Utopia - Dystopia - Science Fiction
Utopian Novels - Anti-Utopias - Science Fiction
The word >utopia< is derived from the Greek and means >no place< or >nowhere<
It was the title of a book written by THOMAS MORE (~1515)(English), who eventually became Lord High Chancellor under Henry VIII (1529). Later he was accused of high treason and decapitated in 1535.
The subject of all Utopias is society, and it contains two elements: the criticism of an actually existing society and a model of a new and better one.
Because Utopia is >nowhere< to be found, the authors of Utopias had to think of some tricks to deal with this paradox: Before the 19th century all Utopian societies were situated on far away islands which had not been discovered yet. Their position was kept a secret by those who had returned (to tell us about these fortunate but secret places). Later they were found on the moon or on other - hitherto untrodden - planets. These utopian societies were no future societies, they were described as already existing societies - but situated in >nowhere-land<.
Famous utopian novels:
- Thomas Morus : Utopia (1515)
- Thomas Campanella: Civitas solis (1623)
- Francis Bacon: Nova Atlantis (1638)
- William Morris: News from Nowhere (1891)
Jonathan Swift`s Gulliver`s Travels (1726) is a mixture of social satire and utopian novel: In the parts 1 to 3 societies of dwarfs, giants or crazy scientists are described, they are at war with other countries which forces Gulliver to flee. Only the society of the Houyhnhnms (pronounced: winimz) can be called utopian. Houyhnhnms are noble horses.
It is noteworthy that these authors were no writers but high-ranking politicians (Thomas More) or clergymen (Campanella, Swift) or scientists (Francis Bacon).
There is no private property in these ideal societies, therefore no greed and no crime etc.- but there may still be slaves (as in More`s Utopia) or some inferior creatures such as the Yahoos in Swift`s society of the noble horses. These Yahoos are human beings, but morally and physically they are more like monkeys and therefore inferior from a biological point of view, too (satire again!).
Not to forget a German author:
- Johannes Gottfried Schnabel: Insel Felsenburg (written and published between 1731 and 1743)
In the 20th century a number of novels have been written describing societies which claim to be perfect, but aren't. Since there aren`t any unknown islands left and the moon definitely uninhabited - these societies have to be situated not in space but in time: Either in the future (>1984<) or way back in the past (e.g. H.G.Well`s: Time Machine 1895). But these societies can hardly be called utopian in a positive sense, and these novels have therefore been classified as Anti-Utopian Novels. Their aims are to criticize existing societies by imagining what they will turn into if things continue as they are!
Famous (or interesting) novels of this kind:
- Jack London: The Iron Heel (~1905)
- Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1920)
- Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
- George Orwell: Animal Farm (1944) and 1984 (1948)
- Ray Bradbury: The Martian Chronicles (1946) and Fahrenheit 451 (1951)
In these novels the future societies have more or less locigally developed out of present societies. Certain aspects and tendencies of comtemporary society are >extrapolated< and transferred to the new society; but now they have become the dominant factors! Which elements of modern society are considered responsible for the disaster?
- - men`s desire to possess knowledge and power, which leads to some kind of dictatorship!
- - men`s unrestrained ambitions and lack of self-control
- - the simple-mindedness of the majority, their desire for being manipulated and tranquilized
- - the availability of scientific and technological means for all purposes - good and bad!
- - the complexity of technology and the difficulties of keeping it under control
Here we have arrived at what is called >Science Fiction<. In the whole genre of Science Fiction we come across science and technology. Good SF is an intellectual experiment dealing with the question >What would happen, if...<. And this is no doubt a question worth contemplating. But unlike in Utopian or Anti-Utopian novels the SF-author`s ambition is not to device new societies, but to question man`s attitude towards the machines he has invented. Furthermore the aims of these inventions and the blessings of science in general are questioned. And eventually the limitations of man`s power are exposed.
To give an example: In Mary Shelley`s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus (1818) an ambitious and gifted scientist, Dr.Frankenstein, is building and animating a human being, which is meant to be a perfect creature. But unfortunately the result is not perfect at all and instead of being loved it is loathed by everybody. Thus the end of the experiment is disastrous.
The "modern Prometheus" may technically be able to create human beings, but he lacks the intellectual and moral greatness for such skills. Therefore he will necessarily become victim to these ambitions.... or - as it is the case in other SF-novels - accept the limitations of his knowledge. This I think is the basic idea in Stanislaw Lem`s novels (e.g.>Solaris<). Or take Arthur C. Clarke`s >Space Odyssee 2001<, where the most advanced computer starts to develop his own ideas on what the spaceship`s mission is about. And the one surviving astronaut is reduced to a newborn child floating through the incomprehensible universe.
SF is good and worth while reading as long as its aim is to help us understand the dangers and risks of a society which is - more than ever - characterized by scienctific and technological processes and mass movements. Thus the scholars of the 16th century could device utopian societies - no property, no religion, no kings - but they could not write SF!
And the authors of the 19th century could write enthusiastic adventure stories on moon-rockets, submarines and speed - like Jules Verne - but they could not write SF either! SF does not necessarily mean fantastic spaceships, ugly creatures from other planets or crazy scientists!
- Margaret Atwood(English), The Handmaid's Tale
- Edward Bellamy(English), Looking Backward: 2000-1887
- Ray Bradbury(English), Fahrenheit 451
- Anthony Burgess(English), A Clockwork Orange
- Aldous Huxley(English), Brave New World
- Kazuo Ishiguro(English), Never let me down
- Sir Thomas More(English), Utopia
- William Morris(English), News from Nowhere
- George Orwell(English), Animal Farm
- George Orwell(English), 1984
- H.G. Wells(English), The Time Machine
Harrison Bergeron is a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.(English).
- Harrison Bergeron(English)
- The Day After Tomorrow
- The Matrix
- The Truman Show
- Science and Technology
- genetic engineering
- computers, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots
- environmental problems
- climate change
- Industrial Revolution
- inventions, innovations