The Tyee has published my article Three Dystopic Novels for Unpleasant Times. It's a review of Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, and Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh. The introduction:
I used to think that science fiction by "serious" writers was a form of poverty tourism: some famous novelist would jet into our benighted third-world genre, take a guided tour of our slums, snap some photos and go home to make a fortune with a book full of stuff that we natives had already done, and done better.
Reading Northrop Frye set me straight. He could trace the pedigree of science fiction all the way back to Menippus, a Cynic philosopher in the 3rd century B.C. Menippean satire. As Frye described it, it was directed at intellectuals; it was intended to puncture their pretensions, not to entertain the masses. In its modern forms, Frye argued, Menippean satire looks at the world in terms of a single overriding idea: H.G. Wells's invasion from Mars, for example, or Karel Capek's robots.
The overriding idea of an ideal society has been around since St. Thomas More's Utopia, and plenty of modern science fiction writers have followed his example. More was satirizing European Christians by showing them a pagan society more orderly and humane than anything in Christendom.
Later writers, in turn, satirized More by turning him on his head and portraying dystopias -- societies that are appalling perversions of what we say we value. The early Soviet writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, in his dystopian novel We, inspired both Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Preventing the future
Those writers, all intellectuals, were really portraying their own societies' utopian dreams. In fact, they blasted those dreams so thoroughly that straight utopias became almost unwritable (though Huxley gave it a try in his late novel Island). As Ray Bradbury famously said, the purpose of science fiction is not to predict the future, but to prevent it.