The sky is cloudy, casting gray light on the plain walls and sparsely populated streets of your hometown. With your government-issued uniform buttoned tight against the cold, you make your way down the sidewalk to your office job. That’s when you spot it: a battered, unassuming rectangle poking out from behind a trash bin.
It’s a book, an old book like none you’ve seen before. The handwritten notes in the margin look subversive and positively illegal. But you’re intrigued. Is your reaction to: a) put the book back and pretend you saw nothing, b) report the book to the nearest government official so it can be destroyed, or c) stack it quickly inside your bag and show it to no one, but slowly allow it to consume your thoughts to the point that you can no longer function as you should in this rigid dystopian novel? For narrative purposes, Option C would be a great choice. But if you expect to survive in a dystopia for real, might I suggest Options A or B?
Not everyone is cut out to survive in a societal abyss, be it populated by thought police or zombies or both. Certain skill sets will never be a fit for Cormac McCarthy hellscapes, and volatile personalities are not desirable in authoritarian regimes. Here are a few clues you might not be dystopically suited:
You have a terrible poker face
Try faking a retinal defect that causes extreme sensitivity to light and requires you to wear sunglasses at all times. It works wonders for Edward R. Murrow-esque blogger Georgia Mason in Feed‘s post–zombie uprising America. Otherwise, The Powers That Be, whether they’re the CDC or Big Brother, are going to know by page 68 that you are up to and/or hiding something.
Your temper often gets the best of you
Katniss’ prickliness makes her a relatable narrator, but homegirl would’ve been toast so many times without people like Philip Seymour Hoffman handling the diplomacy needs of the Retake Panem movement. Repeat after me: You cannot openly infuriate your oppressors or shoot arrows at them. Subtlety is needed to survive—and maybe even alter—your dystopia.
As Mark Spitz, the gloomy, daydreaming dullard of Colson Whitehead’s Zone One points out, it’s the humdrum, not the overly attached and emotional, who are well suited for the apocalypse.
You are Nancy Drew
Snooping certainly moves the plot along, but unless you’re an Ayn Rand creation, it’s going to lead you into some Category 5 situations, here. (If you are Equality 7-2521, your curiosity is going to lead you to the verge of disaster but also to the heroic status of knowledge giver. Well done, you.)
You lack survival skills
It’s one thing to know so little about procuring resources that you can’t guess the correct price of fiber supplements on The Price is Right. It’s another issue altogether if you cannot bag game, purify water, or nick SpaghettiOs from the shelves of an abandoned grocery store with panache.
You have a debilitating phobia
Like getting eaten alive by rats, as seen in How to Learn to Love Big Brother, by Winston Smith.
You work for the government
As a government employee you’re more likely than the average Prole to stumble upon information that will prompt questions in your battered-into-submission psyche. You will also be excruciatingly closely monitored. Especially in an Orwellian government, or as a carthorse for the ruling pig cabal.
You have some physical deficiencies
For example: varicose ulcers, poor eyesight, asthma, weight issues, harvestable clone organs, infertility, fertility, and the inability to physically defend yourself beyond camouflage.
You are close with someone who could be considered the natural protagonist
Will you survive the apocalypse?