Introduction by Boyd White

Although Sir Thomas More coined the word utopia in the 16th century from Greek that translates literally as “no-place,” in common usage the term refers to an imagined ideal community constructed upon egalitarian principles of economics, government, and justice.  While its homophone eutopia, derived from Greek that means “good place,” is the correct term for a positive utopia, utopia and eutopia have been used interchangeably for decades.

More’s Utopia (1516), a fictional account of the religious, social, and political customs of an island society located in the South Atlantic, is not the earliest example of a proposal for an ideal community.  That distinction rests with Plato’s Republic (380 BC), a rigid class-structured society ruled by philosopher-kings whose wisdom has eliminated poverty and want through the equal distribution of all resources.  For every utopian ideal a political philosopher or satirist has imagined, however, a counter proposal has never been far behind.  The deification of logic and reason in Plato’s Republic reaches its horrific extreme in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) when the narrator finds himself among the Houyhnhnms, a race of hyper-intelligent talking horses without emotion, who have degraded and enslaved human beings because humanity, from the Houyhnhnm point of view, lacks reason and cannot overcome its base nature.

Lloyd Currey’s Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature explores the innumerable ways that authors throughout the centuries have imagined rebuilding and perfecting civilization, as well as their inevitable anxieties about how such attempts to save humanity may ultimately only end up destroying it.  As Lloyd’s catalog illustrates, from the rustic matriarchal households of W. H. Hudson’s A Crystal Age (1887) to the interstellar mixture of socialism and anarchy in Ian M. Banks’ Matter (2008), utopias and dystopias have taken many forms.

While the classics of the literature are certainly well represented—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888), Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis (1926), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962)—the most fascinating books Lloyd has gathered include some of the earliest and least known examples of the genre, unclassifiable works that combine elements of lost race fiction, interplanetary romance, occult fiction, and high fantasy.  Simon Berington’s The Memoirs of Sigr. Gaudentio di Lucca: Taken from His Confession and Examination before the Fathers of the Inquisition at Bologna in Italy (1737), recounts di Lucca’s life as a successful artist in the kingdom of Mezzoraim in Northern Africa among isolated descendents of the ancient Egyptians whose culture is defined by a natural religion that channels all ambition for material gain into a desire to benefit the nation as a whole.  James Reynolds’ Equality; A History of Lithconia (1837), one of the earliest American utopian novels, describes an island society that “denounces private property and requires no assistance from the divine, placing its faith in bureaucracy to impose order, technology to reduce drudgery, and omnipresent gardens to instill virtue.”  Neither of these titles, however, compares with the screwball eccentricity of Austyn W. Granville’s The Fallen Race (1892) in which the lone survivors of the doomed Frisbee Expedition into the Great Australian Desert find themselves in the land of the Anonos, the descendants of female aborigines and a particularly randy troop of kangaroos, or John O. Greene’s The Ke Whonkus People (1893) in which an arctic utopia executes its religious heretics by sacrificing them to vampire dragons who drain their blood in underground caverns.

Perhaps the most remarkable work in Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature is Shirby T. Hodge’s The White Man’s Burden: A Satirical Forecast (1915).  Written by Roger Sherman Tracy, a noted graduate of Yale University and an associate of the New York Board of Health, this remarkable book is narrated by an unnamed white man from 20th-century New Hampshire who is mysteriously transported to West Africa in 5027 AD.  The narrator encounters a remarkable utopia inhabited by African-Americans who relocated after achieving economic superiority in North America and eventually defeating the white race in a devastating war.  Characterized by technological marvels such as air cars, interplanetary travel, and disintegration rays, the society the narrator explores is essentially anarchist with no laws, private property, money, or prisons, each person working at whatever he or she chooses to do.  A ground-breaking work decades ahead of its time socially and politically, The White Man’s Burden: A Satirical Forecast is a work ripe for rediscovery by scholars and enthusiasts.

Of course, not every author has embraced the progressive economic and social reforms that have characterized such ideal societies.  For many early writers, the concept of an idealized socialist utopia is inextricably linked to the enslavement of the individual and the erasure of all creativity or desire.  Frank Cowan’s Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land (1879) satirizes numerous tropes of 19th-century utopian fiction in its depiction of a super-scientific matriarchy destroyed, as the author says, by a “big and brawny man, with many of the vices of his sex and years.”  Likewise, Walter Besant’s The Inner House (1888) imagines the eradication of aging through medicine and the institution of a socialist state not as unleashing humanity’s unlimited potential but instead as breeding out all individuality, desire, and creativity.  While The Inner House is often read as a literary precursor to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), Besant’s novella, unlike Orwell’s masterpiece, is steeped in anxieties about the progressive social movements of its time and is best understood as the kind of anti-utopian work that gets taken to its logical extreme in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957) and its rejection of governmental controls for unrestrained capitalism and individual achievement.

Lloyd rounds out Utopian and Anti-Utopian Literature with an excellent selection of key contributions by modern and contemporary speculative fiction writers, including Zenna Henderson’s Pilgrimage: The Book of the People (1961), Keith Roberts’ Pavane (1968), Suzy McKee Charnas’ Motherlines (1978), Alasdair Gray’s Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1985), Elizabeth Hand’s Glimmering (1997), and Charles Stross’ Glasshouse (2007).

Economic.  Ecological.  Feminist.  Religious.  Single-gender.  Single-sex.  Scientific.  Technological.

Looking for the perfect world?  Here’s a good place to begin.