Apr 25, 2010

U is for Utopian

Utopia is actually a Greek word for 'not place', but has come to be used as a term for a perfect society, something that has been explored in literature, although not nearly as often as dystopia (tragic, nightmarish world).

I've notice a huge trend in YA fiction featuring dystopian worlds, like The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the setting is a future where zombies plague the earth. Another popular dystopian novel is Unwind by Neal Shusterman set in world where it's acceptable practice to harvest body parts from unwanted teenagers. But I found utopian fiction a little scarce.
When utopian worlds are explored in fiction it is usually to question their validity. In H G Wells The Time Machine, the protagonist visits a future world that appears utopian, only to discover the idyllic gentle souls living in a state of euphoria were actually just food for the society that lived beneath the ground. Certainly the utopian suggestion by Cadburys that the world would be nice if it were chocolate is all fun and games in winter, but come summer...

I wonder if this method of questioning paradise is also a way of questioning religious beliefs about perceptions of heavens or afterlife. Perhaps it is a way of raising awareness of our own views of our culture, the way we think our practices are the acceptable ones. Then again, it might just be because without conflict, there would be no story.

The Sky Inside is a story of a utopian world (well, utopian until the conflict arrives) by Clare B Dunkle. I like the look of this one and might have to add it to my 'list of books I'm allowed to buy once I've actually read some of the ones I've already got'. Have you come across any recent utopian novels? Does all speculative fiction assume we're doomed?

I also have a new personal project. I want to find all the blogs hosted by kids and teens on writing and book reviewing so I can share their links and encourage their efforts (because I have been so humbled by the bloggers supporting Paper Dolls - my daughters' book review blog). Whenever you come across a blog you want to recommend, let me know!


  1. We will check out your daughter's blog; I have a daughter, she may enjoy this as well. She loves to read! I totally agree, you must have conflict or there would be no story in Utopia. I almost picked that word. I am happy you did; Great job!

  2. Interesting post. With every story I've read or saw about Utopia, there is conflict.

    Thoughts in Progress

  3. Ah, this posting reminds me of one of the Star Trek stories when Kirk and his crew landed on a place that was seemingly Utopian, and there were flowers that kind of sent off this aroma that made the people there content. (At least that is as much as I can remember of it) I really liked the original series. You had a good post today.

  4. Great topic! I find utopian fiction more interesting than dystopian. I think you are right that it's usually a form of social criticism. I think that often, utopian fiction takes certain philosophies or social theories out to their logical conclusions to show the problems inherent in that line of thought.

    It's not utopian fiction, but if you haven't read Samuel Johnson's _Rasselas_, I highly recommend it. It's an exploration of the search for happiness in this world, so it's a kind of personalized utopian fiction. In this case, the protagonist escapes his artificial utopia (Happy Valley) because he feels he needs to see the unhappiness of life in order to understand happiness.

  5. I suppose there are fewer utopian novels because if everything is wonderful then there's no story.

    It might be quite a challenge to create a utopian society and then find a story that can emerge from it without losing the utopianism.

  6. I enjoy dystopian novels. I think my favourite (or at least one of them!) is The Giver by Lois Lowry. Such a great novel :)

  7. Hi, Charmaine! Please check out my post for today. Your daughters are truly an inspiration, and I thank you for sharing their blog with us. Have a great Sunday! Tory

  8. Thanks for all the comments and book recommendations - I like reading the dystopian fiction too, mostly because it usually carries the motif of hope - what if all around us the world was doomed? Would we still find pleasure in our family and friends.
    Rosslyn, you summed up perfectly what I was trying to say - you just did it better ;-)
    And I am an early Trekkie fan Ruby, that's the only Star Trek series I liked, but I did enjoy the newer movie last year that featured those characters in their youth.
    Now I'm going to visit Tory's blog, as my curiosity is sparked!

  9. It has been a long time since I've read a utopian novel -- The Sky Inside looks like something I should "add to my...what you said." :)

    I'm so bad -- when I have to stop buying books because I have too many stacked too high, I borrow more from the library. I know that makes no sense...