De Gruyter Advent Calendar | Door 13
UTOPIA AND SCIENCE FICTION
In utopias and science fiction the world is imagined anew. Imaginative visions of better (or just very different) places and spaces have been around as long as humans have written down stories. Utopia’s roots go back to ideas of Paradise or to Plato’s ideal Republic, and authors as early as Lucian of Samosata (125-180 CE) have thought about what it would be like to encounter different worlds in outer space.
Almost as interesting as the fanciful worlds described by authors throughout the centuries is how each imagination compares with the home-world of its author.
Utopia and science fiction have been described as the great “what-if” genres. What if an aspect of this world were suddenly fundamentally changed; would the world be a better place or would it turn into a dystopian horror?
What if – Margaret Atwood asks in the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) – only very few women were able to bear children and a fundamentalist government controlled their reproductive rights? Atwood’s answer to these questions is chilling: women become birthing slaves, sold to wealthy families, stripped of their rights, and punished by death for dissent. Atwood’s novel mirrors developments in contemporary society, which she imagines brought to fatal extremes, thereby encouraging critique in and of this world.
What if – Nancy Kress asks in her science fiction novel Beggars in Spain (1993) – a large percentage of the population were genetically engineered so as not to require sleep anymore? Kress’ novel implies a warning of a future in which developments in genetic engineering and other technological advances result in a society deeply divided between those who can afford to invest into expensive technologies and those who cannot (or choose not to).
Imagining the unimaginable
Science fiction is not just about aliens and spaceships. Sophisticated science fiction explores how to imagine the unimaginable and how humans make sense of each other, their history, and the world.
In Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris (1961) a sentient ocean is discovered but not quite understood. In Roadside Picnic (1971) by the brothers Strugatsky, alien visitors have left behind strange objects on earth. Humanity dedicates all its research efforts to exploring their purpose, but instead of gaining insight into the strange visitors, they only ever encounter inter-human conflicts and desires.
Changed societies, spaceships or little green men – utopia and science fiction confront us with the the unimaginably alien. However at the end of these journeys we often have to face the actual unknown creatures: Ourselves.
What if… the bible would be interpreted as a science fiction novel?
This is a question our author Dr. Frauke Uhlenbruch is posing. Her answer will be published in May 2015 with the title The Nowhere Bible. Utopia, Dystopia, Science Fiction.
Look forward to it.