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March 19, 2010

The Village Is A Cosy Jumper For Surviving The Future

Cities are everywhere in Science Fiction. Everywhere and everything. Panoramic backdrops. Characters themselves. The catalysts for stories. Matt Jones's excellent article The City Is A Battlesuit For Surviving The Future (published on io9) examined not only the use of cities in Science Fiction but looked at how cities should evolve, how they can become a better place for us to live.

Which is fine and interesting, but probably more relevant if you work for a company called British Experimental Rocket Group, or work on Silicon Roundabout, or even just live in London. Perhaps it may even be relevant if you live in Birmingham or Manchester or Glasgow. But some people don't live in the big cities, they live in smaller cities such as Derby or Swansea or Preston. Or they live in towns such as Reading or Swindon. Or even more likely they live in the suburbs of one of these towns. And then some people live in villages.

The stereotypical image of an English village is rural, with a cricket pitch and a church and a post office and a pub, something straight out of Midsomer Murders. An image that I have found to be not very far from the truth, which is not a bad thing. There's something special about the size of a village, it feels to me like the ideal size for a community: it's small enough that most people know each other, but just large enough to escape. The size seems to spontaneously spawn social groups such as cricket teams or book groups or annual Christmas walks, there's no need for marketing and advertising and working to sustain the group, everyone is there, everyone knows.

It struck me that perhaps the village was in fact the ideal unit to cope with the future. I see a better future in a society where community matters more. Not the empty communities that political parties argue about, but real, social groups that support and work together and live together. The village could be our unit for survival. When I decided to write a story for the Shine Anthology I tried to write something exotic and foreign (to me), but villages returned every time, begging me to use them.

It still wasn't easy, I aborted three stories half way through, discarded loads of ideas and struggled endlessly with crafting a future. I knew that villages would help me but even then an optimistic future is hard work, all the problems I tried to fix were entangled with others. I tried to focus on one and became strangled by others. So in the end I decided to attack all of them, admittedly I attacked them sequentially to save my brain from exploding, but I tried to solve every problem. Not that solving the problems would or should come easy, or that the result would be a dull perfect world that some people seem to assume utopia will be. Solving the issues that haunt our future is not going to be easy, but we should at least try, we should at least think about it and work towards it. We have to imagine it for at least a chance of it happening.

And when we solve those problems and reach utopia, that's not the end, it's just the beginning.

My story The Rules Of Utopia is published in DayBreak Magazine.

1 Comment

Interesting. I think you're on to something here. If you read a lot of the '50s pulp stuff about colonizing Mars or Venus or the Moon, there's a trend towards small frontier towns (Under domes)that have a strong sense of community, often in contrast to the larger society that spawned them. There's still a trend towards that, though it's intermitent nowadays ("Fallen Angels" pops to mind), but I hadn't really thought to quantify it the way you mentioned here.

Which makes me think that classical 'Utopias' usually involved smallish societies, or networks of villages - "Utopia" itself, or "Islandia," or, heck, even that stupid movie "Zardoz" - that have a very strong hands-on work ethic. In the 'States we tend to think of "Utopia" in Star Trek terms where a macrosociety exists and no one ever really has to do anything, and technology cures all ills in the most boring fashion possible, but now that you've pointed out the 'village' thing, it jumps out at me that a good 50% of utopian living is solid labor.