There's beauty and perfection all around us. But that can get overshadowed by all fuss and hullabaloo of the world. But what if the world really was a great big perfect place? That's what these best Utopian books set out to answer.
And let me tell you, they prove that sometimes too much of a good thing can come back to bite you...
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Ursula K. Le Guin
From one of the best sci-fi writers of all time, Ursula K. Le Guin, comes our number one pick--The Dispossessed.
Settled by Utopian sycophants, Anarres has become isolated from its mother planet, Urras. Urras is a great planet full of immense wealth, war, and poverty. No two planets could differ more. But that's not going to stop Annares physicist Shevek from uniting the two once more.
Sir Thomas More
Imagine a perfect island nation where all of the inhabitants live in perfect harmony with each other and the earth. All peoples--both and men--are educated and share communal lands.
This is the vision Sir Thomas More wrote about in his Utopia. While at first read, it's quaint story of these noble island peoples. But in all reality, it's a scathing satire of 16th Century Europe.
- Plato (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 392 Pages - 09/15/2004 (Publication Date) - Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Publisher)
Plato's Republic is the earliest written entry on this list by a long shot. But that does change its status as one of the best Utopian books.
It's a Socratic dialogue in which Plato compares the character of a just man to that of the just city-state. Is the just man really happier than the unjust man? Plato asks these questions and more comparing then existing societies against hypothetical Utopian ones ruled by philosopher kings.
Arthur C. Clarke
This is a genuine classic. Arthur C Clarke finds a way to use war in order to bring about Utopian order. But it really isn't too hostile of a takeover.
When the alien Overlords come to take over Earth, they abolish war, end hunger, and bring peace. But without that conflict, the human race begins to stagnate and the Overlords' intentions become apparently clear.
Edward Bellamy's 1888 book, Looking Backward, is a heck of a doozy. It starts in the year 2000 where all class separations have gone, there's equal division of wealth, and industries have been nationalized.
This book actually caused quite a stir when it came out. It inspired many of Americans to create book clubs dedicated to this work. His writing even inspired the popup of pseudo-Utopian societies throughout the country.
B. F. Skinner
Walden Two is a story of two WWII veterans who upon returning home connect with an old colleague. And this old colleague happened to have started an experimental intentional community. One that is running rather successfully.
This book explores the real possibility of a hive mind and shunning the values of democracy. Written by one of the world's most influential psychologists, this book deeply explores the concept of applied behavior analysis.
- Harper Perennial
- Huxley, Aldous (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 384 Pages - 10/20/2009 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial Modern Classics (Publisher)
Although this was Aldous Huxley's last novel, he considered it his most important. He starts off setting the scene of an island Utopia that has thrived ideally for over 120 years.
In true human fashion, there are those conspiring to bring down this island nation. However, when a newspaperman of the conspiracy becomes shipwrecked on the island, his values are captivated by the people changing his way of life.
Ecotopia is a really novel concept. The country of Ecotopia was founded by the secession of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington state.
Mysterious rumors and 20 years later, the country finally welcomes its first American visitor--an investigative reporter. But the more this reporter learns, the more he's faced with a harsh decision. Which way of life is he really destined to embrace?
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, this Utopian novel tells of a wondrous place completely free of war, conflict, and domination. All is well. That is until three men unexpectedly arrive.
In this novel, Gilman explores the idea of gender as a social construct. This is a very smart feminist novel that would make an excellent piece for group discussion.
- Newbery Medal Winners
- Lowry, Lois (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 240 Pages - 07/01/1993 (Publication Date) - HMH Books for Young Readers (Publisher)
Winner of a 1994 Newberry Medal, The Giver has gone on to become one of the most influential books of our era. It follows the story of a 12 year old boy named Jonas who lives in a peaceful, yet bleak and ultra-conformist world.
When Jonas finally receives his life assignment, he begins to see things in a completely different light. He has become the Receiver of Memory and begins to learn the dark and complex secrets of his society.
Men Like Gods
H. G. Wells
This book is H. G. Wells at his finest. It combines two of his most common tropes: Utopian societies and Time-travel.
In this story, a journalist named Mr Barnstaple flees his country only to find himself transported through time 3000 years in the future. And in a parallel dimension where humanity and divinity are one in the same.
