Self published in Portuguese as O Bom Ditador in November 2016. English language translation by Ethan Mortimore.
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the author
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
An unidentified object parked on the moon - and no one seems to know where it came from. Gustavo, a middle-aged computer programmer with a comfortable and grey life, decides to make a list of what he would need to survive a hypothetical attack. He becomes obsessed with the list, spends a fortune, robs a drugstore: his own family thinks he is going insane. However, after the attack, it’s the insane who are well prepared for a new era in society.
Dystopian fiction is experiencing a rush of popularity in the wake of Brexit and Trump so I think The Good Dictator is a particularly well-timed read and scarily prescient in many of its scenes. Set in Portugal, the novel offers a European view of pre- and post-apocalyptic society which is interestingly different from similarly themed American offerings. It is very much an indie novel so there are problems with pacing and excessive irrelevant backstory information, but if you can see past these issues and aren't put off by the slow build of the first quarter, this is definitely a thought-provoking read.
Global civilisation's collapse is prompted by an alien attack from the moon, however this aspect of Dias' tale is almost incidental as he concentrates on the actions of his human protagonists on Earth. A few rural Portuguese communities are among the surviving 15% of human life and they must decide what aspects of their previous existence are important enough to maintain or recreate and what should be consigned to history. It's a fascinating premise. What ideology would you live by? What social structures are truly essential? Who would lead and how would you choose them?
I liked the ambiguity of Dias' title which becomes more compelling a question as the story progresses. Perhaps our prepared 'hero' Gustavo is the right choice of leader initially (perhaps not), but absolute power corrupts absolutely and I found myself wondering whether the Good Dictator is intended as a description of his benevolence to the people relying on him or an indication of his success in remaining in charge!
Dias doesn't go into much detail of how this society's new infrastructure is built up so this isn't the type of novel that will teach readers how to wire a solar panel or hoe a vegetable patch. I did get a good sense of this part of Portugal though and, having visited thereabouts three years ago, could recognise aspects of the landscape and strong community ties. Characters other than Gustavo aren't really developed fully enough for me although this book is intended as the first of a trilogy so perhaps they will become so later. Women especially are portrayed mostly as just providers of meals or sex and there is no real ethnic diversity other than a gypsy community. (At one point you could replace the word gypsy with Muslim though and this book becomes shockingly real!). The new society is still disappointingly patriarchal, but there are strong theories and arguments about financial, political and ecological philosophies which struck a chord with me. The Good Dictator is definitely a book for right now.
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Books by Goncalo J Nunes Dias / Science fiction / Books from Portugal