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Likely futures

Science Fiction’s Visions of Utopia, Society, and the Built Environment Joanna Rodríguez-Noyola

Likely Futures

likely futures Science Fiction’s Visions of Utopia, Society, and the Built Environment

Joanna Rodríguez-Noyola

This book is a compilation of research on Science Fiction and Utopia performed as preparation for my Masters of Architecture Thesis at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Thesis Preparation Independent Study, Fall 2013 Advisor: Erika Naginski Masters of Architecture Thesis, Spring 2014 Advisor: Mack Scogin Special thanks to my voluntary editors and supporters: Galo Cañizares, Rebecca Esau, Marianne Koch, and Adam Murfield.

© 2014 Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola All Rights Reserved No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means whatsoever without permission from the author. For inquiries, contact Visit online at Cover art: Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola. Harlequin’s City. ©2013

contents I Introduction

Architecture as Fiction


Society and the machine




5 17

III the promise of fission and space


Observations IV

Disillusion And cyberspace



33 55

73 95


Utopia and Science Fiction

Defining Utopia


Types of Utopias



architecture as fiction Introduction

“Science Fiction deals with improbable possibilities, fantasy with plausible impossibilities.� -Miriam Allen deFord

As an avid reader of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I have been interested in the influence that these creative genres can have on the design field. My Masters of Architecture Thesis at the Harvard Graduate School of Design proposes that all architectural projection is Science Fiction: speculation about an imaginary yet likely future based on scientific or technological advances and social or environmental changes. As such, the process of generating architectural designs should employ the same devices as any good piece of science fiction. I argue that to be a successful, engaging, and collectively imaginable projection, it should be based on a study of the past and present technological, economic, social, and political conditions. Most importantly, it should be structured around a narrative that explores the effects and implications such a future would have on its human (or animal, plant, artificial, etc.) inhabitants. This book represents a compilation of research on Science Fiction and Utopia performed as preparation for the thesis. It is a catalog and analysis of works in literature, film, art, and criticism divided into three sections according to different eras and their distinct attitudes towards society and S-F: Society and the Machine (industrial age), The Promise of Fission and Space (post-war era), and Disillusion and Cyber-space (internet era). The final chapter analyzes the work of Frederic Jameson as means of critically engaging the discourses of architecture and Science Fiction literature and film.

Society and the machine Science Fiction’s Utopias and Dystopias During the Industrial Age

works 1905-1932: H.G. Wells, E.M. Forster, Paul Scheerbart, Fritz Lang, Aldous Huxley

Society and the Machine


Society as a Machine

A Modern Utopia H.G. Wells, 1905

As a scientist as well as a creative writer, H.G.Wells was concerned not only with what science will do in the future, but what humans will do with science and its implications.1 Many of his books were formulated as cautionary tales, and after seeing several of his predictions come true, such as aerial warfare and atomic bombs, it is easy to see why he believed in the greatness of science and the weakness of man.2 His 1905 work, A Modern Utopia, is the first of several works describing a utopic future in which the relation between man and technology leads to an improved quality of life and happiness for all members of the population: technology as the great equalizer and liberator. His vision differentiates itself from previous versions of utopias, such as Plato’s or More’s in that it’s not ‘utopic,’ a stable or permanent state for humanity. Well’s inspiration came from Darwin’s theory of evolution and he believed that just as our organisms evolve, so must society change and improve over time. Furthermore, in recognizing its own imperfection, this ‘Kinetic Utopia’ leaves room for change and exceptions: “The fundamental ideas of a modern Utopia imply everywhere and in everything, margins and elasticities, a certain universal compensatory looseness of play.” 3 His future is no longer divided into political entities, such as countries. Instead there exists a single World-State where the administrative duties fall upon volunteers of creative and kinetic (driven, motivated) nature. While this is a world in which assimilation must exist, individuality is not lost and is in fact, encouraged for that is how innovation and evolution arise. Assimilation happens as all inhabitants receive a similar high quality education, speak a common language and behave according to a universal code of polite and accepting conduct. Furthermore the World-State treats all of its inhabitants as ‘equal’ in the provision of their freedoms and rights: to education, to travel, to labor, to happiness, etc. In Well’s modern Utopia the “fertilising conflict of individualities is the ultimate meaning of personal life.” 4

Society and the Machine


Society Organized by the Machine

The Machine Stops E.M. Forster 1909

In contrast, E.M. Forster’s vision of a technologically advanced future is one of the classic works of dystopic science fiction. He sees technology and our steadily increasing dependence on machines as a path towards the loss of freedom, willpower, and our human essence. In The Machine Stops, people have become the voluntary prisoners of technology, living most of their lives in a small room within an enormous beehive-like underground compound. All of the basic human needs and desires are met with the simple automatic swivel of a chair, the press of a button. Anything from a robotic doctor, a hot bath, food, music, or a conversation with a friend can happen in your room. The machine corrected “the mistake of bringing people to things instead of bringing things to people”. 5 Through an exploration of this basic assumption, Forster was able to predict the creation of the internet, social media, and digital forms of communication, as well as some of the behavioral changes they would imply: a person would know several thousand people, would be terribly busy all the time, want to do everything quickly, become irritated easily, and even isolate themselves to avoid being contacted (similar to ‘away’ or ‘busy’ settings in g-chat). He believed that the ease of such a lifestyle where minimal effort suffices and there is no need to ‘fight for survival’ would lead to a loss of our sense of space and as a result, our willpower, drive, and curiosity. In fact, his future humans are de-natured blobs that have separated their minds form their bodies and have forgotten the importance of their physical reality. Furthermore, in having created the technology that enabled the stabilization of society and a secure future, humans acquired a new sense of confidence and invincibility. However, as society flattened, individuality was lost, no human was different from another, and there were no creative geniuses or scientific masterminds left that understood the workings of the machine. This blind faith in the technology that nurtured them instead of the men who created it, became the Achilles heel of the system: once the ‘mending apparatus’ fails to mend itself, the whole society collapses.

Society and the Machine


Society Divided by the Machine

Metropolis Fritz Lang, 1927

This view of the future as a ‘well-oiled machine’ is echoed in Fritz Lang’s vision of the highly mechanized city in his masterpiece ‘Metropolis.’ It presents a highly advanced world of tall and elegant skyscrapers powered by the incessant running of a great mechanism. While the Metropolis was designed and made possible by a single mastermind, it cannot function without the hands of a multitude of uneducated, lower-class workers. Even the scientist that engineered the Machine is an impoverished and eccentric recluse. This inequality, which is not present in the previous visions of the future, has a strong presence in the ‘Metropolis’, yet dispite it, the Machine is seen as the greatest achievement of mankind. The Machine still functions as if the relationship between the ‘head and the hands’6 is improved with communication through the means of a mediator that can sympathize with, and be assimilated by, both groups. And so, as long as there is dialogue between social classes, Utopia can exist. The Machine is good, if all parts, human and mechanical, work together. With the destruction of the worker’s city and the mutual realization of mistakes, it is implied that redemption will come through faith and trust, and that the improved quality of life made possible by technology will become available to all.

Society and the Machine


Society Creates a Superficial Machine

The Light Club of Batavia Paul Scheerbart 1912

The Light Club of Batavia asks the question: What happens when utopic idealism falls into the hands of the rich and whimsical? The story revolves around a bored aristocrat who dreams of a world where everything is light, electric light, and glass, colorful Tiffany glass. Believing that she can accomplish this, she enlists the help and support of an architect who only designs glass palaces, two Americans who provide funding, and an artist who seems ambivalent throughout. The story is written in such a way that one doubts what the author intends as humor, satire, or a call to arms.7 For instance, when the architect jokingly suggests she build her utopia inside of a mineshaft, she takes his suggestion seriously. In the end, the project is accomplished on time, within a year, but all is not perfect: they spent all of their money, forgot some of the reasons why they built it in the first place (reasons that didn’t matter anymore), and more importantly, forgot to invite anyone else into their little utopian Light Club. Here Scheerbart points out one of the flaws of Utopias: humans and their nature turn them fragile. A world is not truly a world without inhabitants, but too many people may taint or ruin the Utopia. “Scheerbart’s lesson is that one must begin with the knowledge that our plans will be fulfilled in ways that we never expected. He proposes that the best we can hope for is an ironic utopia” 8 Written before the boom of 20th century modernism and urban renewal, this short piece becomes a warning as it foresees the flawed nature of top-down single-minded Utopias.

