Between utopias and dystopias, which kind of fictional worldbuilding is more beneficial to real-life society?
Tamara: Between the two, I’d say utopias. Dystopias are warnings that we need to curtail pollution or not be discriminatory, or – whatever – things we already know. We KNOW we can make the world a better place, but we don’t necessarily know HOW. Utopia worldbuilding lets us experiment with that.
Serdar: I think they’re both important. Utopias are not so much goals as directions we could move in, and dystopias are places we could very well end up. Both show us what’s possible and also what the costs of those possibilities will be, although I think the costs are emphasized a little more broadly in dystopias.
One of my favorite such books is Evgeny Zamyatin’s “We”, written in 1924, a predecessor to both “1984″ and “Brave New World”. It shows that one of the costs of creating a perfect society is how perfect stops becoming a direction and becomes, instead, an endpoint — and thus, instead of compelling society to improve, it just gives it all the more reasons to justify its current position.
Ewen: To me they represent two sides of the same coin. A utopia asks the question, “How can we make things better?” while a dystopia is the counter-question, “How could we screw it up?” (Or given that I’ve heard that dystopia is big in YA fiction on account of it having so much resonance with teenagers, maybe the question should be, “How are we screwing things up right now?”) Both are really important questions, and we need both to make up the entire picture. Real life and dystopian fiction alike have taught us that good intentions can go awry after all.
Ellen: I happen to be in love with Dystopian fiction, I think mostly because it is a demonstration of necessities, or a reminder of them. They show how once we lose so much, we can become more human, and less self-serving on a ground-level. They put things into perspective that we take for granted.
Bonnie: Both have their definite place in society – the utopia as a vision of our ultimate collective goal, the dystopia as a caution of what could happen if we’re not careful. (And then, you have the case of a society that’s been led to think it’s a utopia but is really the opposite – as in the recent anime No. 6 – which may be the biggest cautionary tale of all. Commentary on the right wing, anyone?)
Scott: Tough call. I’ll say both, yet neither. Utopias represent a goal to work towards, but the effort of getting there is the key. Fiction can show the changes needed to achieve the utopian goal, but perfection is not obtainable. (It’s one of the laws of Thermodynamics.) Distopias represent the breakdown of society, of where things can go if people don’t smarten up. Useful for storytelling – drama can be wrenched hard from distopias – but it sometimes takes hindsight to realize that there were huge mistakes made.