Via Boing Boing:
Because of the Cold War emphasis on dystopias, Cold War writers like Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Samuel R. Delany had to find radical new ways to express their inexpressible hopes about the future, claims Jameson. At this moment of neoliberal triumphalism, he suggests, we should take these writers seriously – even if their ideas are packaged inside lurid paperbacks.
Great piece by Joshua Glenn. Glad to see someone sticking up for “sci-fi as lit” – – and seems timely given a conversation this morning re: sci-fi lit as more about society and culture than about individual stuggle(s). And how maybe that’s why it doesn’t always take root w/ a lot of folks.
currently playing: Howie B. “Have Mercy”
About Rob FrieselSoftware engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →
One Response to obfuscated utopia
I think it’s good to see science fiction advocated as literature, but Glenn’s premises and ideas are highly flawed.
Firstly, the science fiction novels he mentions do not offer anything radically new or different from the dystopian novels of the beginning of the century: “We”, “1984”, and “Brave New World.” They may go further, explore new realms of control or sexual activity or drug use or any number of factors, but these novels largely operate the same way.
Moreover, even the late UTOPIAN novels function the same way and actually are designed to show how utopian visions do not hold: “Erewhon”, “Paradise Lost”, etc…
Secondly, Glenn seems to try to etch out a certain subclass of sci-fi as utopian, or rather distopian, or this largely unnecessary term anti-anti-utopian. He would do greater benefit to demonstrate how all utopian novels or works of any form can be deemed science fiction if a part of his goal is to increase sci-fi’s treatment as literatuire. (Only the very early works of Plato or maybe More which are more closely related to philosophy and/or social treatise seeem to separate themselves from science fiction, but when you get a work like Chernyshevsky’s “What is to be done?”, itself a political tract, it is clear how the form itself is science fiction. Making this clear goes further to promote a literary discussion of sci-fi than Glenn’s odd distinctions.
But most significantly is the false premise that these works offer modern man guidance. Or rather, that we can find guidance via the “utopias” presented within the works. We cannot. We can only learn of the flawed nature and reality of life, whether those aspects are the product of man’s creation or fundamental biological, psychological, or sociological processes.
Yes, these books are powerful, valuable, and entertaining. Yes, they can be more significant to a modern reader to our current point in history than “Middlemarch”. Yes, they have been undervalued in history. However, none of the works mentioned advocate or have a plan for making life a happier, more peaceful, more simple endeavor. They say quite the opposite. They question any attempt to achieve such foolish pursuits. They deconstruct why such pursuits are futile. They do not provide us with any hope for attaining the “perfect societies” inherent in any “utopia” except by provoking the reader with thought, instilling in the reader the need to struggle with both wanting peace, happiness, and perfection while dealign with the reality that all is not equal, that prosperity is a singular pursuit, that freedom is antithetical to peace, etc…