Skip to content

Scary Things That Hit Close To Home

A bizarre source of fear

When I was a kid, the thing that scared me the most were volcanoes. I insisted to stay up and watch 1997’s Volcano with my parents and a few friends of them, and I regretted it for months. My parents had never seen me afraid of anything after watching movies: werewolves, vampires, ghosts, nothing of that sort scared me. Volcanoes, on the other end, creeped me out in a way that my parents (and later on I) deemed irrational.

As a grew up, though, I realised there is a motivation behind my “selective fear”. For some reason, supernatural sources of horror don’t scare me because I know they’re supernatural. They don’t exist, so they can’t hurt me. But volcanoes do exist, and they’ve caused a lot of destruction in the past, and in places not too far away from my hometown, too. I’ve visited the archaeological site of Pompeii three times since watching the movie, and every time it gave me the chills as I thought about how Mount Vesuvius wiped away life in Pompeii and Hercolanum in a matter of hours.

Isaac Harjo of ProWalk Tours; Screen capture and additional editing by Mary Harrsch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I can say I got over my fear of volcanoes as I grew up, but something remains: the horrors that scare me the most are the ones that look more plausible.

This is why I’ve never watched nor read The Handmaid’s Tale, and I’m pretty confident I won’t do that anytime soon*. I can’t help it: I’m pretty sure it’s a masterpiece and I’m missing a lot in avoiding it, but for some reason the story premise scares the hell out of me. The thought of being part of a society that sees me only as a machine used to give birth.

A chance to face my fears

When I was asked to do an advanced review of Mandate Thirteen by Joseph J. Dowling, it gave me a lot to think about, because the synopsis triggered feelings of uneasiness in me. But then I accepted, because in 2022 I had found so many interesting things to talk about in indie books I’ve been asked to review. At 34, it’s time for me to defeat my fears once and for all.

I have to say I didn’t regret my decision in the least. I devoured the book in less than a weekend, and it didn’t make me uncomfortable or scared as I thought it would. There are many reasons for that: how well it was written, and how it kept a little spark of hope on (pun not intended). But most of all, because it’s a tale of father-daughter relationship and redemption.

The character of Michael is so well written that I found it relatable even though I’m not a middle-class father struggling to get a job after a few mistakes in the past. He starts off as a caricature of a person resigned to a dull existence in boredom and poverty, only to find the will to fight when it comes to protecting his daughter Hope from the government and the shady agency who come after her.

In the dystopian near future painted by Joseph Dowling, in fact, something caused the majority of women to become infertile, and some governments introduced measures meant to prevent the population from shrinking too much in number. It’s not clear how it’s handled in the rest of the world, but the English government implemented a quite cruel policy to test girls and kidnap them if they turn out fertile. The English government is painted as en entity so controlling and intrusive in young girls’ lives that the I doubted about their real motivations quite a few times as I read the book. Inhuman as they were, they could very much have used the drop in fertility as an excuse to exert control on women’s body.

Fortunately enough, Scotland separated from England and they didn’t follow their southern neighbours in their controlling policy, at least not to the extend England did. This is why, as he realises that his daughter Hope is in danger, Michael decides to bring her across the border: his brother lives there, and even though they haven’t been talking in ages he’s sure his brother will help Hope.

Escaping the grip of cold cruelty

Crossing the border isn’t so easy to do when the government itself doesn’t want you to succeed. And even someone much more dangerous than the government has the means and the determination to prevent you from doing that.

At a first glance I found the idea of how badly they tried to hinder Michael’s plan quite bizarre, because I supposed they could afford one or two people to elude their scheme as long as they managed to keep it a secret. I assumed they controlled the media too, so that Hope’s disappearance could go unnoticed by the mainstream.

The idea I have about totalitarian regimes is that they rely on big numbers, on the homologation of the entire population into a huge uniform blob, and a great part of it is done building a narrative. This is quite easy to do if you have a firm control over what you let the people know. On the other hand, it’s true that everything that sticks out of the blob must be pruned and eliminated in order for the dictatorship to maintain its facade of control and power.

The thing that puzzled me at first was how a single girl escaping the program could be considered a threat by such a powerful dictatorship. At some point it seemed to me that they’d better pretend the incident never happened, because the effort they made to bring Hope back under their control was harder to ignore that her escape.

But maybe it’s good that things went the way they went. It’s not shown in the book, but the reader can very well imagine how the news of Hope escaping spread among the English population. And it maybe help people let go of their hopelessness and do something to overturn the tyrannical dictatorship they brought upon themselves. Hope and Michael meet so many good people in their escape that I can’t believe a change for the better isn’t possible.

Another reason why I accepted the idea of the government focusing that much on Hope and Michael is that the story wouldn’t have been so complex and interesting otherwise. Joseph Dowling gave us a way to care for two wonderful and human characters as they try to stay safe and escape the grip of tyranny. I think I can forgive him for building a dystopian world that scares me so much.

*As a side note, I was about to get over my uneasiness over the topic and watch the show last Spring, but then Roe vs Wade was overturn in the US, and a government ideologically aligned with the US Supreme Court on the matter was elected in Italy, so I quickly gave up on my resolution.

Published inRamblingsReviews


  1. Love it! Thanks so much!

    That’s so interesting that the theme of the book triggered you, but you decided to read it anyway and wrote this outstanding analysis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *