Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Personal Perspective on ISAAC ASIMOV'S UTOPIAS and others

Part Two

Though attempts at true, unambiguous Utopias, perfect or ideal societies, are rare in science fiction, they do exist. In most, a threat to the utopian status quo is central to the plot, or the utopia is not yet founded and must be built in the face of opposition, or both. Examples include Robert A. Heinlein’s Beyond this Horizon and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Marge Piercy’s Woman at the Edge of Time, Theodore Sturgeon’s Venus Plus X, and ‘If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?’, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Pat Murphy’s The City, Not Long After, George Turner’s ‘Shut the Door When You Go Out’ and ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, and Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s Stardance trilogy.

All of these stories have, at their core, simple solutions to problems that the authors suggest prevent this world being perfect. The Heinlein novels propose heavily armed anarchy with a tax-free user-pays economy. Rand’s ‘Galt’s Gulch’ abolished altruism and sanctified financial reward as the only worthwhile reason for doing anything. Piercy’s future enabled sexual equality by removing the burden of pregnancy from women. Sturgeon’s ‘Ledom’, even more radically, was populated exclusively by fashion-conscious hermaphrodites with little or no testosterone, while his Vexvelt becomes paradise because of the abolition of incest taboos. Clarke’s ‘Golden Age’ is founded on realistic technological advances and the abolition of nationalism, and funded by the abolition of military spending. Murphy’s San Francisco is an artists’ commune trying to non-violently resist armed invaders. Turner’s Gaia has humans perfectly attuned to the living planet, while his world in ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ has stabilised the population and created a sustainable society by creating a feminist religious state that resembles that of Tepper’s ‘Women’s Country’ without the warriors. The Robinsons’ trilogy ultimately sets humanity free by allowing them to survive unprotected in space, making them telepathic, and - ultimately - abolishing gravity altogether, which may not be the least practical of the solutions suggested but is certainly the most difficult to try as a small-scale experiment.

Debating how well any of these societies might function would take many volumes, but all serve to demonstrate one of the problems with creating a fictional utopia: how many readers will think it’s a dystopia instead? I would even suggest that the more perfect the match between a fictional utopia and the writer’s personal vision of paradise, the fewer people would actually want to live there.

(To be concluded)

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