Utopian Literature
Utopia Montage

What is a Utopia?
Development of Utopian Fiction
Examples of Utopian Literature
 - B.C. to 16th Century
17th to 18th Century
19th Century
Early 20th Century
Mid 20th Century
Late 20th Century
Alphabetical List
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Luke Mastin

Early 20th Century

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Old New Land by Theodor Herzl (Austro-Hungary, 1902) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
First published as Altneuland in German, Herzl (the founder of political Zionism) sets out his vision of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. Visitors to the land discover that, in 20 short years, the backward and sparsely-populated land of Palestine has been transformed by incoming European Jews into a busy, prosperous, just and cosmopolitan "New Society". Notably, Arabs here have equal rights as Jews, and a fanatical rabbi who claims that the land should be for Jews only is soundly defeated at the polls.

A Modern Utopia by H. G. Wells (England, 1905) StarStarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
In a not-too-distant future, the whole world is part of one commonwealth, and national boundaries no longer have any significance. Money, personal property and competition remain, although the Earth’s land its sources of power belong to the state. Beyond a minimum requirement of labour, individuals are free to either work more or to enjoy their leisure. The ruling Samurai caste furnish the World State with its administrators, legislators, lawyers, doctors, and other leaders. The lower classes of citizens (the dull-witted, the criminals and the deformed) are exiled from society and prevented from childbearing.

In the Days of the Comet by H. G. Wells (England, 1906) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
The life of young London socialist William Leadford is transformed as a comet smashes into a mean, capitalist world and a new inspired and caring society is constructed from its ruins. Private ownership of land, nationalism and religion are just bad memories of an earlier, unenlightened time, and free love and equality is the new mantra.

Red Star by Alexander Bogdanov (Russia, 1908) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Subtitled “The First Bolshevik Utopia”, this novel, written in pre-revolutionary Russia and set on Mars, makes some prophetic predictions about future scientific and social developments. Ii is a socialist utopia, where males and females have complete equality and, over the years, have even come to look like one another. Workers have complete control over their working hours, and tools are displayed in art galleries as aesthetic achievements in themselves.

The Iron Heel by Jack London (USA, 1908) StarStar UtopiaDystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
The Iron Heel of the title is an oligarchy which rules London’s fictional future USA, where political power rests with a small elite. The capitalists resort to fascism to protect the wealthy, and violently quell the downtrodden workers who revolt (ineffectively) from time to time. We learn from footnotes, that it is only after three centuries of oligarchic tyranny and struggle that a socialist democracy is finally ushered in.

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster (England, 1909) StarStar Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Forster’s short story is an early dystopian response to H.G. Wells’ more positive visions of the future. Humanity, no longer able to live on the Earth’s surface, now live underground, with all their needs taken care of by an omnipotent Machine. Although they have access to technologies remarkably similar to instant messaging and the Internet, the people have become almost totally dependent on the Machine, which gradually assumes a religious and mystical significance. When the Machine finally breaks down, though, it brings down the whole of civilization with it.

Moving the Mountain by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA, 1911) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Forerunner to Gilman's more famous feminist utopia, Herland, this novel tells the story of a man who returns after 30 years in the wilds of Tibet to an America that has been transformed "beyond socialism", into a rational, well-organized social order with no poverty, no prostitution, and complete racial and sexual equality, where renewable energy and vegetarianism are the norms. Despite his early reservations and the eugenics implicit in the system, the man is won over by the advantages of the new regime.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA, 1915) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
This is a feminist utopia (written at the peak of the fight for equal rights) about an isolated society composed solely of Aryan woman who reproduce by asexual parthenogenesis. It is a clean, peaceful, prosperous land and in every way superior to the male-dominated status quo elsewhere. The book posits the idea that gender is a purely social construct. With Her In Ourland was her 1916 sequel.