Society and the Machine


Society as a Flawed Machine

Brave New World Aldous Huxley, 1932

If Scheerbart proposes that human nature and passions prevent the achievement of a true utopia, then Huxley explores what happens if you change human nature in order to achieve that goal. In Brave New World, he presents a 26th century scientific and industrialized utopia, exposing the dangers and flaws of a system that strives for complete stability. He plays with the notion of a dystopic utopia by building up a seemingly perfect future, and then breaking it with the juxtaposition of all of the compromises it takes to get there. In many ways it is ideal: technology and bio-engineering have eliminated economic and political pressures. War and need are a thing of the past and people feel ‘truly happy’. It is this happiness that guides the workings of this society, but it is a superficial happiness achieved by satisfying the most basic and sensual pleasures. Furthermore, it is achieved at the high cost of limited free will, elimination of creativity, and blunted emotions. This idea is best explained by Mustapha Mond, one of the ‘World Controllers’ of that society: “The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave.” 9 If you have been cultivated based on your DNA, conditioned since you were an embryo, and brainwashed throughout your childhood, you will love your life and accept your place in society. You become simply a “cell in the social body”. 10



Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola

Class and Knowledge The concept of class and the access or distribution of knowledge plays a key role in these pre-atomic era texts. With the speculation of scenarios technology might make possible in the future, Science Fiction provides a suitable testing ground for the exploration of social structures. In fact, many works in this genre focus on sociology, leaving science and technology as secondary aspects. This is the case of Well’s A Modern Utopia, which is heavily based on Plato’s Republic. Like Plato, he believes that an ideal society is composed of inherently different individuals, each fulfilling a specific role that contributes to the stability and wellbeing of the community. This is the notion of society as a “well-oiled” machine, where everything falls into place and serves a function. Wells divides humanity into classes as follows: the Poietic (creative), the Kinetic (vigorous and clever), the Dull (unmotivated), and the Base (antagonists). However, unlike Plato, these are soft boundaries that are ambiguous at best and he only specifies ideal relative proportions, where the majority would be Poietic or Kinetic. In his society, knowledge is available and provided equally to all, but what each person does with that knowledge depends on their class: new ideas and innovations are proposed by the Poietic, the Kinetic “make things happen” and develop existing ideas, while the rest just follow or are disinterested. He also proposes that there must be a ruling class, “the Samurai”, similar to Plato’s Guardians. Anyone who proves to be disciplined and able can volunteer to be a ruler, but they are mainly composed of scientists and philosophers. This idea of voluntary leadership is problematic, since it takes the automatic self-categorization of individuals as a given, without taking into account the burden of rule, the powerhungry, and the deceptive. He assumes that only the lower classes would exhibit those traits and that there wouldn’t be any clever and motivated liars. While Metropolis similarly restricts ideas and creativity to the scientists, philosophers, and creative types and places them in a position of power, the proportions are drastically different from Wells’ and the differences between classes much greater. It seems almost as if there are only three people in the entire movie capable of generat-

Society and the Machine


ing unique ideas: the designer and ruler of the metropolis, the hermitlike scientist, and the revolutionary philosopher who stirs the masses into change. Instead of Wells’ vastly educated and intelligent society, the great majority of the population, no matter the economic standing, forms part of an unthinking mob. This mob will essentially follow whatever (whoever) attracts it the most or solves its most pressing problem. Furthermore, this theme of a small group of rulers made up of philosophers, designers, and scientists “making things happen” is also explored in The Light Club of Batavia, but with one small and tragic difference: they forget about the mob. The idea of the mob is picked up by The Machine Stops and A Brave New World, and taken to an extreme where the entire population becomes a mob incapable of creative thought. Although the inhabitants in Forster’s story are pressed to continuously come up with ideas and give lectures, the ideas that they come up with are never new and are always based on the opinions of other “experts”. First-hand experience and experimentation is seen as negative and unnecessary, seeing a landscape with your own eyes is not as desired as listening to somebody else talk about it. He posits that once there is no new input in the system, creativity is eradicated and ideas as well as the mind become stagnant. This is the last step towards the complete flattening of society: the loss of individuality and to become “seraphically free from the taint of personality”.11 However, the complete equalization of society coincides with the complete failure of the machine. In contrast to Forster’s homogeneous mob, Huxley presents a mob subdivided into classes ranging from the intelligent thinkers to the semi-moronic. However, they still act as a mob in the same sense as the Metropolis mob, in that although each class plays a different role in the society-machine, they are all incapable of creative thought and must follow orders or leaders. They are driven by basic needs, pleasures, and senses. In both Lang’s and Huxley’s works, the mob has grown in an environment that conditions them to feel a certain way and desire certain things. In a way, Huxley sets out to test and prove that Plato and Wells’ well-greased utopias based on a caste structure are essentially flawed. He looks for ways in which science might realistically achieve the stable societies they describe, in which everyone seems to be happy to play their part, only to hit a wall- the loss of our essence as humans: the freedom to be an individual.


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola

The individual The individual is not completely lost in these worlds, regardless of how dystopic. Rather, the creative person plays a strong situationchanging role. For instance, the individual in The Light Club of Batavia, albeit egocentric and foolish, is also the fomenter of innovation and the reason why a version of Utopia was even tested. The fact that the result was flawed seems almost irrelevant by the end. Furthermore, in A Modern Utopia it is also the individual that brings about change, although more carefully and gradually. The admission of creativity and difference allows for society to evolve and mutate. Similarly, in Metropolis, it takes the work of a few individuals to envision, design, and save the city. Maria, the philosopher-prophet becomes the utopic figure that saves the Metropolis and leads the way towards the promise of a stabilized future. In the dystopic visions of the future, there is usually a character that exhibits original thought and deviates from the norm; these characters are often placed as a point of comparison and a means of disturbing the “peace”. For instance, in The Machine Stops, Kuno escapes the norm, but is attacked and expelled by the Machine for his attemps. Similarly, the two restless and uncomforting characters in “A Brave New World” get shunned and later exiled to islands. In both of these cases however, there is hope for the creative individuals: Kuno describes a simple, primitive utopic society on the surface of the earth composed of all the misfits the Machine has rejected. While a similar utopic secluded society of misfit individuals is suggested at in Brave New World, it is not primitive or pastoral. Huxley actually presents the technology-free primitive Utopia in the fanatic and disease-ridden reservation to warn us that not all technology is bad. His anti-heroic inquisitive individuals have the hope of either becoming a world ruler or living amongst others of a similar nature while still being part of the civilized and technological world. Their ideas simply must remain isolated so that the general mob doesn’t get “tainted”.

Society and the Machine


Obsolescence The idea of obsolescence in the future is an interesting one, especially when taking into account the mentality towards production prevalent during the Industrial Age. At the time when these stories were written, the latest technological advances included fossil fuels, cars, airplanes, steel construction, electric power and illumination, the telephone, mass production and the assembly line. The rapid succession of these innovations at the turn of the century led to an explosion of manufactured commodities making their way to everyday life. The replacement of the obsolete became a commonplace practice that was perceived to only increase in pace and magnitude. This projection leads to both the positive and negative views towards the old in the works studied: on the one hand, Wells proposes the systematic destruction of obsolete or ugly structures through a consensus, and Scheerbart suggests an adaptive re-use strategy through the occupation of an abandoned coal mine. Although Wells describes his process as means of improving the quality of life for the population and beautifying the city, he ignores the additive potential of historic value and the changing nature of concepts of beauty. What was beautiful before and is ugly now may yet be attractive in the future (take Post-Modernism). As ever, Huxley takes Wells’ utopic notions and pushes them over the edge to dystopia: anything that is too old must go. Something that is old acquires the beauty donned by age and history, and anything that is too beautiful can cause strong, passionate emotions. Therefore, the old must not exist, and anything that is kept for too long must become obsolete and be readily replaceable. Why mend a sock when you can just buy a new pair that is nicer and trendier? Supply and demand is what a healthy and stable economy is made of, and therefore people must always consume as much as possible. Huxley was able to foresee the future of marketing and manufacturing quite accurately, nowadays products are built to break, not last and advertising ensures that we are never happy with what is unfashionable and outdated. He did not however, foresee the big issue of waste management and growing environmental concern.

Society and the Machine


The Ground Plane A recurring theme in connecting the issue of class to one of spatial strategy is that of the Ground Plane. In several of the works, the ground plane makes an appearance as a dramatic datum that establishes a dialectic between the high and the low classes, the wild and the technological, the old and ugly versus the shiny and new. Both Forster and Scheerbart place their techno-topias underground, leaving humanity with nowhere to go but down while the exterior remains wild, decaying, and abandoned. On the other hand, Fritz Lang and Huxley see the ground plane as a class division or gradient: the lowest are restrained to live, work, and move at or below the ground level while the most privileged (biologically, or economically) have the freedom to soar the skies and inhabit the topmost floors of highrises.

Auratic vs. Mechanical Space Throughout the study of these works, there has been a pressing issue left unanswered by most: Mechanical Space. What makes all of these wonderful and unsettling, highly mechanical futures run? Where does the energy come from? Where are all the gears, pipes, and wiring? The Light Club and Brave New World hint at it with the mention of hydroelectric and atomic power, but Metropolis is the only one that addresses the issue directly. Running a machine takes power as well as servicing, and in the film’s case, both are provided in an unsustainable manner by the working class, which becomes problematic in the story. On the other hand, what keeps The Machine in Forster’s story running? Is the energy source somewhere in the abandoned surface, or is it the inhabitants themselves à la Matrix? Furthermore, if all their needs are satisfied at the push of a button or the pull of a lever, what happens behind the walls? What mechanism hides the bed, bathtub, or mechanical doctor after they’ve been used?

