Anatomy of Emotion – The Carving of Chance – Seize the Moon 

Anger in the body: a coiled snake, a raging wildfire.

Anxiety in the gut­: the doom-laden twist of a strangler fig.

Em – I definitely wasn’t angry at her. If anything, my anger was reserved for myself: me, and my own cowardice.

I ran my thumb around the twenty-sided die in my palm, feeling its precise triangles, its edges sharp enough to carve chance into defined probabilities – just not quite sharp enough to mark my skin.

While our home is not big enough to house all the books we love, over the years we’ve built up a sizeable anti-library. In fact, I tend to gift away books I’d already read. So I can’t recall how long our copy of We had sat nestled among our shelves; it had been a leaving gift from a former colleague to my partner, who dutifully read it upon receipt, something I didn’t do. The book had moved house with us at least once, migrated along the shelves several times, that when I finally went looking for it, the search took me a good half day.

I suspect I’d put off reading We because a part of me feared its legendary influence; I’d known that it inspired books like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. As someone who believes that we need more positive narratives to help us come to terms with climate change – and more stories to show us possible, liveable futures – We felt very far away from the route I’d taken in my own writing. So, I’d avoided it, put off reading it.

Eventually, it accompanied me to Bristol on a work-related trip. I read it on the train journey, resumed reading the moment my workshop formalities were over, skipped evening social invitations while I devoured it at the hotel bar alongside a glass of wine, inhaled it most of the way through the night – unable to put it down.

A close-up of a twenty-sided die.

If you stripped away the austere, dystopian science-fiction world, We seemed to me as essentially a romance – a Romeo-and-Juliet of forbidden love. There are so many avenues one could explore in such a rich world, with its autocratic politics, its rigid rules, its strict social codes – and those who sought to tear it all down.

But very little time had been given to the people beyond the Green Wall that D-503 met in Record 27, that vast outside world which barely scored a few strokes of a paintbrush. So with ‘Anatomy of Emotion – The Carving of Chance – Seize the Moon’ I wanted to explore how a troubled character might fare in a utopian, future society that lived closer to nature’s rhythms centuries after the city fell. It became an opportunity to examine rituals and culture – allowing “old” science and indigenous practices to co-exist side by side with touches of high-tech, where some engineering knowledge had been retained, some deliberately “forgotten”.

Later on, I found out that We also inspired Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, a book that’s a staple read among Solarpunk communities – and one of my all-time favourites. Utopia and dystopia don’t reside on opposite ends of a spectrum; they exist side by side, where one wouldn’t have any meaning without the other.

Perhaps I needn’t have feared, after all.

(Originally posted on Luna Press Publishing's blog.)

The Utopia of Us is a charity anthology directly inspired by We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, edited by Teika Marija Smits. Royalties from the book sales will be donated to the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

Authors: Aliya Whiteley, R.T. Ester, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Anne Charnock, Tim Major, Anna Orridge, Douglas Thompson, Nadya Mercik, Liam Hogan, Fiona Mossman, Ian Whates, Michael Teasdale, Ana Sun, Rayn Epremian, and Sofia Samatar.