No One Writes Utopias Anymore

5 Feb

To quote Hamilton, “Winning was easy, young man, governing’s harder.” As I happened across some author’s manifesto, I realized that no one writes utopian stories anymore. Is it the lack of conflict? Or is it easier to fight injustice than to say what you’re fighting for?

What started this train of thought was coming across the Twitter account of one Winnifred Penrose, who defines herself as a “writer of steamy anti-capitalist feminist historical romance novels. Many ripped bodices.” Durh? My first thought is “here are two things that just don’t go together. How does she accomplish this?” Then I checked out her book, Last Night in Ireland, which is teased as:

An English suffragette.
An Irish Rebel
A Revolution that would divide them.

Okay – that works. Two rebels find each other in a past conflict: fits the narrative. But I find it interesting that Miss Penrose doesn’t look ahead and see where the Easter Rising takes us. You get an independent Ireland… but it immediately breaks into civil war. Michael Collins starts the Troubles in the north. Women get the vote in Britain eventually, but we dive into WWII. Not the ideal world that either of her characters were hoping for.

But no one writes utopias anymore; I think because everyone sees them for what they are. Political tracts disguised as literature. When I want to read fiction, I want it to be fiction, not someone trying to convince me of the perfect future. Take Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. I’ll admit–I’m a bad Libertarian and have never read this tome, but I certainly know who John Galt is. As a Heinlein fan, I did read his utopian novel, For Us, The Living, which is his vision of the Social Credit Theory brought to its perfection. Mind you, he wrote this after his failed attempt to run for Congress. (Hey, me and Bob have something in common!) The closest I’ve seen to a utopian novel recently was The Unincorporated Man (2009) by Dani and Eytan Kollin, which actually is a good novel, but also talks about living in a libertarian utopia. However, the authors are really clear that a) it took a disaster to get us there and b) it’s not perfect.

Part of the problem is that utopias are boring. If everything is perfect, then there is no conflict. However, I once read a sci fi book written during the Soviet Union which lived in the ideal communist future. The first line was “I remember the day they eliminated money.” However, the conflict was finding a way to continue progress, so it follows these two scientists who fall in love, and the writer who was their third wheel. It actually kept my attention and was very well written… I just wish I could remember all of the author’s name (Matvei).

I would a bad history geek if I didn’t point out that utopia is a word that simply means “no place,” which was the point of Sir Thomas More’s original book Utopia. But even then (1560?), it was a commentary on the politics of Europe at that time, not necessarily a place you wanted to live. However, maybe there’s a utopian book I’ve missed out there? What do you think? Are utopias simply boring? Let me know in the comments below!

One Response to “No One Writes Utopias Anymore”

  1. Silk Cords February 8, 2021 at 3:15 pm #

    I forgot to hit this one with all the personal craziness the last couple of days.

    I suspect your analysis is partially correct; people are put off by the political aspect of it. HOWEVER, I suspect general cynicism is an even bigger player here. I see people saying only anti-heroes are realistic, and up till recently dystopian fiction was very popular, and it’s just as political. Look at The Hunger Games for example. Apparently COVID burnout (and the political climate of the last 4 years) are taking their toll on Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic fiction sales though. Hitting too close to home for some folks.

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