Friday, 27 January 2017

Utopias And Dystopias

"'And that is all,' said Dr. Calvin, rising. 'I saw it from the beginning, when the poor robots couldn't speak, to the end, when they stand between mankind and destruction.'"
-Isaac Asimov, I, Robot (London, 1986), p. 206.

Susan Calvin speaks of fictional robots. However, anyone who had lived through the twentieth century would be able to speak in a similar way about other aspects of technology: automobiles; flying machines; computers. The conclusion of I, Robot is utopian. Giant robot brains move mankind towards its greatest good known only to the robots. (The sequel is clever: the greatest good is self-determination so the robot brains phase themselves out.)

In Poul Anderson's Tales Of The Flying Mountains, gyrogravitic technology generates a utopian conclusion. Prosperity grows and spreads. Material resources flow from the asteroids to Earth where people enjoy leisure and security.

However, sf writers, living in the real world of the twentieth and twenty first centuries, know that technological progress can coexist with economic crises and social chaos. Robert Heinlein's Future History has:

the "Crazy Years" in the 1960s;
a Strike in '66;
the "False Dawn," 1960-70;
religious fanaticism and dictatorship in the early twenty first century;
cessation of space travel until 2072.

Poul Anderson's Psychotechnic History has:

mass technological unemployment;
the Humanist Revolt in 2170;
two future Dark Ages.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

And in the HARVEST OF STARS books we see vast AIs, unlike Asimov's most advanced robots, taking the opposite course. Instead of phasing themselves out of existence because they had become a threat to mankind, the sophotects repeatedly tried to marginalize mankind, to render the human race powerless and impotent. And their means was NOT genocide, the sophotects tried to achieve their goal by smothering mankind in idle, sybaritic luxury.


Paul Shackley said...

A dystopian utopia.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Ha! A neat, pithy way of putting it! And, while the sophotects ultimately failed in the HARVEST books, we do see the AIs succeed in marginalizing mankind so much the human race, in despair, voluntarily died out in GENESIS. As almost always, Poul Anderson considers and speculates about almost every kind of alternative scenario.

To new readers, GENESIS has a surprising, unexpected twist to its ending!