” They came up with a plan. They partnered with a startup based in Montreal that hadn’t been purchased by Microsoft yet to invent an AI that would analyse all of Margaret Atwood’s books and learn to write exactly like her. This was called “Machine Learning.” The first book published by the AI was titled MoonOracle (in one word) and the second one was called The Lady In The Tree. The two books were advertised nationwide, in buses, in the subway, on Facebook, and paired with the tagline “Margaret Atwood is forever, Handmaid’s Tale was great and so was Blind Assassin.” Because they hadn’t read Blind Assassin, the public accepted at face value that it was great and not, in fact, tired garbage. MoonOracle got mixed reviews, with one reviewer describing it as “disjointed and bizarrely incoherent at times, like someone drooling on a keyboard” before generically praising the book’s sci-fi setting, while The Lady In The Tree got excellent reviews across the board, with several reviewers praising Atwood’s “renewed energy and focus” and mentioning that she was “as good as she’s ever been.” Both books made The Globe And Mail’s best books of the year list. The AI Margaret Atwood seemed unstoppable: posting charming one-liners on Twitter regularly, being interviewed by CBC Books, writing newspaper columns on politics and social issues, winning the Governor General’s award for the 42nd time and announcing publicly that Lady In The Tree would be turned into a Netflix mini-series starring Jude Law as the tree. “I can’t think of a better tree than Jude Law,” Rupi Kaur wrote on Facebook. “By the way, this statement counts as a poem. Give me 10,000$” The Margaret Atwood AI experiment was so successful that Canadian publishers decided to bring back other names from the dead. Leonard Cohen got an AI, and so did Mordecai Richler. Even Canadian astronaut and best selling author Chris Hadfield got an AI! The Mordecai Richler AI wrote essays shitting on Quebec nationalism while Canadian astronaut and best selling author Chris Hadfield’s AI recorded more covers of songs that vaguely relate to outer space, including “Intergalatic” by the Beastie Boys, “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR and experimental art rock band The Mars Volta’s entire music catalog. Meanwhile, young writers graduated from MFA programs only to realize that publishing had become a barren wasteland and that they had essentially lost their jobs to automation. “Should a country do that?” the young writers thought. “Should a country automate its entire literary output?” But the public didn’t care. They liked having a new Margaret Atwood every year because they already knew what it was about, sort of, without having to read it, which was a useful time-saver, kind of like how cows can shit while they’re walking. The young writers struggled for two or three years trying to make it as authors, then grew tired of this bullshit and got real jobs. Everyone was depressed. It looked like the young writers were going to be yet another lost generation of promising Canadian writers who would be forgotten by history, but then a few of them were hired by a large Montreal porn company to write porn. For fun, they challenged one another to use their Creative Writing degrees to write witty dialog and make all women in the films empowered, extremely woke and reading cool obscure Canadian poetry books and novellas such as Pony Castle by Sofia Banzhaf, How Do I Look? by Sennah Yee and The End By Anna by A Zachary, which, to their surprise, led to an uptick in sales for books by independent publishers in Canada. The young writers realized they had a weapon against Margaret Atwood. “Porn,” they said. “Everyone watches porn. We can use porn as a Trojan horse, no pun intended, to inform the public that Blind Assassin is tired garbage.” “The medium is the message,” someone else said, kind of misquoting Marshall McLuhan, but fuck it, it seemed to make sense in this context. A few weeks later, Margaret Atwood’s career changed forever when a schoolgirl in a porn movie delivered a long monologue to her male teacher about Margaret Atwood’s life and legacy. “Why did you assign Blind Assassin as a required text for this class?” the schoolgirl said. “I know it won awards and stuff, but have you actually read this? It’s kind of shitty, like it feels like something that was written for money. Don’t get me wrong. Margaret Atwood is alright, like in a vacuum it’s okay to celebrate Handmaid’s Tale or even Oryx and Crake, but by releasing books every year like some sort of fucking maniac, some of which are good and some of which are bad, her simple never-ending presence is preventing other writers from gaining momentum. It’s like an elephant that returns once a year to stomp out a bunch of flowers that had started growing. I would even say that by virtue of being so visible, Margaret Atwood is steering Canadian literature in a really boring direction overall, like why don’t we have funny novels in Canada? And what’s up with all these pseudo-historical novels that read like some sort of 19th century fan fiction? Why does Margaret Atwood have 11 pages of books listed under her name as an author on Goodreads? 11! That’s… messed up. I guess what I am trying to say is, it seems like Margaret Atwood is going to have a really complicated legacy: Is she a feminist icon who devoted her entire life to promoting literature in Canada or a writer who sucked up so much oxygen that other talents went underappreciated and eventually quit writing altogether, never reaching their full potential? Or is she both? I don’t know the answer to that. Anyway, let’s fuck.”


  Guillaume Morissette  is the author of  The Original Face  (Véhicule Press, 2017), one of The Globe And Mail's best books for 2017, and New Tab (Véhicule Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 Amazon.ca First Novel Award. He lives in Montreal. If you can, adopt a senior dog from a rescue center near you.

Guillaume Morissette is the author of The Original Face (Véhicule Press, 2017), one of The Globe And Mail's best books for 2017, and New Tab (Véhicule Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 Amazon.ca First Novel Award. He lives in Montreal. If you can, adopt a senior dog from a rescue center near you.



 

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