Sunday, 22 July 2012

U-tops and Dys-tops

I love Dystopias. I love Utopias. I did a course at uni about utopian and dystopian literature, and i've been obsessed ever since. I think it was the only course I actually read every single book on the reading list, plus more. I think what fascinated me the most was how the line between utopia and dystopia is not so clear cut, and how one can so easily merge into the other. It raises philosophical and moral debates that sometimes, you just can't answer. Happiness at the price of freedom anyone?

This is my list of my favs. Read them!

The Republic, Plato. OK, was made to read this one at uni. And I know what you're thinking. Plato? WTF? But this is the bedrock of all Utopian Lit. Plato has created his 'perfect' society. But is eugenics, sterilization, heirarchys and an intellectual elite really a Utopia...?

Gulliver's Travels, Swift. As Gulliver encounters all these weird and wonderous different worlds, each questions our own society and our own ideals, and actually whether our pursuit of perfection comes at a price. A master of critique and satire. Now let's extract sunbeams from cucumbers! Loved this book ever since that TV version in the 90's.

Erewhon, Samuel Butler. An anagram of 'nowhere', this Victorian satire presents a backwards place where for eg. criminals are treated as ill and the ill are treated as criminals. The most amazing part of the book is the last section, 'Book of the Machines' which is a scarrily accurate pre-curser to A.I - all machines have been destroyed as they thought they would develop a consciousness and take over...! You start to believe it. Now relevant more than ever. So glad my brother got this for me from the school library clearout. Good brother.

The Time Machine, H. G. Wells.  Set in the future in a world full of perfectly beautiful 'people' (the Eloi), but hiding a sinister underbelly, literally. 


Brave New World, Huxley. Artificial, drug induced happiness at the price of personal freedom? Very similar to Plato's Republic (yeah I wrote one of my dissertations comparing these two) - but one classed as a utopia and one as a dystopia. Which side are you on?

News From Nowhere, William Morris. Written in 1890 and set in London around NOW (!), this is Morris' ideal socialist utopia where London is a big happy rural place, no money, just trading, and the houses of Parliament are a place to store horse manure (lols). Would this ever work, or is it just a rich arty farty man's dream? Would you want it to work?!
Metropolis, Thea Von Harbou. A seemingly beautiful urban city full of the elite, yet powered by down-trodden workers. Echoes of The Time Machine. What is the price of creating a Utopia? Lots of Hitler overtones. The 1920's film by Fritz Lang is fantastic, with Von Harbou, his wife (aw bless), writing the screenplay. 

Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Women only world. No men! :-O So no war, no dominance, no conflict, no angst, and lots of artificial reproduction. A feminist paradise. But, of course, dark and questionable undertones.

The Trial/ The Castle, Kafka. Anything by Kafka is disturbingly dystopic. These two novels are perfect examples of the consequences of extreme bureaucracy, and one man's plight against the system. A nonsensical system that is.

WE, Yevgeny Zamyatin. This book inspired Orwell and Huxley to write their dystopias. The Daddy of the modern Dystopia. Love how everyone lives in completely glass flats, so everybody can see everything. You get dedicated 'sexy time' where you're allowed to close the blinds hehe. *Awkward much*

I really want to read:

The Drowned World, J G Ballard. Another novel set in London, this time in a Global-Warming heated up world. London is a tropical swamp, no polar ice caps, no-one lives around the equator. The Sun is close to earth in a sci-fi take. I think it's not so much as a utopian or dystopian social critique, but is definitely a dystopia!

The Island, Huxley. Huxley's take on a Utopia this time. Wonder if it'll stay a utopia... doubt it.

The Sleeper Awakes, H. G Wells. A man wakes up in the future, just like Morris' News From Nowhere.

Fatherland, Robert Harris. If Hitler had won the war. Hitler obviously was wanting to create a utopia by eliminating all what he deemed 'unsavory' within society. I imagine this finalised vision, and if you imagine it in real life, would be a perfect example of an extremely dystopian 'utopia'. When you think of trying to create a utopia in real life as opposed to fiction, it really is quite a terrifying concept. Paradise at a high price - a price that any sane man or women would never pay. I just don't think creating a complete utopia is ever possible. You have to destroy and eliminate too much, and there is absolutely nothing perfect about that.

Tell me of any sort of utopian or dystopian books you've read and would recommend! Any books that are set in a world that might seem perfect or really really awful. And, if at any point you thought 'actually, this bad world ain't too bad' or 'this ain't perfect you dumb ass!'

I read normal books too. I've read Twilight.


  1. Oooh love this, Laura. I'd recommend two books by Philip K Dick, 'The Man in the High Castle' and "Ubik" - both are brilliant, and I think you'd like them. Similarly, 'High Rise' by Ballard is an absolutely fantastic novel that looks at life in a set of high rise flats with all the amenities you could want under one roof, and the relationships and rivalries that go on between the various floors.

    1. Thanks Helen! My cousin was reading High Rise and said I should read it - completely forgot about it until now, thanks for reminding me! I'll check out the others too. xxxxxxx

  2. Right now I'm reading The Chrysalids by John Wyndham and I have to say it is one of the most engaging novels I have read in a long time and of the dystopian sort to boot!