With Her in Ourland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA, 1916) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
The sequel to Gilman's Herland, the novel relates the travels of Vandyck Jennings and his new Herlandian wife Ellidor through Europe, Asia and the USA. Ellidor's patient critiques of this patriarchal and often incomprehensible and illogical world ultimately persuade Jennings to return to, and permanently settle in, the feminist utopia of Herland.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (Russia, 1921) StarStarStar Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
The protagonist, D-503, lives in the One State, an urban nation constructed almost entirely of glass, where everything is organized according to mathematical principles under the iron rule of the Great Benefactor. Individuality is ruthlessly suppressed, and D-503 is pushed to the brink of madness by the conflicts between himself and his society when he falls for the rebellious I-330. Eventually this results in his arrest and the ‘Great Operation’ to remove his imagination so that he can once more fit into societal norms. A disturbing precursor to, and influence on, Orwell’s 1984.

Men Like Gods by H. G. Wells (England, 1923) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
A group of Englishmen are transported to a parallel world called Utopia with advanced science and an effective socialist world government. There is no private property, no need for clothes, and people are taller, stronger more beautiful and more intelligent. However, as native pathogens were wiped out over the centuries, the Utopians’ immune systems have become weak, and the newly arrived earthlings represent a deadly threat to them.

The Millennium by Upton Sinclair (USA, 1924) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Subtitled “A Comedy of the Year 2000”, and based on his much earlier 1907 play, this is Sinclair’s proposition of communism as the solution to all our societal woes. In a millennial world at the peak of its capitalistic excess, an accident kills all but a handful people in the world. After attempts to build a new capitalistic society fail miserably, a sub-group successfully build a utopian communistic society known as the Co-operative Commonwealth.

The Castle by Franz Kafka (Austro-Hungary, 1926) Star Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
More of an allegory or parable than a utopia or dystopia, the novel, like Kafka’s The Trial, nevertheless has many dystopian characteristics. The narrator, K., arrives in a village ruled and dominated by the local castle, and has to come to terms with the unusual customs of the village and the bewildering bureaucracy of the castle.

Metropolis by Thea von Harbou (Germany, 1926) Star Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
This is the novelization of von Harbaus’s screenplay from the Fritz Lang silent movie. It is set in a futuristic urban dystopia where the downtrodden working classes are human fodder for the huge machines which provide the idyllic lives of the elite management classes.

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon (England, 1930) StarStarStar UtopiaDystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
An early “future history” of humanity, envisioning the human race as it develops from the present time to a race of super-beings two billion year hence. It begins when, after a series of brutal regional wars, religious America and the more worldly China become the two dominant cultures, with America ultimately winning out to lead a single World State. Over a few millennia, this society, governed by a science-based religion which worshipped energy and movement (especially air flight), used up the world’s resources and gradually sank into decadence and decay, to be succeeded by the first of several “dark ages”, and then the resurgence of humanity in a very different guise. In all, eighteen distinct human species are described over billions of years, some descending into savagery, some leaping forward in sophistication so as to become almost unrecognizable as human.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (England, 1932) StarStarStar Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
This is a stark, dystopic warning against the perils of unchecked technology and government control. In the distant future, the conditions of life are superficially idyllic, except that the universal happiness is mainly a product of elaborate sports and entertainment programs and a happiness pill called ‘soma’. Controlled genetics ensures that sufficient dull-witted drones are produced to perform the less agreeable manual jobs, as well as in-vitro conditioning of individuals for specific tasks and personality types. The amusements and the encouragement of promiscuous sex is a deliberate ploy by the government to stop people from thinking about their real conditions and their loss of individuality. In Brave New World Revisited (1958), Huxley reviews whether the real world has moved towards or away from his 1930’s vision of the future.

The Shape of Things to Come by H. G. Wells (England, 1933) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Not so much a novel as a fictional history of the future, Wells imagines a world war followed by a cataclysmic plague that all but destroys civilization. A benevolent “Dictatorship of the Air” succeeds, which promotes science, establishes Basic English as the world language and eliminates religion. A century later, even this utopian world state is overthrown in true Marxian fashion.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton (England, 1933) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
A British diplomat finds peace in the utopian lamasery of Shangri-La, high in the mountains of Tibet. The monks there practice a combination of Christianity and Buddhism, where peace and moderation in all things are paramount.