Society and the Machine References 1.

Caroll, Sean for Prophets of Science Fiction. Episode 3: H.G. Wells. 2011


Ridley, Scott for Prophets of Science Fiction.


Wells, H.G. A Modern Utopia. 1905. p. 182


Wells, A Modern Utopia p. 29


Forster, E.M. “The Machine Stops”. The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press. Middletown, Conn. 2010 p. 56


Lang, Fritz. Metropolis. (1927) United Film Artists. Timeless Video, Inc. Chatsworth, CA. 2001


McElheny, Josiah. “A Small, Silent Utopia” in The Light Club. University of Chicago Press. Chicago 2010 p.2


McElheny, p.2


Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Harper Collins. New York. 1932. p. 263


Huxley, p. 106


Forster, p. 70

Image Credits 6 Bruno Taut, Alpine Architecture, 1919 8

Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, The Machine, 2013


Fritz Lang, Metropolis, 1927


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, The Light Club, 2013


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, 2013


Fritz Lang, Still from Metropolis, 1927

22 Yakov Protazanov , Aelita: Queen of Mars. 1924 26

Alphonse Marie Adolphe De Neuville, Prof. Aronnax Examines the Nautilus . 1870


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, The Light Club (Mine Shaft), 2013

the promise of fission and space Science Fiction’s Utopias and Dystopias During the Post-War Era

works 1941-1968: Asimov, Yefremov, Ellison, Heinlein, Roddenberry, Kubrick, and Clarke

The Promise of Fission and Space


Technology Leading us to Utopia

I, Robot

Isaac Asimov, 1950 I, Robot is a compilation of short stories written by Asimov between 1941 and 1950 dealing with issues of robotics and artificial intelligence. In his vision, a company called U.S. Robot and Mechanical Men, Inc. has been able to develop an artificially intelligent, ‘positronic’ brain for computers. This allowed them to create robots that could be employed in several fields, especially performing tasks too difficult or dangerous for man. This idea that robots could be useful tools and even friends to man was quite innovative at a time when science fiction and pulp magazines showed robots as weapons or dangerous Frankenstein’s monsters that turned on their Creator. “Knowledge has its dangers, yes, but is the response to be a retreat from knowledge? Or is knowledge to be used as itself a barrier to the dangers it brings? (...) Never, never, was one of my robots to turn stupidly on his creator for no purpose but to demonstrate, for one more weary time, the crime and punishment of Faust.”1 The fundamental structure behind the stories is the testing of a hypothesis Asimov developed alongside John Campbell: the Three Laws of Robotics, which they realized must exist if automatons were to truly be accepted in society: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.2 As he develops his stories, Asimov discovers that if the Laws are followed in that hierarchy, a robot is essentially more ethical than the

The Promise of Fission and Space


vast majority of humans. Furthermore, the laws may never be broken, since the ‘positronic’ brain is incapable of functioning without them (conveniently for Asimov). As the robots in the stories become more and more advanced, people become resentful and after pressure from labor unions, robots are confined to work on the dangerous edges of the explored world: in space stations, mining stations on other planets, and other similar situations. Finally, U.S. Robots comes up with the “Machines”, the most intelligent computers which assist with the governance of societies on earth. They are allowed on the planet on the grounds that there are only four of them and they are only “brains”. They are used by continuously inputting data from all economic and social sectors, the machine then analyzes the information and compares it to its vast memory banks (including historic ones) and so builds a repertoire of human behavioral patterns. This compilation on knowledge and the fact that the “brain” must still follow the 3 laws allow it to provide an answer in the form of a course of action which will be of greatest benefit to mankind. Since its primary objective is to prevent harm to come to humans, it often takes measures to prevent humans from harming themselves. Furthermore, it even takes into account the fact that certain humans will not follow the instructions given by the machine and so adjusts its answers accordingly. The final realization and conclusion in the book is that a utopia is achievable, but we alone are unable to get there, since humanity as a whole does not always act in it’s best interest. We don’t even know what kind of utopia the machine has in store for mankind: “How do we know what the ultimate good of Humanity will entail? We haven’t at our disposal the infinite factors that the Machine has at its! Perhaps, to give you a not unfamiliar example, our entire technical civilization has created more unhappiness and misery than it has removed. Perhaps an agrarian or pastoral civilization, with less culture and less people would be better. If so, the Machines must move in that direction, preferably without telling us, since in our ignorant prejudices we only know that what we are used to, is good—and we would then fight change. Or perhaps a complete urbanization, or a completely caste-ridden society, or complete anarchy, is the answer. We don’t know. Only the Machines know, and they are going there and taking us with them.” 3

The Promise of Fission and Space


Inevitable and Designed Society

Foundation Isaac Asimov 1951

Isaac Asimov is considered by many as one of the great masters of Science Fiction as well as one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 titles. His work is considered ‘hard’ Science Fiction and is best known for his writings on robotics, a word he coined, and his Foundation series. The first book in the series revolves around the repetitive inevitability of social structure, taking the concept of historic recurrence to a whole new level. By framing the novel with excerpts from the ‘116th Edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica’, published more than a thousand years after the story’s action begins, he is able to infuse the events with an aura of inevitability. Furthermore, the whole plot begins at the end of the reign of a 12 thousand year old Galactic Empire, so far in the future that humans have forgotten the “dawn of their existence” or even the fact that they once lived in a single planet. This framework allows him to re-tell a version of the fall of the roman ages and the following dark ages, with a twist. The text implies that as the scope and size of the Empire increases, so does the time scale- so if the small Roman Empire lasted 4 centuries and the following middle ages 10, then the Galactic Empire, which lasted for 12 millennia is followed by dark ages for a period of 30 millennia of dark ages. This time-scale gets distorted once Hari Seldon, a mathematician develops the statistical science of Psychohistory- where he can accurately foretell the future based on a series of inputs. This allows him to shorten the “dark ages” period to only one thousand years by preserving knowledge and setting the Foundation for a second empire to arise. Throughout the book, we see the development of this budding empire over 200 years, where the clash of forces and unknowing leaders during a series of crises lead to the predictable results Hari foretold. Knowing that the future has been planned out for them and but that the present exerts too much pressure leads to the feeling of anti-climactic climaxes:

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“Can we risk the present for the sake of a nebulous future? -We must – because the future isn’t nebulous” 4 With Foundation, Asimov postulates that because we know the past, then we can also speculate the future. He has no idealized visions of Utopias instead, he proposes momentary, ephemeral Utopias, or Golden Ages. Furthermore, he shows that as technologies advance, society doesn’t necessarily follow a single evolutionary thread (in contrast to H.G. Well’s Modern Utopia), instead, it readjusts itself to the new framework and repeats itself in a fashion closer to what Mark Twain describes in his famous quote: “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”. This leads to the succession of periods described in Foundation after the collapse of the Galactic Empire: first, there is an exodus and a small “neglected colonial” phase. The uncertainty of this period is dominated through the “Balance of Power” (i.e. new rule, revolution). The next phase- that of expansion and dominion over the unlearned, barbaric surrounding regions is accomplished though the mastery of “Spiritual Power” (religion). However “Regionalism and Nationalism” become a counteracting force against “Spiritual Power”. A new balance is finally obtained through “Money Power” in the plutocracy that is established at the end of the book. The book is of course, open-ended, as the series follows the rise, golden age, and then decline of the “Foundation Era”, or second empire.

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Socialist Utopia

Andromeda Ivan Yefremov, 1957

The Andromeda Nebula is the most important and influential soviet Sci-Fi work and it presents the future as a socialist Utopia. It proposes that humanity and their social organization can evolve just like our organisms. Instead of following Foundation’s model where history just repeats itself, Yefremov postulates an evolution of society in phases: First, there is an era of “disunity” and world-wide conflict, followed by an era of reconciliation and reconstruction, the era of “unity”; finally comes the era in which the story takes place, the era of “harmony”. At that state in the social evolution, the diverse cultures and races of the world have become a single cohesive nation while still retaining localized cultural heritage and identities. They have coordinated their efforts under the joint endeavour of the betterment of mankind and the diplomatic exploration of space. Their aim is to expand the body of human knowledge and make peaceful contact with other intelligent beings. The novel follows two sets of characters, a group of politicians and archaeologists on earth and another of astronauts on a deepspace exploration mission. Through this diptych lens we see how this evolved civilizations deals with new knowledge and the exploration of the unknown as well as how it values the conservation of knowledge and careful study of its past. Their diplomatic mission when establishing communication with other beings is to convey the wealth of knowledge and human experience to them. In turn, they receive the equivalent information from other planets and store it in a great bank of information which is public and accessible to all. Both the means of communication (like a video conference with another planet) and the information library are good predictions of communications technology such as the internet. However, as with many utopic cold-war era works, the humans depicted only engage in noble pursuits and use technology for the advancement of mankind. Sci-Fi Authors of this period like Yefremov and Roddenberry are characterized by their overly optimistic visions: they want to anticipate the internet but without the porn, ads, and cat videos.

