Sunday, December 12, 2010

Space and utopia

Curious that more hasn't been made of that connection -- space as in "outer space" as a venue for utopia. There's Robinson's Mars trilogy, of course, and there's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but what else? The Soviet-era Andromeda hardly counts, since it makes no real use of space, and the same point rules out LeGuin's The Dispossessed, though both are certainly utopian. The point of space as a utopian locale is that, like any frontier, it represents the possibility of making a "fresh start", a possibility that the Mars trology exploits quite openly, and that Heinlein's novel obviously uses as well. In that sense, there might be a few other Heinlein books that are fringe utopian candidates as well, such as Farmer in the Sky, which (as best I can recall) does use the idea of creating a new society. And, for that matter, that's part of the appeal of apocalyptic fiction too, no? The idea that, having cleared out the social/cultural/political deadwood, we now have a chance to start over and do it right. But in general, though it's common enough to locate utopia in far off islands or lost valleys, and very common to locate it in the future, we don't often see them in space.

Well, but then I remember the spate of non-fiction books like Gerard K. O'Neill's The High Frontier, or T.A. Heppenheimer's Colonies in Space, certainly utopian tracts if they're anything -- e.g., the prominent blurb on the O'Neill cover: "Space colonies -- hope for your future", and on Heppenheimer's: "Take an expedition to dream cities in the stars!".


Something sad in those blurbs, isn't there? Not just their earnest naivete, or, more likely, their blatant hucksterism in attempting to appeal to people desperate for hope and dreams, but also, now, in their obvious failure. In all that, though, they're not unlike the architectural utopianism of modernism, as in Le Corbusier's "ville radieuse" or Hugh Ferriss' Metropolis of Tomorrow.

This too now just seems dated and silly, as, sadly, Metropolis itself does. Still, the point of fictionalizing utopia may well be to protect it from reality's dash of cold water.


No comments:

Post a Comment