Utopian and dystopian fiction

The utopia and its offshoot, the dystopia, are genres of literature that explore social and political structures. Utopian fiction is the creation of an ideal world, or utopia, as the setting for a novel. Dystopian fiction is the opposite: creation of a nightmare world, where utopian ideals have been subverted. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices, ending up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative fiction genres.

Utopian fiction

The word "utopia" was first used in this context by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 work "Utopia". The word "utopia" means "no place" in Greek, and resembles the Greek term for "good place", "eutopia". In his book, which was written in Latin, More sets out a vision of an ideal society. An earlier example of a Utopian work from classical times is Plato's "The Republic", in which he outlines what he sees as the ideal society and its political system.

* Sir Thomas More - "Utopia" (1516)
* Francesco Patrizi - "La Città felice" (The Happy City, 1553)
* Tommaso Campanella - "City of the Sun" (1602)
* Johannes Valentinus Andreae - "Christianopolis" (1619)
* Sir Francis Bacon - "The New Atlantis" (1626)
* Ludovico Zuccolo - "La Repubblica d' Evandria"
* Samuel Hartlib - "A Description of the Famous Kingdom of Macaria"
* James Harrington - "The Commonwealth of Oceana" (1656)
* Thomas Spence - "The History of Crusonia on Robinson Crusoe's Island" and "Spensonia"
* Charles Fourier - "The New Industrial and Social World"
* Étienne Cabet - "Voyages en Icarie" (Travels in Icaria, 1840)
* Samuel Butler - "Erewhon" ("nowhere" spelled backwards, almost; 1872)
* Edward Bellamy - "" (1888)
* William Morris – "News from Nowhere" (1890)
* Bolesław Prus – "Pharaoh" (1895) [Zygmunt Szweykowski, "Twórczość Bolesława Prusa", pp. 327–28.]
* H. G. Wells - "A Modern Utopia" (1905)
* Charlotte Perkins Gilman - "Herland" (1915)
* Robert Heinlein - "" (written 1936, published posthumously 2003)
* B.F. Skinner - "Walden Two" (1948)
* Aldous Huxley - "Island" (1962)
* Ursula K. Le Guin - "The Dispossessed" (1974)

Dystopian fiction

Dystopias usually extrapolate elements of contemporary society and function as a warning against some modern trend, often the threat of oppressive regimes in one form or another.

* Yevgeny Zamyatin - "We" (1921)
* Karel Čapek - "War with the Newts" (1936)
* Anthony Burgess - "A Clockwork Orange" (1962)
* Isaac Asimov - "Foundation and Earth" in part IV: Solaria (1986)
* Margaret Atwood - "The Handmaid's Tale" (1986) and "Oryx and Crake" (2003)
* Paul Auster - "In the Country of Last Things"
* Max Barry - "Jennifer Government"
* Karin Boye - "Kallocain"
* Ray Bradbury - "Fahrenheit 451"
* Katharine Burdekin - "Swastika Night"
* John Carpenter - "Escape from New York" and "Escape from L.A."
* James De Mille - "A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder"
* Philip K. Dick - "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", "The Man in the High Castle" and "Lies Inc."
* Harlan Ellison - ""Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman"
* Ben Elton - "Gridlock", "This Other Eden" and "Blind Faith"
* Isamu Fukui - "Truancy"
* William Gibson - cyberpunk novels.
* Aldous Huxley - "Brave New World"
* Kazuo Ishiguro - "Never Let Me Go"
* P. D. James - "The Children of Men"
* Stephen King - "The Running Man"
* Arthur Koestler - "Darkness at Noon"
* Cyril M. Kornbluth - "The Marching Morons"
* Ira Levin - "This Perfect Day"
* Jack London - "The Iron Heel"
* Lois Lowry - "The Giver"
* Cormac McCarthy - "The Road"
* Alan Moore and David Lloyd - "V for Vendetta"
* William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson - "Logan's Run"
* George Orwell - "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
* Ayn Rand - "Anthem" and "Atlas Shrugged"
* John Twelve Hawks - "The Traveler"
* Kurt Vonnegut - "Harrison Bergeron" and "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow"
* Scott Westerfeld - "Uglies", "Pretties", "Specials", and "Extras"
* Suzanne Weyn - "The Bar Code Tattoo" and "Bar Code Rebellion"
* D. Harlan Wilson - "Dr. Identity"


Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" is sometimes linked with utopian (and dystopian) literature, because it shares the general preoccupation with ideas of the good (and bad) society. Of the countries Lemuel Gulliver visits, only the Country of the Houyhnhnms approaches a utopia; most of the others have significant dystopian aspects.