Gulliver's Travels is probably the most controversial on this list. Some may find this Utopian novel to be rather dystopian instead. In all reality, there are enough elements of each to land this tale in both genres.
The plot is broken down into 4 different parts. In each of which, Lemuel Gulliver ventures for to a distant land. He encounters many different societies ranging from people less than 6" tall to a race of giants whose grass is as tall as a standard tree.
The New Atlantis
Sir Francais Bacon
The New Atlantis is another controversial book pick for this list because it's incomplete! Published after the death of Sir Francais Bacon, it arrived tucked away in the back of longer work on natural history.
The story depicts a mysterious Utopian island being discovered just off the coast of Peru by a European ship. The plot unfolds as the Europeans slowly and systemically unfurl the civilization, their customs, and state-sponsored scientific program--the very center of the kingdom.
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Westerfeld, Scott (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 448 Pages - 05/10/2006 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (Publisher)
Although this book is for YA audiences, make no mistake. It's a phenomenal read. It's set in a dystopian setting where everyone is born an Ugly. But upon turning 16, Uglies are turned into Pretties through the use of cosmetic surgery.
At first, Tally is excited for her surgery so she can be injected into the Utopian society of the Pretties. But her friend Shay has other plans. Shay intended to skip the surgery altogether and escape to renegade camp called the Smoke. Now it's up to Tally to choose. Help her friend or turn her in.
What is Utopian Literature?
To understand what makes up Utopian literature, you need to first understand what a Utopia is.
A utopia is an often grand and harmonious place where everything is as it should be. It can be considered perfect by almost all standards.
Essentially all social evil has been abolished, and there is more of a focus on universal constants and not that of the individual.
Utopian literature explores this concept. However, it's normally due to the unwavering moral character that the Utopia ultimately collapses. In most Utopian novels, the reader comes to find that some chaos is necessary to grow and thrive.
The History of Utopias in Literature
The concept of a Utopia is far from new. As a matter of fact, the oldest selection on this list dates back to Ancient Greece and Plato. Written somewhere around 380 BC, it's considered to be the world's first Utopian story.
Utopian elements can also be found interwoven throughout Arthurian lore as well--particularly romanticizing Camelot and the King's Court. Arthur's governance is oft made out to be steered by God himself.
But these early Utopian renditions never landed upon an actual name. They weren't referred to as Utopias. They were just idyllic societies, cultures, and ideas. But when Sir Thomas More wrote Utopia, he thus gave the name to concept and the genre.
Since then, the genre has remained a staple amongst science-fiction fans.
Functions of Utopian Literature
Utopian literature wasn't (and still isn't) necessarily all about telling a epic story. Utopian stories often have other ulterior motives behind them.
Exposing flaws in our own societies.
By creating and envisioning these perfect worlds, writers of utopian fiction bring to light our own societies' shortcomings.
Exposing our political hypocrisy and failures.
By unifying Utopian peoples under a single banner that stands for an interconnected togetherness, it exposes the weakness in our own political upbringings.
To inspire and generate a more open-minded culture.
This particular point can be viewed from many different ways. Often in Utopian societies, the concept of sexuality is very open to interpretation. It's not uncommon to find partner sharing and even orgies through Utopian literature. But it can also be seen as a gateway to science. Utopian cultures usually center around advanced tech that's led them to become as perfect as they seem.
Is Utopia Always Dystopian?
What Is the Difference between Dystopian and Utopian Literature?
The primary difference between Utopian and Dystopian literature is that in a Utopia it's like you've entered a world where everything is just perfect. Whereas in a Dystopia, it seems as if everything has gone very, very wrong.
However, if you look at it from another angle, it's as if almost it's the exact opposite. In a Utopia, there's often zero freedom of choice, a hive mind collective, and a nearly sinister obsession for the greater good.
In Dystopian literature, you'll always see the values of hard work and perseverance, bonding between interconnected life, and the indomitable spirit of humanity--or alien species.
Both types of literature do share some very common tropes and tenets though. These include:
- Political Science
- Self vs Whole
Essentially, there's a very thing line dividing the two separate genres. And fans of one are more than likely fans of the other--although dystopian stories do tend to have a bit more action.
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