Comparing Davis & the Foundation with Dystopian Villains

by Eva Musat

How have controlling villains in dystopian literature changed over time and how have they stayed the same? This is the question that I immediately thought of when reading the first 100 pages of Ghost Species, specifically when reading about the character of Davis and his company.

When reading the book, many similarities to other works of literature come to mind, for example, Brave New World (1932), 1984 (1948),and Fahrenheit 451 (1953). In the novels mentioned above, the ruling power that poses a danger is the government, or some form of a political group. In these types of dystopias, governments were presented as controlling and totalitarian. The expression used is “ruling with an iron fist”.

Some notable similarities can be seen with the storyline regarding the surrogate, Marija, who carried Eve that is extremely similar to the novel The Handmaid´s Tale (1985). In The Handmaid´s Tale, fertile women are captured and used as surrogates to produce children and combat a falling birth rate, which could otherwise impact the economy and lead to a crisis. While an economic reason is not responsible in Ghost Species, it can be seen as similar, since Marija´s surrogacy is used to revive an extinct species, in the hope of saving the world from an impending climate crisis.

Another similarity to a dystopian novel is the fact that Davis´s company has the resources to find Kate and Eve so easily and rules over their area with authority. This can be seen as a parallel to totalitarian governments and can even be seen as a nod to the novel 1984. When Jay informs Kate that: “Davis found you within days. We’ve been monitoring you ever since.”, I think of the propaganda slogan “Big Brother is watching you”. This slogan is used to reinforce the idea of surveillance as power in a ruling totalitarian state, a power that Davis obviously has.

It is interesting to see that nowadays when writing dystopias, the “ruling power” is no longer a government or group, but it is usually a single individual who possesses extremely large financial means, i.e. a billionaire. This type of villain can be found in most James Bond movies, such as A View to a Kill (1985), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and more recently in Spectre (2015) and No Time to Die (2021). Further examples can be found in the movies Blade Runner (2017) and Ex Machina (2014). At this point in history, the dangerous and evil billionaire is just another trope.

In Ghost Species, we meet Davis Hucken, described as a “tech billionaire” with a massive facility built with “corporate money”. At first glance, Davis’s ideas of rebuilding an entire ecosystem seem very positive, just like the ideas of the villains mentioned above. It immediately becomes clear though, that because they are his ideas, he plans on being in charge.

The author, like many others, brings awareness to these kinds of powers, especially the ones fuelled by a large sum of money since they have become more prominent in our reality. Similarities between real-life “tech-billionaires” such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg and Davis Hucken’s character are made quite obvious by author James Bradley.

The “evil tech-billionaire” trope usually starts the same in every story. People believe that someone can save the world from ending, going into a climate crisis, or even solving world hunger. However, the story quickly develops and shows us that their plan is ruled by an ulterior motive such as world domination (in the examples above) or political gain, such as in the second season of The Politician (2019). Now even though Davis’s motives are not necessarily that extreme and villainous, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to ascribe similar motives.

Many people wonder why these types of tech-billionaire villains even want to “rule the world” and be in charge or have so much power over the people around them. This is partly answered by Davis when his motives are questioned: “Because we can”. This is what makes his character so haunting. He is so out of touch with reality that he believes he does not have to justify his actions. In the older literary novels, people simply followed the government because it gave them a sense of structure and security, nowadays people follow these tech-billionaires because they, in my opinion, believe that a greater good can be achieved with money.

As I see it, the main topic of the book is ethics. It is very closely connected to the main themes of the book, especially with Kate and Eve’s relationship, and the storyline of resurrecting Neanderthals. However, what I found most interesting was the fact that after a certain amount of money is involved ethics don’t matter anymore. This brings us back to the similarities of older villains in dystopias, who just like Davis and newer villains, disregard any moral or ethical implications of their plans. Lastly, I would like to mention that all the similarities I found between Ghost Species and the examples mentioned above bothered me a bit. If I recall correctly, it was not specified whether or not these examples exist in the world of the novel. So assuming that the stories of these works are known, after looking at all the examples above, one can begin to wonder why Kate, Jay, and even we in real life do not recognize these patterns and always fall for the same ploy. Where are the suspicion and doubt when looking at Davis´s plan? And why was Kate so upset after the birth of Eve, wasn’t the plan quite obviously implied? These are the questions that come to mind after comparing Ghost Species to all the other works of literature and films. Especially when realizing, that even though the villain is now an individual and not a group or government, the dystopian villains have quite a few things in common.