I have been having a metaphysical difference of opinion with my children. When I talk pushing an event or an appointment ‘back’, I mean putting it to a later date. But to the kids this is bringing something ‘forward’. They simply don’t understand how forward could ever be back.
Of course, I am the adult and they are children, so I am right and they are wrong. Quad erat demonstrandum.
But, of course, I think this hides a deeper truth. I am an adult, so I want to hold back time as hair and flesh go south. I’ve seen things and been around the block. Hence I don’t want to hurry to the next block in order to see more things. Whereas they are children, so wish to barrel into the future.
Which, correct me, but isn’t that the very definition of utopia versus dystopia?
This got me thinking. Maybe utopia is a young man’s (or woman’s) game, whereas dystopia is for those with both the years and the mileage, to paraphrase Professor Henry Jones. After all, I know Anthony Burgess didn’t publish a Clockwork Orange until he was 45. Maybe this is just one example of a general principle.
So, in a thoroughly unscientific test, I took the best utopian and dystopian science-fiction from bestsciencefictionbooks.com, and looked up both the years of publication, and the years of the authors’ births:
The Giver – Lois Lowry (born 1937 - published 1993 - age 56)
The Dispossessed – Ursula K LeGuin (1929 - 1974 - age 45)
Childhood’s End – Arthur C Clarke (1917 - 1953 - age 36)
Looking Backward – Edward Bellamy (1850 - 1888 - age 38)
News from Nowhere – William Morris (1834 - 1890 - age 56)
The Player of Games – Iain Banks (1954 - 1988 - age 34)
The Sunken World – Stanton Arthur Coblentz (1896 - 1948 - age 52)
Ralph 124C41+ - Hugo Gernsback (1884 - 1911 - age 27)
Andromeda – Ivan Yefremov (1908 - 1957 - age 49)
Uglies – Scott Westerfeld (1963 - 2005 - age 42)
Median 43.5, mean 43.5
The Iron Heel – Jack London (1876 - 1908 - age 32)
Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury (1920 - 1953 - age 33)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – Philip K Dick (1928 - 1968 - age 40)
Eight Against Utopia – Douglas R Mason (1918 - 1966 age 48)
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess (1917 - 1962 - age 45)
1984 – George Orwell (1903 - 1949 - age 46)
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1932 - age 38)
Logan’s Run – William F Nolan & George Clayton Johnson (1928/1929 - 1967 - age 38.5)
The Marching Morons – Cyril Kornbluth (1923 - 1951 - age 28)
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins (1962 - 2008 - age 46)
Median 39.25, mean 39.45
Obviously this is about as statistically significant as extrapolating from the voices in your head to the population of the planet, but it’s an intriguing result. A good spread of ages; both lists have somebody in their late twenties. But, mainly thanks to a couple of fifty-somethings, it appears that we pass through the dystopian and head towards the utopian.
Let me try and make some sense out of this most dubious of results, if it is a result at all. So, having been around and seen a lot makes you more optimistic? Or maybe experience of reality just makes you hanker more for a better world, dream them in greater detail and work out the mechanics?
Naivety correlates with youth. So, perhaps, it’s naïve to think the world is as bad or paranoid as we think of it. After all, the vast majority are kind and generous - but they’re not the ones that turn out newsworthy.
Perhaps we are we still getting over the grimness of Grimm and his ilk well into our thirties, repeating their echoes in our work? Maybe it takes that long to overlay our fairy tale foundations with life’s silver linings? Really? I find that hard to believe.
Maybe dystopia is a more grown-up emo thing, when teenage eye-liner and this week’s Joy Division soundalikes no longer satisfy. At that point we feel a greater urge to pen something akin to an early Cure album than bubblegum pop. Seriously?
Of course, all this is as much hokum as most sci-fi. But I’m going to take heart in the results. Beerbelly and grey hair; I’m growing utopian by the day.