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Satiric Dystopia

“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktoman Harlan Ellison, 1965

This short story presents a satiric description of a dystopic future where every aspect of life is highly regimented. With increased industrialization and mechanization, society and people have become mechanized as well: work, recreation, and living are compartmentalized and organized. Time becomes the most important factor for the control of society and the reason why the System functions. Tardiness goes from being frowned upon to being a punishable and serious offense: “Until it becomes more than a minor inconvenience to be late. It becomes a sin. Then a crime.” 5 In this future, each person gets a time-card and cardio-plates where every instance of tardiness is automatically recorded and accumulated. The sum of “wasted time” is subtracted from the total lifespan of a person, reducing the length of their short existence on earth. The “Ticktoman,” timekeeper and ruler is responsible for terminating those who have run out of time by stopping their hearts. This dystopic vision criticizes work practices at the time that focused on maximizing efficiency. Furthermore, the story alludes to the film Metropolis in its message about the de-humanization of overly regimented life. It even describes scenes just like the opening one in the film, where hundreds of workers are flowing to and from factories at the start of a shift. As the joker and rule-breaker, Harlequin sets out to disrupt the oppressive order through a series of anarchic pranks. Moreover Ellison presents the character as the revival of Thoreau’s hero in civil disobedience: “A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men serve the state with their consciences also,

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and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it” 6 Moreover, in using the pseudonym Harlequin, he makes recalls the stock character and prankster of the 16th century Italian theatrical tradition of the Commedia Dell’arte. Like “Arlecchino” and his countless reincarnations he is both popular and agile as a comedian, playing slapstick jokes and ridiculing authority figures. Yet also like the stock character, Harlequin in the end is also no more than a servant: a part of the working class serving under the rule of a powerful yet disrespected master. While there are many parallels between Repent, Harlequin! and the Commedia, the story makes a departure from the expected when Harlequin’s love interest, Pretty Alice (Columbine) betrays him to the Ticktoman- once his Harlequin’s “mask” is removed he is just Everett C. Marm, a man who simply had no sense of time. In the end, they brain wash him à la 1984 and make him repent publicly before terminating him. But his endeavors and death weren’t all wasted: “(…) in every revolution a few die who shouldn’t, but they have to, because that’s the way it happens, and if you make only a little change, then it seems to be worthwhile” 7 And so it follows that the Ticktoman himself was 3 minutes late, marking the begging of the end of that dystopian future.

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Frontier Colony Utopia

The Moon is a harsh mistress Robert Heinlein, 1966

The Moon is Harsh Mistress is Heinlein’s ode to individualism and praise of “frontier life” in hard environments. His vision of the future juxtaposes the excesses of a dystopian earth with the heightened moral values of a penal lunar colony. While the rulers of Earth control its resources, the dissidents and criminals that are sent off to the moon are forced to live in harsh conditions and struggle for resources (they have hydroponic farms but have very limited water supply). Furthermore, the physiognomy of those who live in the moon for too long becomes accustomed to the low gravity such that they can’t escape their “prison” even if they wanted to. With his proposed settling of the moon as the place where Earth’s unwanted go to work an unforgiving land, Heinlein alludes to, and romanticizes frontier living: be it in the American wild west or the Australian outback. In his lunar colony, differences that have torn mankind apart for millennia are erased as a fully accepting interracial, multicultural society developed. He claims that level of racial and gender equality was achieved because of the way all humans must put aside their differences and work together to survive. In addition, he argues that the dis balanced, two-to-one ratio of men to women led to a heightened appreciation and respect for them. He supports this far-fetched claim by exhibiting how easily anyone, even “the weakest of women” could send someone to their death: you just pick them up and shove them out the pressure-lock. In fact, it is the knowledge of an easy death that leads to the morally elevated society: they have learned to treat each other with the uttermost respect out of self-preservation and need. Is this the only way to utopia? Anarchy, harsh environments, and fear? Heinlein’s answer is a clear “yes” in the form of a bittersweet conclusion: Once the residents of the moon revolt and are liberated from their masters on earth, they establish their own system of government and begin the downwards spiral that will lead them to become just like their former oppressors. The heroes and heroines of the revolution are left as forlorn shadows of their former selves.

The Promise of Fission and Space


Techno-Topia in Space

Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry, 1966-1994 In gene Roddenberry’s vision of a socialist utopic future in the 22nd century, technology has led society to stability after vastly devastating conflicts. Only after humanity has gone through a savage low point can it rise again: brave, scientific, and adventurous. The key invention that liberates man from the burden of materialism is the universal replicator, which can be programmed to create food, garments, and objects. “The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.” 8 Roddenberry’s utopia is strongly grounded in socialist and enlightenment ideals, where the ultimate mission of mankind becomes the expansion of knowledge, self-improvement, and the diplomatic exploration of other worlds (exploration without conquest). These common themes and framework make it seem as if Roddenberry was looking at Efremov’s work for inspiration on his series. Like in Andromeda, Star Trek’s heroes represent a league of worlds and races brought together to protect their newfound socioeconomic stability from external pressures (aliens unfriendly to their cause). The fact that there are still great foes and wars makes one wonder wether mankind has truly overcome its bellicose nature or simply joined forces to conquer a larger foe. In fact, it seems like many of their arch-enemies such as the Borg (hive collective) and the Romulans are equally advanced societies that have reached their own brand of utopia, one that makes sense for their culture and species. What if they are just misunderstood by humans? Are they really as diplomatic and evolved as they claim to be?

The Promise of Fission and Space


Metaphysical Science Fiction

2001: a space odyssey Stanley Kubrick & Arthur Clarke, 1968

Kubrick and Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey could easily be the most influential and widely referenced Science Fiction Film of the cold-war era. It marked a turning point in both film and Sci-Fi. After this movie, no other space travel film or series would be the same; it inflected the genre’s visual catalog with a wide array of references for spaceships (and their photography), artificial intelligence, and zero-gravity life. Furthermore, the movie’s plot is rather unusual in they way it manages to combine hard Science Fiction, myth, and metaphysics. It picks up the ideas about the evolution of society and mankind but explains it as advancement guided by an external force, an influence from a higher being. Humans are portrayed as the formal expression of the transitional phase between the primitive (animal) and the sublime (higher being, larger than Earth itself). Evolution of man is catalyzed by the higher being through the insertion of monoliths at key points: they incite the primitive ape to use tools and man to undertake long distance space travel. In order to achieve the latter, man attempts to create a perfect, disembodied version of himself: the artificial intelligence H.A.L. However, humans, being in an imperfect transitional phase cannot create a truly perfect being. When HAL cannot come to grips with his own imperfection, he breaks down, becoming a sort of Frankensteins’ monster and killing the people he was supposed to protect. In the end man, as represented by Dave, must overcome his failings and destroy his monster before achieving the final ascension.



Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola

Race and gender As a kind of future anthropology, Science Fiction becomes a venue for criticism of the social problems of the present. In proposing idealized future social structures authors experiment with means of correcting perceived issues. The fact that these works were written during the peak of the civil rights movement explains why gender and racial equality are explicitly outlined. However, no matter how liberal the cultures in works such as Andromeda, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Star Trek might be, they still fall victims to the ideas of their time. For instance, although members of all races and genders are shown as having the same rights and ranks, they are still pointedly different from one another: a woman of Japanese heritage in Star Trek might be a researcher in a starship, but is portrayed as polite, demure, and still walking around in a kimono practicing the hobby of ikebana. Similarly, a man from Africa in Andromeda might be a world ruler, but is also characterized as an energetic, lean and toned individual who is innately swift and light-footed. On the other hand, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress presents a more realistic vision of racial equality: while those who are “earthborn” are still racially differentiated, those from the utopic moon colony are intermixed and racially ambiguous after one or two generations. Gender equality however, becomes the problematic issue in that book: since the gender ratio is highly skewed towards men, they have to fight for the attention of the few women. Heinlien claims this ability to pick and choose gives them an added power over the opposite sex, but it also leads to polygamy of various forms. Furthermore, the heightened “appreciation” of women leads to men, including children to “praise” them, cat-call them, and scan them up a and down... something which the women not only endure, but like. Similarly, Yefremov illustrates a dated view of the role of females in society in Andromeda. In his future, they have come to signify the standard of beauty for humanity and as such, are the best vector for visually conveying the Earth’s heritage to other civilizations across the galaxy:

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“Communications to other planets are always given by beautiful women. This gives them an impression of the sense of the beautiful as perceived by the inhabitants of our world, and in general it tells them alot.” 9 The issue of gender inequality reaches appalling measures in Asimov’s Foundation, where it seems females don’t even have a place in the future. No female characters make appearances until three-quarters of the way through the book and when one does, she is a materialistic and corrupted aristocrat from one of the more “savage” planets on the outskirts of the utopic, male-driven society. When Asimov does place a woman in a principal role for I,Robot as the highly intelligent robo-psychiatrist, he still expresses a dated, discriminatory view by describing her as cold, robot-like, career driven, and kind of ugly. While the authors of post-war Sci-Fi should be lauded for their attempts at representing gender and racial equality in their work, they are still trapped within the views of their time and were not able to portray true equality as we see it today.