War With the Newts by Karel Capek (Czechoslovakia, 1936) Star Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
A dark satire (poking fun at runaway capitalism, nationalism, fascism and racism) in which a species of intelligent giant newts is discovered in the Pacific, which are then enslaved, exploited, bred and educated. When the newts develop language and weapons, they start to rebel against their human masters, culminating in a full-scale global war in which they overcome humanity and begin to remodel the planet for their own purposes.

The Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon (England, 1937) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
A human is inexplicably granted the ability to project himself into space, where he learns to explore the myriad forms of life throughout the galaxy and beyond, ranging from the humanoid to marine, insectoid, vegetable, symbiotic and composite beings, to yet others which push the boundaries of what we think of as life, each with its own adaptations to its environment. He learns about the social structures some of these life-forms have developed and compares them with humanity. He goes on to develop a control over time as well as space, and witnesses the future development of successful species into world-minds and sentient interlinked galaxies, until their ultimate decay and the death of the universe.

Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin (England, 1937) StarStar Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Originally published under the pseudonym Murray Constantine over a decade before George Orwell's 1984, this chilling dystopia is set seven hundred years after Nazism achieved power, at which time Hitler is worshipped as a god, and the world has been divided into the Nazi Empire (Europe and Africa) and the equally militaristic Japanese Empire (Asia, Australia and the Americas). It portrays a totally male-controlled fascist world in which women are kept as dehumanized breeders, and all history, education, creativity, books and art have been abolished.

Anthem by Ayn Rand (USA, 1938) StarStar Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
In this dystopian science fiction novella, socialism and collectivism have all but eliminated individuality and technological advancement is severely curtailed. The word “I” is forbidden and all but unknown. The protagonist, Equality-7521, is an intelligent person forced by the system to work as a street-sweeper. He re-discovers electricity and the light-bulb through his secret, illicit scientific experiments, only to be branded as a criminal and forced to escape to the wilderness.

Kallocain by Karin Boye (Sweden, 1940) StarStar Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Pre-dating 1984 by several years, this dystopia envisages a callous and cruel totalitarian world state (reflections of the Soviet and pre-Nazi regimes of the time), and speculates on the effects of a new pacifying truth drug.

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (Hungary/England, 1940) Star Dystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
It tells the tale of Rubashov, a Bolshevik old guard revolutionary, who is first cast out and then imprisoned and tried for treason by the Soviet government he once helped to create. He is interrogated by his old friend Ivanov, and then more forcefully by Gletkin, a representative of the new-type Party official. He is eventually forced to confess to false charges and is ultimately executed. Although the characters have Russian names, the Soviet Union is not actually mentioned by name as the location of the book, and it is sometimes considered a generalized dystopian, rather than a historical, novel.

Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright (USA, 1942) StarStar Utopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
When John Lang becomes the US consul to the remote and mysterious island of Islandia, he is gradually converted to their way of life and encourages their increasing isolation from the rest of the world. Islandia is an Arcadian, rural society where Western technology has been largely (but not completely) rejected, but where the understanding of human emotions and psychology has become much more important.

The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse (Germany, 1943) Star UtopiaDystopia     Amazon US Amazon Canada Amazon UK
Set in a fictional province of a future central Europe, the scholars of Castilia are ascetic intellectuals for whom the abstract Glass Bead Game is the ultimate aspiration. The central character, though, comes to doubt whether people have the right to withdraw from life’s big problems in this way and, having finally concluded that they do not, he dies uselessly because his intellectual training has not equipped him to deal with real life.


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What is a Utopia? | Development of Utopian Fiction | Examples of Utopian Literature | B.C. to 16th Century | 17th to 18th Century | 19th Century | Early 20th Century | Mid 20th Century | Late 20th Century | Alphabetical List
© 2008 Luke Mastin