In This Chapter


Authored by: Graham J. Murphy

The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction

Print publication date:  January  2009
Online publication date:  March  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415453783
eBook ISBN: 9780203871317
Adobe ISBN: 9781135228361


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The literary eutopia, or positive utopia, is “a non-existent society described in considerable detail and normally located in time and space that the author intended a contemporaneous reader to view as considerably better than the society in which the reader lived” (Sargent 1994: 9). “Eutopia,” a pun on “eu” (good) 1 “topos” (place) as well as “ou” (no) 1 “topos” (place), is not, nor was it ever intended to be, an identifiable place. Indeed, vagueness about location is a common strategy in narratives about these alternative communities. For example, in Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), although Raphael Hythloday describes the geographical features of the crescent-shaped eponymous isle, he never explicitly locates it. Geographic isolation and distance have then become mainstays of eutopian narratives. This is perhaps not surprising; after all, the

“discovery” of the non-European continents and islands provided visionaries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with actual and imaginary space in which to create both practicing and literary experiments. The new space in the world reinforced the sensibility found in the landscape painting and pastoral poetry of the time that effused the presence of an arcadian locale in which dreams could be lived.

(Moylan 1986: 3) Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) deploys similar arcadian tactics. Bacon’s band of travelers, having set sail from Peru for China and Japan, quickly lose all sense of direction, are buffeted by powerful winds, and eventually traverse the “greatest wilderness of waters in the world” (Bacon 1999: 152) to find Bensalem, a scientifically advanced eutopia that remains hidden from the world while monitoring other societies’ social and technological progress.

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