A to Z Day 21: Utopian

Utopian stories are set in perfect or near-perfect societies. Writers have created utopias in English for at least 500 years. The term as we use it today comes from Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, which was first published in 1516. You can find antecedents in the practice of creating ideal states, a truly ancient philolosphical practice; and it is interesting that More’s book is both a work of narrative fiction and a social critique of European society.

The opposite of the utopia is the dystopia – a fictional society that has gone terrifyingly wrong. Dystopias are far more popular that utopias in contemporary fiction, and they are often presented as cautionary tales or social criticism. I have to think hard to come up with more than a couple of utopian works without a search enging (More and James Hilton’s Lost Horizon are the only ones that just spring to mind). The list of dystopian works I can name off the top of my head is long. Here are a few (links to their Goodreads pages):

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Utopian and dystopian settings are popular in speculative fiction. You could even argue that they are speculative fiction by their very nature, even when they don’t contain a lot of sci-fi or fantasy elements. Some authors even combine them. It’s not uncommon to find writers playing with these concepts by doing things like creating an obvious dystopia but having everyone who lives in it convinced it’s a utopia (well, except for that one guy at the center of the story, and perhaps a few social elites).

Utopias and dystopias work well in film. So well, in fact, that I have an easier time naming dystopian movies than I do naming dystopian books.

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About Gene'O

Compulsive writer, amateur photographer, and blogaholic. Also an evil genius.

15 thoughts on “A to Z Day 21: Utopian

  1. I can think of several stories that have what appears to be utopia (Stepford Wives, The Village, The Island) until the skeletons come out of the closet!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. melissajanda says:

    I’ve read Thomas More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis and The City of the Sun by Campanella. From what I remember of them, I wouldn’t call any of them utopias, at least not my definition.They reflected the thinking of the time in which they were written.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can suggest a Utopia – Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson and based on the Rush album. I’ve written about it before: http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/in-this-one-of-many-possible-worlds-a-review-of-clockwork-angels/

    The biggest problem for this book is going to be audience. On the one hand, the people who are going to find it are, like me, Rush fans, and are likely going to be a little older. On the other hand, I think the best reading audience for it will be teenagers, who have probably never heard of Rush.

    Thus why I am recommending it here! Go! Read it! Share! Because in a fascinating twist, they decided that their Utopia was NOT necessarily a Dystopia.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dystopian literature is one of my favorite genres. So much so, my D for A-Z was Dystopian.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post Gene’O! I’m a huge fan of dystopian works and find I cannot get enough of them 🙂


  6. hannahgivens says:

    I’ve been contemplating writing a short story about a future where everyone lives in virtual reality and/or lives mainly on the internet, but I want it to be a utopia, not a dystopia. I’ve only been fiddling with the idea, in a vague sense, but it’s hard to come up with a way to do it because usually if something’s portrayed as a utopia, I’m/the audience is on edge waiting to see where the secret dark side is. It’s also difficult because if it’s a real utopia, the conflict is limited.

    Ecotopia and Herland spring immediately to mind as utopian fiction, but I don’t think I’d call either one a good novel. It seems to me that utopian novels are mostly concerned with advocating a particular utopia by describing it in detail and answering objections to the theory and how it might be carried out in practice. So, they’re basically just extended examples, not novels with stories in their own rights. I am thinking for that story I might take a page from Ecotopia and Herland and introduce an outsider character to create conflict and perceive the world for the reader, and just reverse the “secret” thing so the outsider thinks SURELY this is a dystopia, but the twist is that it isn’t.

    The whole thing is interesting in terms of analyzing a narrative, because it’s such a tiny little niche.


    • Gene'O says:

      Wow. You continue to impress. That is a good idea, especially the twist, if you can pull it off. I think the inversion could work. Kinda wish I’d thought of it.

      I think you’re right about the problem with the audience. We’ve been inundated with dystopia – we’re primed to look for that dark side, so a true utopia is very difficult to pull off artistically. People don’t connect with it in the same way. Utopia’s just a foil for the dystopic twist at this point. Think about how long ago 1984 was written and how long ago Logan’s Run was produced.

      I agree that they tend to be didactic.


      • hannahgivens says:

        We probably also kinda know better at this point. Ecotopia sounds pretty nice in many ways, but I’d never expect it to be everyone’s utopia. It’s designed for a very specific sort of person.

        The idea actually came from one of my tirades about my digital history textbook and how people think the internet is so incredibly different from “real” life. The internet is where I grew up. The internet is where I met Rose (and many other friends including y’all on WordPress!) The internet is many more things I can enumerate later when I’m actually writing the story. I like non-internet life too and I don’t actually think we should all just hook into VR and stay there forever, but that whole concept that it’s somehow not as good really drives me nuts. There are a billion cyber-dystopias, so I just thought doing it as a utopia would be fun. 🙂


        • Gene'O says:

          I agree, would be fun.

          I don’t say “real life” any more. I say “offline.” You’re touching on something very important here. Whether it’s mediated by technology or not, human interactions are REAL. An online friend isn’t any less a friend because you’ve never met them in person – not unless they’re playing some game with people. The whole issue of the medium standing in the way of “real” interaction is going to fade away – but do remind me to write you an essay sometime on the problems with that. You grew up on the internet, but a lot of people get their first computer of their very own with their freshman student loan money.

          I agree with you, but at the same time I see a whole economic class that can’t grow up on the internet because they don’t have the access. That’s a problem that needs to be solved (Diana and I talk about this one quite a bit offline).

          I think a virtual reality utopia is a grand idea.


          • hannahgivens says:

            “Offline.” That’s the term I was looking for. Why is it midnight what the heck world.

            Yeah, internet access does become a class issue (and even a human rights issue in Amnesty). I got my first computer of my own five or six years ago at some point after I’d had a job for a few years and could buy one. Until then I shared with two parents and three siblings on dial-up. (I remember needing to bring a book when I wanted to use the computer, because I needed something to do while I waited for pages to load…) But yeah, lots of people can’t get access at all. I just usually lump it in with the various others, since presumably if people are more affluent, equal, educated, free to speak, etc., they’ll get better access. It is its own issue too, though.


            • Gene'O says:

              Yeah. Human rights issue. We talk about it in those terms privately, but not so much on the blogs because it exposes us to #firstworldproblems snark.

              We’re trying to figure out a way to talk about it productively. And god, yes, it sucks that it is midnight.

              For an adult who’s passed the age of consent, not having your own internet access is analogous to not having a car in the late 70s – early 80s. Individual Internet access gives you a sort of autonomy that can’t be had in any other way, is what I think. Putting posts together and doing other things, but you’ll hear from me privately on FB before the weekend is out.


  7. […] 4: Revision – Social – Tone – Utopian – Villanelle – […]


  8. […] 4: Revision – Social – Tone – Utopian – Villanelle – […]


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