“We have always been at war with Eastasia and bored by Utopia.”

Slate has an article about a guy named Neal Stephenson calling for more Utopian, less Dystopian, science-fiction. The idea is that people need to be more optimistic about the future in order to be motivated to invent things.

I’ll comment on that anon, but first a language lesson. Quoth Wikipedia:

The word [Utopia] comes from the Greek: οὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”) and means “no place”. The English homophone eutopia, derived from the Greek εὖ (“good” or “well”) and τόπος (“place”), means “good place”. This, due to the identical pronunciation of “utopia” and “eutopia”, gives rise to a double meaning.

So, when Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia, he was making a sort of pun in the title. Now you know. And “dys” is apparently Greek for “bad”, so when they say that, they’re really dyssing something. (Sorry.) I like these double-meanings, but people have kind of forgotten about that nuance. (It’s like the subtleties of language are being lost. Someone should write a dystopian novel about that.)

The problem is that most Utopian fiction is boring. There’s nothing interesting about a place where there are no problems. (Which is, in a sense, a problem. Someone should write a dystopian novel about that, too.) Even worse, it comes across as somebody preaching to you about what they think society ought to be like. I have enough of that as it is.

Also, would-be inventors can be forgiven for fearing that even their most brilliant efforts will be all to the bad. May I present Alfred Nobel and Robert Oppenheimer?

The only way to make an interesting Utopian story that I can see is to have some external threat appear in the Utopia, and destroy it. It’s best if the threat is from the present-day of the writer of the story. (This is kind of the plot of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Utopia, Limited, in which a bunch of Englishmen show up and ruin a Utopian island.) And even this is pretty heavy-handed as a satirical technique.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s