Tuesday, November 15, 2011

SF Utopias and Dystopias

There was a discussion over at the Crooked Timber blog about the idea that most good SF is dystopian, rather than utopian, most likely because it's hard to write a ripping action tale about a utopia.

I added my two cents:
It makes more sense to talk about better societies than utopias. A lot of SF is about societies that are better than our current world. Or worse. The point is examine the ways in which societies can be better or worse and to talk about the possibility of change. Give people a look at what a society that is less sexist and racist and classist might be like.

If you consider that James Hansen may be right and Earth may end up with the same surface temp as Venus, SF that has the planet habitable in the future may be utopian or at least very optimistic. Or consider Jame Lovelock who has said that the human population will be down to one billion at the end of this century… Writing a future that does not have a major die off is optimistic. Robinson’s Mars Trilogy is pretty cheerful, all in all, since I don’t see humanity as going into space in a serious way. Certainly nothing as epic as the terraforming of Mars.

I got curious later and checked an online dictionary:

Utopia: any visionary system of political or social perfection.

Dystopia: a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.

I'm not sure the words are true opposites. A utopia is perfect. A dystopia is only miserable. There are many societies on Earth today that are characterized (at least in part) by squlaor, oppression, disease and overcrowding. There is not one perfectly good society.

This leads me back to point above. It makes more sense to talk about better and worse societies here and in fiction.


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