23 November 2010

Utopias and Dystopias--RIP?

A local science fiction convention had an intriguing panel this fall on "Dystopias in Science Fiction". From what I could tell, folks have conflated dystopias with post-apocalyptic fiction.

Technically, a dystopia is supposed to include a society that has devolved into a controlled and repressed state in which individual freedoms are constrained--by the government/society. Of course, the most famous dysopias are 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Thus, by the most strict definition, works such as The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, would not be a dystopia. On the other hand, if we go with the pornography defense ("I know it when I see it") if a majority of people think it is a dystopia...

As far as utopias go,Edward James, a noted SF critic, claims "...the ability of the writer to imagine a better place in which to live died in the course of the twentieth century, extinguished by the horrors of total war, of genocide and of totalitarianism." And so "...utopia has not disappeared; it has merely mutated, within the field of sf, into something very different from the classic utopia."

What do you guys think?

This raises the interesting point: exactly what is a utopia? The word utopia was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book Utopia, which was based on Plato's Republic. A utopia is supposed to be an ideal society. Historically, literature has contained many utopias.

Arthur C. Clarke's classic Childhood's End contains a utopia which essentially fails. Or does it? I maintain Clarke's utopia transforms into something else.
Hence when James also asks "Why should human physiology or psychology remain the same? Would what human beings recognize as utopia a millennium from now be recognizable as utopia for us at all?" I think he puts his finger on the real issue.

As society and humanity evolve, our ideas of dytopia and utopia also evolve. Therefore, to answer my question in the title--they're not dead, they've just transformed into something else. :)

Send us your transformed dystopia or utopia stories!


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