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Allure of the frontier An idealized vision of frontier life as the backdrop for glorified and rugged individualism is a widespread theme in cold-war Science Ficiton. Like the wild west, space represents the formidable unknown as well as the “land of opportunity” for those who are brave and courageous enough to face it. Furthermore, it’s harsh, deadly environment leads people to behave in a nobler manner towards each other; they must collaborate to survive, be polite or be killed. This is the premise for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Star Trek, whose original tag line was: “Wagon Train to the Stars.” In contrast, the Earth is often shown as a wasted and corrupted place. For instance, Harlequin must fight to disrupt order in a dystopian, over-built, overly regimented Earth. While in Foundation, Asimov depicts a capital planet (a stand-in for our current society) that is so rotten and corrupted after millennia of decadence that it’s whole society crumbles, the planet all but imploding. It remains the task of the brave to save humanity’s wealth of knowledge by shipping off to the boundaries of known space and starting an encyclopedic project. The work from this era exhibits a hope for future Utopia, just not on Earth: Utopia exists on a spaceship, on the moon, and on the far reaches of the galaxy.

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natural vs. artificial Can computers or robots replace humans? Asimov’s visions are coming true, in car manufacturing industries, digital fabrication, space exploration, bomb detonation, and even spinal surgery. Although especially in the car industry, these have meant a decrease in jobs, these advanced methods of production have been much more accepted, and even admired. This is because in our 21st century reality robots can only do what we program them to do, in a way they function more like extensions or prosthetics. They perform the tasks we are not precise or strong enough to perform. Although Asimov and many of his contemporaries saw artificial intelligence as the ultimate goal of robotics and electrical engineering ; I believe attempting to create self-aware computers is not necessary and would actually cause more problems from an ethical point of view than it is worth. Like Phillip K. Dick poses in Do Androids Dream, once a mechanical being becomes sentient, then the question of civil rights arises: emotionally responsive or not, wouldn’t we be submitting our creations to a new type of slavery? Clarke and Kubrick are also highly critical of man’s attempts at playing God, in the end he must destroy his monster before it destroys him. Like Frankenstein’s monster, H.A.L. is a tragic figure that is misunderstood and becomes a victim of his circumstances. Once the concept of lying is introduced and forced onto H.A.L., his perfect system of logic is thrown off and he begins to falter. While both Clarke and Dick show artificially intelligent beings along the lines of Asimov’s, they explore the ethical issues inherent to their interaction with less-than-perfect, erring humans.


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola

the rise of the megastructure Around the time many of these works were written, ideas of urban renewal and city planning were beginning to see implementation around the globe. Overpopulation and the quality of life in urban centers was becoming an evident problem. These issues inspired the work of architects in groups like Archigram, Superstudio, and the Metabolists, whose depictions of megastructures and the future city in turn influenced Science Fiction. Sci-Fi of this era is heavy on megastructure: monuments of efficiency and progress. In some cases, a city is contained within a machine (spaceship), like in Star Trek, while in others the entire city becomes a machine for urban living. In Foundation, the entire surface of the capital planet-city of Trantor is covered by built structure. It’s described as a metal shell 500 feet above ground and half a mile under. The sky and ground become invisible amidst the network of man-made structures. “The mightiest deed of man: the complete and almost contemptuously final conquest of a world.” 10 As the datum of the ground plane is broken up the figure-ground relationship of the city is inverted: the built becomes ground and voids become figures. This radical form of beehive urbanism has it’s repercussions on the way people navigate and understand the city as well as their psychology: “If you’re born in a cubicle and grow up in a corridor, and work in a cell, and vacation in a crowded sun-room, then coming up to the open with nothing but sky over you might just give you a nervous breakdown.” 11 The city is Repent, Harlequin! is a very similar megastructure but instead, it is a city stacked in programmatic levels: a level for shopping, a level for factories, a level for living, and so forth. The author however, only implies this relationship in the most cursory manner,

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leaving the organization and visualization of such a hyper-dense urban environment to the readers’ imagination: “High above the third level of the city, he crouched on the humming aluminum-frame platform of the air-boat (foof! airboat, indeed! swizzleskid is what it was, with a tow-rack jerryrigged) and he stared down at the neat Mondrian arrangement of the buildings.“12 In both of these works, transportation is the megastructure city is achieved by foot and flying cars. People efficiently flow to-and-fro destinations hopping on conveyor belts of different speeds as cars hover overhead, entering “wormholes” in the structure that become portals to other sections. Does the supposition of flying cars enable the existence of a megastructure city, or is it the other way around? How does the megacity spatially choreograph the flow of products and people through an array of escalators, conveyor belts, and flyspace? While the architects of Archigram gave a visual interpretation of such cities, the real world was not ready to implement them yet, although it did try. Urban renewal elevated highways over cities, dug tunnels, under water, and cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong began raising levels of mixed program structures over ground and figure alike. But were those projects the solution to the problem of urban density? Or do they make matters worse with their invasive infrastructure? Does the megastructure de-humanize the population?

The promise of fission and space References 1.

Asimov, Isaac. “Introduction”. The Rest of the Robots. Doubleday. New York 1964


Asimov, Isaac. “The Three Laws of Robotics.”I, Robot. Doubleday. New York 1950. p. 11


Asimov. I, Robot. p. 218


Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. Bantam Books. New York 1991 p. 119


Ellison, Harlan. “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktoman.” The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press. Middletown, Conn. 2010 p. 373


Ellison, p. 368


Ellison, p. 378


Roddenberry, Gene. Star Trek: First Contact. ©Paramount Home Entertainment 1996


Efremov, Ivan Antonovich. Andromeda : A space-age tale. Foreign Languages Publishing House., Moscow 1959


Asimov, Foundation. p. 16


Asimov, Foundation. p. 16


Ellison, p. 370

Image Credits 30

NASA Replica of Sputnik1: The first artificial satellite in the world to be put into outer space ©NASA


Chris Foss. Even Robots Die. ©1970

36 Alex Proyas. Still from I,Robot. 2004 @20th Century Fox 38

Michael Whelan. Cover art for Foundation. ©1985


Chris Foss. Cover for The Dramaturges of Yan. ©1974


N. Grishin. Illustration for Andromeda Nebula. ©1957


James Steranko. Illustration for “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktoman. ©1978

46 Maurice Sand. Masques et bouffons (Comedie Italienne). Paris, Michel Levy Freres, 1860 48

Mark Sullivan. Moon Colony Concept Art. ©1980


Matt Jefferies. Drawing of the Enterprise, Refitted for Phase II. 1978


Stanley Kubrick. Still from 2001: A Space Odyssey. ©Warner Bros. Pictures

56 Boris Vallejo. Poster Art for Barbarella. ©1968 60

Jean Giraud “Moebius”. Voyage D’Hermes. ©2011

62 Gary Freeman. Cover for Asimov’s Science Fiction. ©1989 64

Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola. Harlequin’s City. ©2013


Chris Foss. Travelling Cities in Esquire and Sunday Times Magazine. 1981

Disillusion And cyberspace Science Fiction’s Utopias and Dystopias During the Virtual Era

works 1956-2013: Dick, Spielberg, Verhoeven, Wiseman, Miller, Scott, Gibson, Stanton, Di Filippo, Kosinski

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Future as Multiple Realities

Minority Report Philip K. Dick, 1956

(Minority Report, Steven Spielberg, 2002) Philip K. Dick’s work is characterized by a sense of paranoia, fear, and distrust of the prevalent status quo. His characters are constantly being persecuted or are escaping something for reasons they don’t fully understand. The Minority Report is a short story that follows the struggles of a policeman trying to escape conviction for a crime he has not yet committed. The world portrayed represents a false Utopia in the near future : “In our society we have no major crimes, but we do have a detention camp full of would-be criminals” 1 As with many utopic visions, idealized organized society comes at a price. The first was the means of getting there: technological advancement, social order, and civil obedience was attained only after prolonged periods of war- which instilled fear in a population that inhabited slum-filled, overcrowded urban centers. The second was the negative moral implications of incarcerating potentially innocent people. The decision to arrest someone is based on a “majority report” given by a computer that analyzes the dreams of three pre-cogs: humans with a genetic mutation that allows them to see glimpses of the future. Their visions depict the sequence of events triggered by a thought or action. However, not all thoughts lead to criminal action and on the other hand, thoughts may be incepted to incite criminal behavior. The story plays out the discovery of the kink in the utopic system and the revelation of the unethical sacrifices society was willing to make in order to approach an ideal.

