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April 18, 2011

Dystopia Vs. Utopia Vs. Somewhere In-between


Jetse De Vries had a post on Tor.com entitled The Dystopia/Utopia Dichotomy where he talks about Utopias and Dystopias and why writers seem to be writing more Dystopias and less Utopias and hardly anything that suggests a path towards Utopia…

This persistent either/or thinking (if a society in [genre] fiction is not a dystopia, then by default it must be a utopia) is what I call the dystopia/utopia dichotomy: divide the worldviews up in two easy-to-catagorise camps so that you can ignore the actual complexities of real societies. It also seems to work wonderfully well in avoiding to (try to) think of solutions, or even provide examples of solution-based thinking: it’s fine to wallow, extremely deeply in the horrible problems, but when it’s time to face up to them, we log out.

I think the answer is that it is hard to write near future utopias that suggest solutions to current problems, hence the scarcity.

It could be argued though, I suppose, that a novel like The Dervish House is somewhere in-between: it’s near future and shows a future in Turkey in which many things are better. Maybe our near future utopias are just a little too light on the utopian-ness to be recognised as such?

1 Comment

Larry Niven once said "Utopia may be a fine place to live, but it's really boring to write about."

My own thinking is that Utopias are generally didactic and preachy. It's never a case of "This is the future, and everything is cool," it's more "This is the future that can only exist if people cast off their stupid fascination with rap music, embrace Veblen's economic theories exclusively, vote libertarian, and convert to Sweedenborganism." It's always a novel-length commercial for the author's own beliefs. As such, utopias tend to be more evangelical tool than story.

Dystopias tend to be a bit more interesting, particularly ones like Zamyatin's "We," but lately these have become co-opted as evangelical tools as well. "Fear the UN, irradiated foods, computers, and the European Union." It's a complete waste of potential, and pretty darn lazy as cautionary tales go.