Many works combine elements of both utopias and dystopias. Typically, an observer from our world will journey to another place or time and see one society the author considers ideal, and another representing the worst possible outcome. The point is usually that the choices we make now may lead to a better or worse potential future world. Ursula K. Leguin's "Always Coming Home" fulfils this model, as does Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time". In Starhawk's "The Fifth Sacred Thing" there is no time-travelling observer, but her ideal society is invaded by a neighbouring power embodying evil repression. In Aldous Huxley's "Island", in many ways a counterpoint to his better-known "Brave New World", the fusion of the best parts of Buddhist philosophy and Western technology is threatened by the "invasion" of oil companies.

In another literary model, the imagined society journeys between elements of utopia and dystopia over the course of the novel or film. At the beginning of "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, the world is described as a utopia, but as the book progresses, dystopia takes over.


A subgenre of this is ecotopian fiction, where the author posits either a utopian or dystopian world revolving around environmental conservation or destruction. Ernest Callenbach's "Ecotopia" was the first example of this, followed by Kim Stanley Robinson in his "California" trilogy. Robinson has also edited an anthology of short ecotopian fiction, called "". The novel The Bridge (1973) by D. Keith Mano presents a world dominated by a global environmental fascism, where the government ultimately promotes the extinction of the human race by enforced mass suicide, so as to ‘save’ the environment.

Another important subgenre is feminist utopias and the overlapping category of feminist science fiction. Writer Sally Miller Gearhart calls this sort of fiction political: it contrasts the present world with an idealized society, criticizes contemporary values and conditions, sees men or masculine systems as the major cause of social and political problems (e.g. war), and presents women as equal to or superior to men, having ownership over their reproductive functions. A common solution to gender oppression or social ills in feminist utopian fiction is to remove men, either showing isolated all-female societies as in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland", or societies where men have died out or been replaced, as in Joanna Russ's "A Few Things I Know About Whileaway", where "the poisonous binary gender" has died off. Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" does not remove men, but posits a non-human biology in which each individual is usually neuter, and sometimes male, sometimes female. Marge Piercy's novel "Woman on the Edge of Time" keeps human biology, but removes pregnancy and childbirth from the gender equation by resorting to artificial wombs, while allowing both women and (through unspecified means) also men the nurturing experience of breastfeeding.

Cultural impact

Étienne Cabet's work "Travels in Icaria" caused a group of followers to leave France in 1848 and come to the United States to found a series of utopian settlements in Texas, Illinois, Iowa, California, and elsewhere. These groups lived in communal settings and lasted until 1898.

Though few would claim "utopian" status, intentional communities are groups of people who strive for a more ideal life in some way, and are inspired by a similar urge to that found in utopian novels. These communities are cultural and social experiments in better living. Some of the better known modern experiments include the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Twin Oaks (inspired by Skinner's "Walden II", above) and The Farm in the US, ZEGG in Germany, Camphill Communities (all over, but originating in Europe), and Auroville in India.

ee also

* Utopia
* Dystopia (Cacotopia, Anti-utopia)
* Social science fiction
* List of dystopian literature
* List of dystopian films
* List of dystopian music, TV programs, and games
* List of dystopian comics



*Applebaum, Robert. "Literature and Utopian Politics in Seventeenth-Century England." Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002.
*Bartkowski, Frances. "Feminist Utopias." Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
*Booker, M. Keith. "The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature." Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1994.
*Booker, M. Keith. "Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide." Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1994.
*Ferns, Chris. "Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature." Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1999.
*Gerber, Richard. "Utopian Fantasy." London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955.
*Gottlieb, Erika. "Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial." Montreal, McGill-Queen's Press, 2001.
*Haschak, Paul G. "Utopian/Dystopian Literature." Metuchen, NJ, Scarecrow Press, 1994.
*Kessler, Carol Farley. "Dare to Dream: Utopian Fiction by United States Women Before 1950." Syracuse, NY, Syracuse University Press, 1995.
*Tod, Ian, and Michael Wheeler. "Utopia." London, Orbis, 1978.
* [http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/10/sargent10art.htm Sargent, Lyman Tower. "Themes in Utopian Fiction in English before Wells." "Science Fiction Studies" Vol. 10, No. 3, pt. 3 (November 1976).]
*Zygmunt Szweykowski, "Twórczość Bolesława Prusa" (The Art of Bolesław Prus), 2nd ed., Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972.

External links

* [http://www.utoronto.ca/utopia The Society for Utopian Studies]

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