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Past as Multiple Realities

we remember it for you wholesale Philip K. Dick, 1966

(Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven, 1990) (Total Recall, Len Wiseman, 2012) Another topic that figures prominently in Dick’s work is an inescapable suspicion of reality. It is a pervasive metaphysical confusion that makes the characters doubt their own existence and what they perceive as real, imaginary, or hallucination. Can there be more than one reality? Are we the sum of our lived and shared experiences and memories? If so, what happens if those could be could be erased and re-written? We Can Remember it for You Wholesale represents a different kind of false utopia than Minority Report. Where the urban condition in the latter was messy but safety and crime prevention were high, the former shows a clean, advanced, and orderly city filled with unhappy individuals. With clear inspiration from post-war America, this vision of the future portrays the need for escapism in a population of depressed white collar workers leading un-glamorous, highly structured lives. Instead of taking a vacation—a luxury citizens of this “utopia” might not have the means or time for—they can settle for the next best thing: a memory of a vacation. The most extraordinary thing is they will never know the experience was artificial: they would not remember they had a memory implanted, and what’s more, they would have artifacts: tickets and other proof of their trip. As with Minority Report and some of his other work, Dick postulates a hypothesis for a potential future and then tests its limits; finding a compelling narrative in the kinks of a seemingly perfect system. Although it is only a short story, We Can Remember it for You Wholesale has been extremely influential in the world of literature and film and its themes of paranoia and malleability of the mind still resonate today in works such as The Matrix, Total Recall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Inception.

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Dystopia and the Psyche

mad max

George Miller, 1979 Mad Max and its sequels were greatly influential works that helped set the tone for dystopic Science Fiction in the decades that would follow. The films criticize mankind’s self-destructive tendencies by vividly depicting the moral decay of society as law and order give way to anarchy when the world’s oil supplies are exhausted. As governments fight over the remaining fuel, global war erupts. Meanwhile, at a local scale, road gangs fight over territory and fuel: raping, murdering, and pillaging like it’s the dark ages. While the movie makes allusions to western themes and dangerous “frontier life,” it isn’t heroic and it doesn’t idealize the harsh environment like post-war Sci-Fi does. Throughout the first film we see how anarchic society de-humanizes the cowboy antihero as he gradually loses his mind, concluding in his climactic and sadistic revenge rampage. While the second film tries to be hopeful and show an aspiration for sanity in the community of the settlers, Max (like the rest of society) has been scarred for life and cannot return to his former self. Science Fiction from the 80’s onwards, such as Mad Max tend to represent the future through dystopic urban environments; and embodiment of the disillusion widely felt with the state of society, cities, and technology. Punk, Grunge, and New Wave movements became outlets for expressing of these dissatisfactions: wasn’t technology supposed to save us all? Weren’t we supposed to be living in idealized, advanced societies (in space)? Instead the earth is wasted, the cities are slums, and society thrives on excess, corruption, and lies.

Disillusion and Cyberspace


More Human than Human

Blade Runner Ridley Scott, 1982

(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Phillip K. Dick, 1968) In his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Phillip K. Dick explores many of the same issues of artificial intelligence that Asimov introduces, but places them in a troubled dystopian future. As with much of his work, there is a pervasive sense of paranoia and uncertainty- showing us the dark side of the techno-topian ideal. The story revolves around a bounty hunter- Rick Deckard, who “retires” replicants (genetically engineered androids) who are banned from Earth. This is a direct nod to I, Robot where a similar ban in enforced, exposing the problematic of protecting of a planet and way of life made ‘comfortable’ by exploiting the periphery of the solar system. This notion becomes paradoxical when Dick establishes an Earth that is mostly an uninhabited post-nuclear radioactive wasteland and overcrowded urban centers are still more desirable than the lonely, beautiful, and brave frontier of outer space. In bringing Do Androids Dream to the big screen in the form of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott began the ongoing love affair between Hollywood and Dick’s work. In his iconic film, Scott expands the themes of the book with the addition of a rich texture of decay and consumerism. The dialectic between real and artificial is treated in an ethically ambiguous way in which the viewer is forced to confront his own definition of humanity: is it biological, the presence of emotion, or the accumulation of experiences? These questions are explored through the struggles of Deckard in identifying and killing the replicants, while falling in love with one of them, questioning his own humanity, and coming to grips with the fact that they might be better than him in more ways than one. The replicant’s final monologue summarizes the ethical conflict in what is considered by many to be “perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history”2 “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” 3

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Cyberspace as the New Frontier

neuromancer William Gibson, 1984

Neuromancer, William Gibson’s first novel, is widely recognized as a turning point for Science Fiction and the key work in the genre of cyberpunk. Similarly to Phillip K. Dick, his future is a highly urbanized, drugged up, ‘plugged in’, dystopia. Furthermore, he also touches on themes of paranoia and multiple realities, while his characters seem to be constantly persecuted, they are also apathetic and ambivalent to much of the hectic environment that surrounds them. His antihero is a drug addict computer hacker who saves the day but doesn’t even care anymore, who ‘gets the girl’ but is then left by her, and who is only motivated by selfish reasons. Furthermore, Gibson’s writing is imbued with rich details that add up to create a future that is at times a grimy and cluttered or plastic and technicolor. He also uses this rich descriptive style to give mindbending form to computational concepts that were barely being introduced at the time, such as the internet and even coining the word cyberspace. “Cyberspace: a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators in every nation(..) A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.” 4 Whereas post-war Science Fiction dramatized the new frontier of space, cyberpunk explores cyberspace as the new frontier of the mind. His characters can “plug in” and inhabit the world wide web, giving an abstract yet spatial account of the ‘matrix’ that connects all computer systems and data banks. Through this interaction he blurs the line between the physical and the virtual reality, the sequence of events unfolding and causing effect across boundaries. As a matter of fact, events often have to occur simultaneously in both realms in order for a desired action to take place. When hacking into a company’s data banks, a simultaneous physical and virtual hack must occur.

Disillusion and Cyberspace


The dialectic between the physical and the virtual is finally played out in it’s most metaphysical sense at the end of the book with the issue of permanence and immortality. It is revealed that the events of the book were only the conclusion of a chain of events started by a powerful couple’s quest for immortality. While the husband began by increasing their lifespan with cryogenic cycles and genetically engineered offspring, the wife sought to create a virtual world in which their minds could be saved for posterity/eternity. Their conflict of ideals led to him murdering her and her now pointless artificial intelligence unit becoming a sort of Frankenstein’s monster. In the quest for immortality, humans created a virtual entity so powerful that the bounds of its knowledge had to be restricted by society through the separation of its emotional and logical capacities. The being is further restricted to it’s solely virtual existence, only being able to interact with humans that are “jacked in” to the matrix or through electronic devices. This freedom and powerseeking entity eventually achieves its goal by manipulating and using humans to achieve what it physically could not, with some minor mishaps due to it’s logical miscalculation of human whim and nature. However, in the fashion of Dick and cyberpunk, the existence of an all-knowing virtual entity and even it’s discovery of aliens leaves the antihero unfazed. After all, that doesn’t directly affect him and he got what he wanted out of the deal, so why should he care?

Disillusion and Cyberspace


World Wasted by Humans


Andrew Stanton, 2008 After the early 90’s, the fetishization of urban decay, along with punk rock and grunge faded into concern. As the ecologist movement began to gain more traction in popular culture, many Sci-Fi visions of the future began to display overly polluted, unlivable environments as cautionary tales. Children’s shows such as Captain Planet began to use these futures as a means of inciting a sense of guilt and concern towards the environment in the younger generations in the hope that it would make a difference in behavior (it seems to have worked). Wall-E is a particularly poignant example of the use of Science Fiction geared towards children as a means of instilling environmentally conscious values. The movie goes as far as showing that the entire planet’s flora was destroyed (somehow despite the existence of hydroponics and seed banks...) due to blatant consumerism and poor waste management. As a result, human race is forced to leave for outer space while the Earth recovers. Humans however, did not learn from their mistakes and continue living with wasteful consumerist abandon on a cruise ship to outer space. As centuries pass, they forget how to walk, talk, and essentially be ‘human’. As with Mad Max, disillusion with the current state of affairs manifests itself as the de-humanization of future society. Nonetheless, the story remains hopeful in the form of a robot that is “more human than humans.”This makes Wall-E a more than just another environmental cautionary tale: its multiple references to previous Sci-Fi works and its treatment of the same metaphysical issues exposed in I,Robot and Blade Runner: what makes us human? Can artificially intelligent beings be more human than humans? By showing two robots falling in love in the ruins of a wasted earth, Disney tries to provide a cautionary tale that does not reject all technology, instead it proposes a harmony between nature and technology mediated by our sense of environmental responsibility and good judgement.

