We see this as a relay – complete with dystopian baton-passing – more than as a straight race. After all, Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale came many years before Gillian Phillip‘s Bad Faith; and 1984 well before both.
The theocratic premises are similar. In Bad Faith, there is a Putinesque collusion between the political leader and the One Church, which gives the book a different dimension. Perhaps foresight on Gillian Phillip’s part given that it was completed before Putin partnered with the Russian Orthodox Church to promote a reactionary agenda.
But both books must surely also owe something to George Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984, which he started writing in a hospital bed (he had TB) 100 metres from our offices. Big Brother is certainly watching in The Handmaid’s Tale, where every word is a risk. The regime in Bad Faith is a little less oppressive and a bit more familiar to us, but wayward words or looks still cost lives. And that familiarity is one of Bad Faith‘s great strengths. While The Handmaid’s Tale seems a big leap (the book is apparently sometimes misfiled under sci-fi), the world in Bad Faith feels like it could materialise next week and catch us all by surprise. No mass-casualty war; just go to sleep one day and wake up the next to find that what is acceptable has changed – that freedom of expression is no longer a right.
Depicting worlds most of us wouldn’t want to live in is one of the great things authors – in common with artists, film-makers, theatre producers and others – can do for us. We often say about book covers that we only really start to get a feel for what we do want when we see what we don’t want. Perhaps that’s also true of books and society.