Utopias, Dystopias, Fractopias

Tod's picture

On another site someone raised the question of why people are so interested in dystopias, and have such little hunger for utopias. (The actual thread went off about the difference between post-apocalyptica and dystopia but that's (a) elementary and (b) not what interested me. The question interested me on one level because my book/setting in development (UbiquiCity) is what I call a "Fractopia" (from the Latin fract(us) [broken, uneven] + Greek topia [place]). A stratified corporate capitalist semi-feudalism with the economic disparity of today writ even larger: a pyramid with utopia at the top, placidity in the middle, and dystopia at the base.

Which is to say - from a socialist standpoint at least - a Dystopia.

There I am again, making sure to work dystopia into my goofy sci fi worlds! Why does the creative instinct push in that direction?

Back to the original question. Why do we find dystopias so interesting, and utopias so boring?

Here's what I came up with.

You know how it isn't a plot unless it has a problem? Well, our interest in dystopias is a big version of our interest in problems in general. This is what Stories are for, right? We use Stories as templates for viewing the world without directly risking engagement; they are social extensions of imagination itself, and thus they serve an evolutionary (because cognitive-informative) function.

So. Imagining a utopia is a good exercise when it comes to envisioning societal goals, that's all well and good for philosophers and theoreticians. But it doesn't really connect with me on an individual emotional level because - let's face it - Life is Not Like That and Won't Be In My Lifetime (if ever). Life is a fucking mess, full of problems, impediments, surprises and unforeseen consequences. That's why we tell stories with dark threats, twists and reveals. It's why we use dice in roleplaying games. It's why we have the story of being exiled from Paradise.

A reality that's broken is a reality I can relate to, emotionally and sometimes even practically.

How about you?

Aik's picture

I actually really like utopian stories. Dystopia is great too of course, because it has that built-in conflict - but setting something in a utopia doesn't mean that everything is just hunky-dory. People are still people - utopia is just some of them having worked out an excellent political/economic system (or at least - it's excellent from their point of view. The dissonance between what the characters and/or author thinks is excellent and what I do can be quite interesting in itself). A lot of utopian stories do just tend toward being a tour through that society - which personally I find plenty interesting enough - but there's no real reason that there can't be juicy conflict there as well.

Plus, there is novelty to utopia. Dystopia feels pretty played-out, a lot of the time.

DeReel's picture

... but Fractopia really is in the air since Metropolis. It's a class struggle metaphor.
What's interesting in a world fractured is to cross contrasting zones. Social travel and exotism ?