Dystopia in an imagined future Malta

Dystopia in an imagined future Malta

Loranne Vella: Rokit
Merlin Publishers

What we call the beginning is often the endAnd to make an end is to make a beginning.The end is where we start from.

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Rokit is not just a contemporary Maltese time-travel-themed science fiction novel. Loranne Vella’s vision of a dystopian Malta places her novel into a more interesting post-human perspective as it creates a space where problematic issues, such as climate change, colonialism and political conflicts, are raised making us reflect about our human, or inhuman, condition.

By creating a dystopia in an imagined future Malta, she urges us to think critically and creatively about who and what we may actually be in the process of becoming, or re-becoming.

The first part of the book, Landa Rmied, revolves around the perspective of two main characters. Rika and her nephew Petrel travel both aimlessly and wherever photography takes them. This first part is an immersive experience infused with a sense of nostalgia, mystery and romanticism. The curse of the ‘deadly’ photos is strangely suspenseful. Is it a coincidence that all the persons who happen to be photographed by Rika and Petrel die a tragic death shortly after having been photographed?

Strange things happen in this world. We do not know why but they happen, and the novel benefits from this mystery. Vella, however, puts the abnormalities in the novel also with an intention to convey something to the reader. As she stated, one can consider this as a comment towards social media image bombardment: “I wanted to create a future where images are feared and prohibited. Obviously, this comes from the fact that at present we are practically inundated with images.”

Time, and how it circularly flows. Time, and how it repeats itself. Time is another main protagonist. When Petrel visits Malta for the first time, he does not find what he had expected. He finds a brink-of-disaster scenario: a country left in ruins by destructive storms and rising sea levels. He finds more death than life. Although the Malta we encounter seems ‘unreal’, it is a projection of how we might end up in around 50 years’ time.

Strange things happen in this world

As Vella stated, she envisages that our contemporary concerns will likely get worse in 50 years’ time. Moreover, the plausibility of her futuristic vision is based on the concept that history repeats itself. References to the kitchens and the network of underground tunnels in which the Maltese population take refuge from the Italian occupying forces, are meant to be explicit historical echoes to the Victory Kitchens and the air-raid shelters of WWII. Thus, hundred years after obtaining it, independence is once again lost. Malta is once again under siege. However, eventually it will regain independence. Time flows circularly repeating itself.

Fragmentation is another crucial element, and echoes throughout the whole novel. In 2064, Europe is fragmented. Global telecommunications networks are long gone, and borders have been re-established. Colonialism has fragmented Malta into different sectors. Rika experiments with fractal photography. Petrel’s past is fragmented too, and he embarks on a journey in search of his Maltese roots.

Loranne VellaLoranne Vella

Everything seems to be physically and spiritually fragmented. What Vella envisages, therefore, urges us to think that our excessive use of telecommunication, and our dependence on it, may ultimately disconnect us rather than connect us. In this sense, Vella’s Rokit is the narrative mise-en-scène of a question which is not openly posed but which is presented, in the fiction, through the development of a plot. We recognise that we are not functioning the way we should. Therefore, our humanness may be seriously at risk.

Ultimately, what is imagined in the dystopian visions of science fiction is not that far from reality. However, there is still hope. Halfway through the novel, we finally get to encounter the rocket that gives both the title and the cover to the novel. The book cover is in fact a visual interpretation of the book’s plot, encapsulated in the geometrical design of the rocket. This is to understand its important significance to the story. The rocket is a very strong symbol of hope. It may, or may not, leave Earth. It is also a symbol of uprooting oneself, of uplifting. Its launch is a spiritual symbol of reaching heights to which none have been before. Consequently, only by embarking on the rocket can Petrel truly complete his mission of self-discovery.

Do we ever learn from the past? The novel seems to be posing this question, only to confirm that human race is condemned to keep repeating past errors ad infinitum. On a positive note, however, whether we do learn from history or not, this state of perpetual forgetfulness seems to be a necessary one for self-evolution to take place.

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