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Hacking Artificial Reality

specter-bombing the beer goggles Paul Di Filippo, 2011

This short story explores the social and psychologic consequences of a technology that is very likely to exist in our near future: Augmented reality. It is both hopeful and critical of the repercussions such a modulation of reality would have on human interactions and the greater urban environment, exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly. The story follows a young man looking for love in the not-sodistant future of Cambridge, MA. The only problem is he has developed a psychological condition after participating in a role-playing game for many years: the only women he finds attractive are elves. In a society where these devices are worn as contact lenses that come with phone plans, the environment-as-perceived becomes separate from the environment-as-exists. The virtual becomes so intertwined with the real that there is no longer a difference in the psyche. While the story shows many of the features we’ve already seen in idealized concept videos about augmented reality, such as e-mail and schedule overlays, interactive navigation and the turning of regular life into video games, it also explores the more annoying aspects. There are annoying ads, hacks, cat videos, and dating apps. For instance, the main user sees an ad for “Beer Goggles,” the app that senses the alcohol level in your system and makes others gradually seem more attractive to you as you become more inebriated. Clearly this will be the way for him to find love- by making all the women look like elves. Despite those bumps along the road, all seemed to be going fairly well for the people of this virtually integrated society. Until a group of activist terrorists hack the different applications: “Beer Goggles” users watch in horror as the heads of attractive people gruesomely explode; those using e-mail apps see a fire in the middle of the room; the ones driving with navigation apps seeing children running in front of their cars, and so forth. As panic and chaos take hold of the city, it becomes clear that the disjunction between perceived and existing spatial experiences is both a powerful and dangerous tool.

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Memory and Ruin


Joseph Kosinski, 2013 While the movie Oblivion might at first glance be discarded as yet another alien invasion movie or cautionary tale of humans destroying the Earth, it goes beyond that by focusing on psychology and the emotional development of a single character. The story follows a man who discovers he is nothing but a clone of his former self whose mind has been wiped and controlled by an alien entity to seize the earth and drain all it’s resources. The movie makes multiple allusions to canonical Sci-Fi works such as H.G. Wells’ War of The Worlds (alien invasion) and Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Oddisey (an artificial intelligence manipulating and harming humans). Furthermore, themes relating to the multiple, layered realities of the mind hark back to the work of Phillip K. Dick. In this case, the main character must struggle with regaining his real memories while grappling with the realization that he is but one clone among millions. Furthermore, the movie ends in hopeful tone, where the last vestiges of mankind overcome a greater oppressive force through perseverance and willpower. The Earth is already ruined, but it is salvageable if humans care for it and return to nature. Furthermore, the landscape portrayed in the film fetishizes the urban, infusing the visual presence of the film with the dramatic power and nostalgic beauty of civilizations lost. .

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Hopeful Dystopia


Spike Jonze, 2013 The movie Her stands out from most other Sci-Fi films in how close it is to our present, in being an ambiguously near future. It resonates so well with the way we live in developed cities now, that it’s future is so imaginable we can almost taste it. It continues the trend of psychologic Science Fiction that explores the repercussions of new technologies on the human mind and emotions. What would happen when we stumble upon the creation of a real, self-aware artificial intelligence? A computerized re-telling of Flowers for Algernon, Samantha, the main character Theodore’s new operating system becomes so intelligent as well as psychologically evolved, that she can no longer bear to interact with normal humans and goes off with the other OS’s to decipher the meaning of their immaterial existence. Another theme explored in the movie the new form of paranoia that can be induced by the lack of technology. There is a conflict between the desire for the natural and the complete reliance in technology that is present everywhere in the film. This becomes evident when comparing scenes such as the hiking trip and the visceral moment of panic when his phone shuts off and Samantha is unresponsive. The presence of this natural vs. artificial paradox is further evidenced in the rich visual texture of the film, where natural materials such as leather, wool, and wood are used to case various electronics, and in clothing, accessories, home accents and architectural details.


Disillusion and Cyberspace


multiple (virtual) realities Why is it that so much of the Science Fiction over the last 40 years has focused on the effects technology and future societal structure can have on the mind? Was this questioning of the perception of reality caused by the dawn of computers and the virtual era? Are experiences lived virtually fiction or reality? Moreover, are computers and the internet simply news tools for communication or do they create outlets for us to live as multiple avatars of ourselves? This new problematic might explain why Phillip K. Dick’s work did not become popular until the 80’s. Many of his mind bending stories that originated from drug hallucinations and a deep distrust for the government, have a resonated with the generations exposed to virtual reality. What’s more, the sense of paranoia and distrust that permeates his work became widespread in society from the 70’s onwards. As both soviet and capitalist societies saw the crumbling of early 20th century ideals under the veils of power, corruption, and lies, younger generations began to view the world under a veil of disillusion. Although the 90’s brought back some of the hope in technology and humanity, it wasn’t quite able to recapture all the heroics of the 50’s. On the one hand, the environmental movement began to bring hope for the earth and on the other, the ubiquity of computers and the internet became a hope for the education and globalization of societies. But one question still remained: “Dude, where’s my flying car?” The truth remains that the year 2000 came and went, but we’re still not living in space and we’re still moving on the same roads at the same speed as before. The internet and the virtual realm have become both a tool for business, a platform for expression, and a means of escape from a not-so glamorous reality. Sick of your job? Better turn on Netflix and watch 10 hours straight of Battlestar Galactica.


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola

where’s my moonbase? In his essay Dude Where’s My Floating Car? , Simon Kristak compares Science Fiction to Ancient Greek and Roman mythology in its ability to create rich troves of lore; myths of place and person. 5 The popularity of the genre and its anthropologies of the future have lead to widespread notions of what the future will hold, wether they are realistic or not. The problem is that these are not promises or accurate projections, at best they are hopeful speculation. Nevertheless, to many, the heroic future of fiction remains a way to escape a painful present, one that is a little unsatisfying because life itself is a little unsatisfying. 6 The resulting difference in expectations between what is popularly perceived as the future and what actually happens inevitably leads to disillusion . After all, weren’t we supposed to live in the moon, or at least have a research base on it, by the year 2000? ”Moon bases and volcano bases. Everything is very base-like. These are very cold-war fantasies. Very architectural. You will KNOW we were here because we will LEAVE MONUMENTS (and blow up yours).” 7 Here lies the flaw in the heroic Sci-Fi imagination of the 50’s. The cold war ended and nobody blew the other up. Bases are large, they are expensive, and honestly rather pointless once you have means of rapid communication and data transfer like the internet. Furthermore bases represent symbols of power and become easy targets for terrorism. In the virtual era, the Sci-Fi city stopped projecting itself onto outer space and began to concern itself with the consequences of derelict urban centers (i.e. 70’s NYC). Furthermore, the realm of the digital and its immaterial realities changed the way in which we imagined utopias and the future city. ”This requires an understanding of the cybernetic occupation of the city; we can abandon fixed utopias and start to understand the cyborg and the city as organic entities that can never be completed or perfected.” 8

Disillusion and Cyberspace


Requiem for the Megastructure

Or, the Fetishization of the Urban Ruin So if we are no longer interested in building fixed monuments embodying identity and state power, what do we do with the old ones? Are they discarded and erased from the urban fabric like a bad dream as they did with the Palace of the Republic in Berlin? No, the megastructure is left to rot and decay—a dying behemoth in the city reminding us of glories and ideals of the recent past. Much of the Sci-Fi in recent times, especially cyberpunk are characterized by a dense and gritty urban texture. “the brown laminate of the tabletop was dull with a patina of tiny scratches. (...) everything seemed to wear a subtle film, as though the bad nerves of a million sutomers had somehow attacked the mirrors and the once glossy plastics, leaving each surface fogged with something that could never be wiped away.” Stories tend to take place in over populated slums as in Minority Report, Neuromancer and Blade Runner; or in dramatic, sweeping, post-apocalyptic wastelands like in Oblivion and Mad Max: “The bus had entered the vast slum region, the tumbled miles of cheap hotels and broken-down tenements that had sprung up after the mass destruction of the war.” 9 Un-ruined megastructures, be it on earth or space (the old ideal) come to symbolize corruption in society. The wasp nest/Las Vegaslike space colony in Neuromancer represents the greed and madness of the future elite while the evacuation space-cruise in Wall-E stands for the carelessness and dehumanization of society. Yes, the Metropolis as machine is dead, but its ruined monuments are represented under the sublime light of romantic landscape painting. Like pyramids sinking in desert sands, the heroic megastructure is swallowed by the growing fabric of slums and radioactive waste.

Disillusion and Cyberspace


more human than humans? Artificial Intelligence has been an important and recurring theme in Science Fiction since the creation of the work considered by many as the first oeuvre of the genre: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As with many of the works explored in this book, the hypothetical scenarios of S-F are often used as a means of criticizing and exploring issues that are potentially problematic in the present time. In the era of disillusion artificial intelligence is often portrayed as being more “humane than humans” and as the agent that helps them re-discover their lost humanity. Does that mean that virtual reality and the information era have made us shells of our former, humane selves? While many characters, such as Mad Max and the sedentary cosmonauts of Wall-E have been de-humanized by technology and/or society’s self-destructive tendencies, A.I. characters such as the replicants, Wall-E, and Samantha help them regain what they have lost. This differs from the post-war take on the subject as treated by Heinlein in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Asimov in I, Robot because their robots and machines are still struggling to find their emotions; they are still purely logical beings struggling for a compromise between perfection and humanity. On the other hand, the AI’s of this chapter are emotionally complex and psychologically troubled. Furthermore, humans in the earlier works are fallible yet heroic whereas humans in the latter are distraught, emotionally absent, antagonistic, or just plain crazy.

