‘What about human rights, Mark? Do we have any?’
2050. Set in post-apocalyptic England, Tents of the Righteous imagines what it would be like to be a minister in charge of a government no longer subject to the democratic process and a free press, and what it would be like to be an individual living in such a state.
Protagonist Mark Carradine is promoted to the post of Lord Commissioner of Health by the Lord Protector, the ruler of a totalitarian regime. Tasked with reducing the country’s population by 15 million to save resources, one of his top priorities is ‘Take Your Leave’, a euthanasia programme aimed at the elderly and disabled. Carradine, who follows his chilling instructions to the letter, has to cope with many threats to his personal and professional life. He is also ordered to bring his brother Aidan in from a remote part of the country, where he has been running a rebel Christian community, to become Archbishop of Canterbury and in essence a government spokesman. Aidan’s public duty is to underline the authority of the state and to give the churches full support to the Lord Protector.
As in Orwell’s 1984, the state rules the population’s lives and has sole control of not only communication, but also the weapons. From Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia, it is easy to see how, when civil society collapses and people seek order and structure, a totalitarian society can evolve – even in a country with a long history of democratic government, such as the UK. Tents of the Righteous examines such a state coming into existence and looks at how such circumstances can only serve to bring out the worse – but also sometimes the best – in people. It is a frightening scenario made all the more so because of the realistic way that the author has approached the subject.
This work of speculative fiction is particularly relevant due to the current debate on government surveillance of internet traffic, reminding us of how easily individuals can cede information to the government. Eric Blair draws inspiration from 1984 and author J G Ballard, and also feels that John Le Carre’s portrayal of mutual suspicion and Ed Wilson’s The Midnight Swimming together sum up the state of paranoia that existed in the 50s and 60s.