Storm Warnings: Science Fiction Confronts the Future

By George E. Slusser; Colin Greenland et al. | Go to book overview

Reactionary Utopias

Gregory Benford

One of the striking facets of fictional utopias is that nobody really wants to live there. Perhaps the author, or a few friends, will profess some eagerness. But seldom do utopian fictions awaken a real longing to take part.

I suspect this is because most visions of supposedly better societies have features which violate our innate sense of human progress--they don't look like the future; they resemble a warped, malignant form of the past.

Time and again, utopists envision worlds where one aspect of human character is enhanced, and much else is suppressed. Plato Republic was the first and most easily understandable of these; he thought that artists and similar unreliable sorts should be expelled. Too disruptive, you know.

Should we be uncomfortable with this fact? If we value Western European ideals, yes.


Five Regressive Ideas

How can we codify this notion? Utopian fictions stress ideas, so we need a way to advance the background assumptions, while suppressing the foreground of plot and character.

Nearly all utopias have one or more characteristics which I shall term reactionary, in the sense that they recall the past, often in its worst aspects. Here, "reactionary" means an aesthetic analogy, no more. It may apply to works which are to the left in the usual political spectrum, though I feel this one-dimensional spectrum is so misleading that the customary use of reactionary means little. Regressive might be an alternate term, meaning that a utopia seeks to turn back

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