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Some thoughts on the utopian novel

posted by dru Topics: literature

March 21, 2008

Some thoughts on the utopian novel

From Kim Stanley Robinson:

Dystopian science fiction has its place, as a warning sign, saying "Don't go this way." So it can be important. But the dystopian cliche of our times is just too easy, it no longer says "Don't go this way" but rather "This is the only way no matter what you do, so don't try to fight it." That kind of dystopia is reinforcing of the status quo, it's a capitulation. I'd say most dystopias today are of the latter type: people don't really suffer (not the book's protagonist anyway, they're too "street smart"), and the reader is told that no alternative world is possible, the dystopia being the most likely of all possible worlds.

Okay, say that we're in trouble at the end of the 20th century. We are. Resources are depleted, populations are rising, we're in a race to invent a kind of living that will work before our problems overwhelm us. That being the case (and who but the rich think tank experts can deny it?), what kind of political art do we create? The utopia is the only choice. And for a novelist, the problem then becomes the utopian novel; which is a kind of bastard genre, from two very different kinds of parents, because the novel is about what IS, while the utopia is about what should be; so what then is the utopian novel? No one knows.


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