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Utopia and Dystopia

If we contemplate literary genres, two very broad and related categories are utopias and dystopias.  The etymology here is simple enough. Utopias are “no places,” thus impossible places—because we find it difficult to believe in paradise on earth. Dystopias are “bad places”—and by contrast we kind of believe that dystopias are altogether possible.

The best know utopia is Sir Thomas More’s. He coined the word from the Greek roots of no and place: Of the Best State of a Republic, and the New Island of Utopia (1516). Most of the books in this genre are projections of political orders in which a semblance of perfection has been reached, hence Plato’s Republic may be considered a kind of archetype—unless we evoke the poet Hesiod (eighth century B.C.) and his backward projection of a past Golden Age. Just a few modern utopias come to mind, one being Aldous Huxley’s probably least-known work, Island (1962). Two science fiction offerings are Jack Vance’s Big Planet (1957) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home (1985).

Dystopias, by contrast, are many and varied. We would propose George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) as the most famous. Interestingly enough—and we infer this from a listing of dystopian works by Wikipedia here—is that as time has advanced so dystopian books have multiplied. In that listing Wikipedia includes one work for the 1910s,  two for the 1920s, six for the 1930s (including Huxley’s Brave New World (1932)), eight for the 1940s (including, along with Orwell’s big opus his equally well-known Animal Farm (1945)), eleven in  the 1950s (including Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953)), fifteen in the 1960s (in which period A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962) ranks high but we especially value John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968); it is, for its time, a stunningly prophetic view of this time), twenty-three in the 1970s, twenty-one in the 1980s, thirteen in the 1990s, and thirty-three! in the 2000s.  9/11 no doubt made its contribution in that last decade.

In the mid-twentieth century, as earlier in the works of Jules Verne, science fiction presented a kind of limited utopian vision of technology. Later in the century, and these days still, technology in its cybernetic aspects has produced an ever darker vision—perhaps also mirroring the times. Balanced visions of the future, such as we claim are presented in the Ghulf Genes cycle (see Books tab above) are the rarity.
Picture credit: Wikipedia here.


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