Daily Archives: October 19, 2011

Utopia and Dystopia in Science Fiction

Hellow everyone! Notice the changes in the blog? Well, that’s my doing. I’m something of a “blogmaster” around here, so it was my job to spruce up the place. There will be quite a few more additions, so don’t be alarmed if you suddenly find yourself stunned by the visual elegance of my handiwork.

Anyway, in all the time we’ve been writing on this blog, we’ve tossed around the terms “Utopia” and “Dystopia” a few times, and I thought for today I should explain what those usually look like in Science Fiction. The two are often mixed to varying degrees and you won’t often find one without at least some elements of the other, but in any case Science Fiction has a great deal of examples of these dramatic settings.

Utopia: The Dream of Heaven On Earth
 

The Giver Lois Lowry

Well, it STARTS as a Utopia, anyway...

Whether by feats of science or social engineering (or often a mixture of both), Mankind has finally done it- he has created the perfect society, full of love and joy and candy canes and lollipops for everyone. This idea goes all the way back to Plato’s The Republic, and usually involves a variation of his division of social classes along with rigid political structures that keep these classes in balance and all of the citizens in their places. I won’t get into the minutia of the philosophies behind this, but they vary from socialist, humanist, and religious motivations which seek to build a “heaven on earth” society usually based on Thomas More’s vision of it in his book Utopia (from which we derive the name).

In science fiction, utopia is usually realized once mankind has become so advanced that he simply has no need for war and other uncomfortable complications, or else by his technology he has purposefully managed to banish this unpleasantness from a society. Whether or not you think this idea is at all realistic or plausible is up to your particular worldview (I don’t happen to think it is at all possible in this world, and so Utopian stories bore me), but regardless, if you would like to read more about them, here are some examples of science fiction which contain Utopian settings:

Dystopia: Flying Too Close to the Sun
 

The Hunger Games Susan Collins

Hey, look! It's The Hunger Games again!

Ah, now here’s more my style. Dystopias (sometimes called “Anti-Utopias”) revolve around the idea that either mankind has tried to build a perfect society (a Utopia) and absolutely failed, creating instead a disturbingly flawed monstrosity, or that he did it quite on purpose. These stories are usually social commentary, exaggerating trends and philosophies seen in the day of the author’s writing and taking them to their supposed ends. This can be anything from a brutal theocracy to a socialist nightmare of crushed individualism, to a world low on morals and ethics but high on science.

I can’t say why exactly it is that I like dystopian science fiction so much (maybe it’s just the cynic in me), but it’s always struck me that since the beginning of history, humans have done their darndest to kill eachother off with the best means they can find, and I can see no reason why this won’t continue on until the end of time. As I see it, usually when people get it into their heads to create a perfect society, not everyone’s game to give up their own vision of how things should be, and someone ends up being repressed and/or subjected to horrors beyond all reason. But, that’s just my opinion, and likely the reason these books tend to resonate with me.

There are quite a few more Dystopian novels in the science fiction genre than there are Utopian ones, so there is a vast spectrum of variety in the way this setting is used. In fact, our first novel, Waverly Hall: Relois, features a very cool dystopian world! If you would like to read more about Dystopian settings, here are some novels that feature them:

I hope I’ve managed to clear the air a bit on what these terms mean, or at least given you some books you might enjoy. Utopian and Dystopian novels aren’t for everyone, and in spite of the fact that so many sci-fi novels focus on one or the other, there are plenty that have their focus on something else. Until next week, did I miss anyone’s favorites? I admit I haven’t read any of the Utopian science fiction novels I listed except The Giver (although I’ve read several non-sci-fi ones), has anyone else read them? Let me know in the comments below!
*The Giver is in both categories due to a dramatic, mid-story shift in it’s tone, which is very expertly done. Please check it out, it’s a great book that’s won several prestigious awards and is a very fun read.