Exploring Dystopian London by Night

A woman with short blond hair in a long grey coat reflected in a train door in a grey concrete metro station
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Why am I layered up like an extra from the cast of Blade Runner?

Because on this cold, damp evening I was setting off for an unusual guided walk exploring locations for dystopian and science fiction books.

London Destroyed was organised as part of the Footprints of London literary festival.

Our guide, Rob Smith, took us on a fascinating stroll from Westminster Bridge to Mayfair, reading extracts from sixteen very different works .

In just two hours, the city was ravaged by war, flood, fire, aliens, enemy nations, domestic political and social forces, Triffids, radioactive rats and zombies. There was something for everyone.

A gloomy night added to the portentous atmosphere.

Rob is a complete pro.

Last year I went on his tour of Italian Clerkenwell, exploring some of my own family heritage. He puts a massive amount of research into each tour.

While I knew that he was an expert on London history, I had not realised that Rob was also well-versed in the city’s fiction.

“Winston was in Victory Square before the appointed time.

He wandered round the base of the enormous fluted column, at the top of which Big Brother’s statue gazed southward towards the skies…”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

A man wearing a blue jacket reading from a script with a statue on top of a column in the distance illuminated at night

“He’s got to be doing Nineteen Eighty-Four!” I whispered excitedly as we approached Trafalgar Square, which George Orwell re-cast as Victory Square.

Yep.

We had just heard how Charing Cross Station, just round the corner, had been featured as a flying machine terminal in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

I recently started to read Mary Shelly’s The Last Man, but not yet reached her post-apocalyptic London scenes which, we learned, attracted vitriolic criticism for being anti-patriotic when the book was published.

Explanations of the historical and social context for each reading, such as this, made the evening come alive.

There was just one problem.

After being introduced to even more books, I might just get crushed under my ever-overwhelming TBR pile.

London Destroyed reading list:

Tacitus – Annals Boox XIV (109)
George Chetwyn Griffiths – The Angel of The Revolution (1893)
Richard Doyle – Flood (2002)
Richard Jeffries – After London (1885)
Maj Gen Sir John Hackett – The Third World War in 1985 (1978)
Mary Shelley – The Last Man (1826)
James Herbert – Domain (1984)
Aldous Huxley – Brave New World (1932)
William Le Queux – The Poisoned Bullet (1893)
H G Wells – The War of the Worlds (1898)
George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty Four (1949)
J G Ballard – The Drowned World (1961)
Alex Scarrow – Timeriders City of Shadows (2012)
John Wyndham – Day of the Triffids (1951)
Charlie Higson – The Fear (2012)

Reprinted by kind permission of Rob Smith

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