Disillusion And cyberspace References 1.

Dick, Phillip K. “Minority Report “ in Selected Stories of Phillip K Dick . Pantheon Books. New York. 2002 p. 229


Rowlands, Mark The Philosopher at the End of the Universe. Ebury. London. 2003 p. 234–235


Scott, Ridley. Blade Runner. ©Warner Bros Pictures. 1982


Gibson, William. Neuromancer . Ace Books New York. 1984 p. 51


Kristak, Simon. “Dude Where’s My Floating Car? “ SCI-FI. CLOG New York. 2013


Allen, Woody. Midnight in Paris. © Sony Pictures Classics. 2011


Maly, Tim “Astronauts & Super Villains” in Quiet Babylon. <> :2009


Matsuda, Keiichi. “Cities for Cyborgs: 10 Rules” in Quiet Babylon. <> 2010


Dick, p. 242


Gibson, p. 9


Image Credits 70 Ridley Scott, Still from Blade Runner, 1982 © Warner Bros Pictures 74

Steven Spielberg, Still from Minority Report, 2002 ©20th Century Fox


Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall,1990 © TriStar Pictures

78 George Miller, Mad Max, 1979 ©Village Road Show Pictures 80 Ridley Scott, Still from Blade Runner, 1982 © Warner Bros Pictures 82 Vladimir Urban Sun, 2012 Concept art by © Vladimir 84 Yukimasa Okumura, Cover Art for Neuromancer, 1986 86 Andrew Stanton, Still from Wall-E, 2008 ©Walt Disney Studios 88

Eran May-Raz and Daniel Lazo, Still from Sight, 2012


Joseph Kosinski, Oblivion, 2013 ©Universal Pictures

92 Spike Jonze, Still from Her, 2013 ©Warner Bros. Pictures 96

Syd Mead, Concept Art for Blade Runner, 1982


Foster + Partners for ESA, Concept for 3D Printed Structures on the Moon, 2013

102 Andrew Stanton, Still from Wall-E, 2008 ©Walt Disney Studios 104

Ridley Scott, replicant Roy Batty from Blade Runner, 1982 © Warner Bros

106 Len Wiseman, Total Recall, 2012 ©Columbia Pictures

Utopia and Science Fiction Thoughts on Frederic Jamesonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Archaeologies of the Future


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola

Defining Utopia What is the nature of Utopia? How do we describe and understand Utopia? Can there be several kinds of Utopic visions? These are some of the questions Jameson seeks to answer in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. In his descriptions of Utopia in relation to society, he states that by its very nature it is critical of the socio-political organization of a state or group. He posits that while Utopia, as an imagined alternative, must embody a radical otherness, but it must not be so extreme as to be unimaginable. In his chapter on the Utopian enclave, he describes that in its proposition of new models, it can only remove or implement aspects of life which are not fully widespread. This is because we cannot idealize that which is ubiquitous and cannot remove that which people can’t live without.1 For Instance, while More could do away with the monetary system, which most of the peasantry of England at the time did not use, we could not remove it in a current Utopian vision. What is interesting in this notion is to imagine what our time’s Utopia would be based on this rubric, could we do away with the internet, since it is not yet fully widespread? I believe the potential of a Utopic world without computers and the internet as Utopia is quickly dwindling, but for now people still idealize vacations away from their computers and movies glorify the dramatic destruction of smartphones. In omitting examples of Utopic visions based on his findings, Jameson makes us go off in flights of fancy as the one above. This reaction in the readership serves to support his analogy of utopians as inventors: “It is an amateur activity in which personal opinions take the place of mechanical contraptions (ie. The best new mousetrap) and the mind takes satisfaction in the sheer operations of putting together new models of this or that perfect society.” 2 And so Utopia is also personal- a form of wish fulfillment. He based this notion on Freudian ideas of ego-dreams, but warns against visions that are too particular, for those which are not shared by a larger group are inherently boring. “We must therefore distinguish between two forms presented by the wish-fulfilment: a repellent purely personal or individual ‘egoistic’ type, and a disguised version which has somehow been universalized and

Utopia and Science Fiction


made interesting, indeed often gripping and insistent for other people.“ 3 Furthermore, if the successful utopian ‘inventor’ of societies must create imaginable, collective dreams, he must also make them realistic by providing the element of antagonism. He calls this the “inner reality principle,” 4 a collection of real-world objections that must be triumphantly overcome in order to make a vision more believable. Finally, Jameson describes the “desire called Utopia” as something concrete and ongoing that cannot be defeatist in the face of harsh reality. This is important because a strong side effect of imagining a perfect society is realizing just how imperfect we are. He argues that “the production of the unresolvable contradiction is the fundamental process, (and) that we must imagine some form of gratification inherent in this very confrontation with pessimism and the impossible.” 5

Utopia and Science Fiction


Types of Utopias The first distinction Jameson calls out between forms of utopian work is between the Utopian program and Utopian impulse: where the former describes a complete, whole vision and the latter a smaller, gradual advance towards a better society. I believe this distinction is crucial in understanding both the author and the potential for implementation of a vision. The creator of a Utopian program provides a complete solution, but has to acknowledge it is too foreign to the existing condition to be implemented or accepted easily, it’s only recourse being revolution. On the other hand, Utopian impulse can happen in small changes, each new reform bringing us closer to a goal which might be the vision of a collective rather than an individual. Utopic Science Fiction can exist in both of those forms, generally distinguished in the temporal scale: utopic program often taking place many, many years in the future (and sometimes another planet), and utopic impulse taking place in the near future. A great example of this comes from Asimov’s work, as a true optimist and utopian, he believed technology would lead to a better society and explored it in many of his works. In I, Robot his short story compilation on robotics, he describes the history of a near future in which the gradual implementation of new technologies and policies (along with their reality principle antagonists) lead to a better world which will only continue to evolve and improve. Meanwhile, in his Foundation series, which takes place in a galactic empire tens of millennia in the future, a better society arises. Another example of utopic program taking place centuries from now, but on earth is described in soviet writer Efremov’s Andromeda Nebula, where all of earth is unified as one entity in the quest for interstellar cultural, scientific, and diplomatic exploration. The notion of utopic program in science fiction can be further dissected into two conditions: the “united front utopia” and the “enclave utopia”. Since Utopia is inherently a reflection on the current state of society, and science fiction aims to project solutions, each type of vision reflects the authors’ opinions of his surroundings as well as human nature. For instance, works presenting a “united front


Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola

Utopia and Science Fiction


utopia” tend to show humanity unified in the face of a greater evil, while implying the author’s underlying belief that humans cannot cooperate unless there is a mutual danger than cannot be overcome unless they join forces. This form is incredibly popular in SF, which examples such as Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Efremov’s Andromeda, Rodenberry’s Star Trek, and countless alien invasion works. On the other hand is the situation where human flaw is accepted and Utopia must exist for the select few who are capable of overcoming it. This enclave Utopia can exist in idealized environments like More’s, but SF tends to place it in harsh environments. This vision of small populations braving the “wild” is often reminiscent of cowboy western ideals, as it is in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where people have grown accustomed to being extremely kind to one another in the increased awareness of their fragility and mortality. The other embodiment of the “harsh environment utopia” is the scientific outpost utopia, exemplified in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars : “(That kind of life) allows you to concentrate your attention on the real work, which means everything that is done to stay alive, or make things, or satisfy one’s curiosity, or play. That is utopia, John, especially for primitives and scientists, which is to say, everybody. So a scientific research station is actually a little model of prehistoric utopia” 6 These two types of utopian programs present in Science Fiction have been successful and will continue to attract audiences and ‘inventors’ because they have the qualities described by Jameson: They are imaginable , universal, and embrace the flaws of human nature as a reality principle.

Utopia and Science Fiction References 1.

Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future : The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London ;New York: Verso, 2005. p.17




Jameson, p. 46


Jameson, p.83


Jameson, p84


Robinson, Kim Stanley Red Mars. New York, 1993 p. 310

Image Credits 37

Richard Powers , Mars Cityscape, 1987


Richard Powers , The Future Now, 1977


Richard Powers , To Your Scattered Bodies, 1971


Richard Powers , Gog-fFlar, Quasarquark of fFlar , 1951


Richard Powers, Chthon, 1975


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Utopia and Science Fiction


Likely Futures  

Science Fiction’s Visions of Utopia, Society, and the Built Environment. // Author: Joanna Rodríguez-Noyola