Writing Utopian Novels in a Dystopian World


Many writers today look into the future and see a world just like this one, only much, much worse.

When I set out to write about the future, I wanted to tell a story of humanity’s triumph. A world with no prejudice; a world of equality. That would mean the elimination of discrimination based on age and beauty, and it would mean universal education and food supplies. It would mean universal health and the eliminaion of the favoritisms of height and weight. It would mean the end of race bigotry, religious isolations, all politics, and the ravages of overpopulation. It would mean the leveling of wealth and the freedom from fear. Can you imagine such a world? You can see how difficult it would be for a reader here on old Earth to accept that humanity could ever achieve this utopia.

Today, here on “old” Earth, cynicism and rancor seem to rule dialog and relationships. We listen for errors and pounce when they appear. We call friendship something we have with people who we have never met. Everything is transactional. There’s a quid for every quo. And, sadly, loneliness and isolation rampage around the world. We work for wages, or we live on inheritances. We are slaves to meaningless goals manufactured by our industrial model, where money determines all. Or, we are slaves to lifestyles we feel must be maintained at all costs. Most of all, we are slaves to time running out. We are born, through no effort, or intention, of our own. 

At birth, suddenly, there we are: in a family, in a town, in a country, in a world we didn’t ask for it. And, tragically, we too often discover that we don’t really want the life into which we have been born.

We want to live, that’s for sure. Our specie’s intrinsic desire may well be to live honestly and without harm to anyone, but this world inhibits, and perhaps prevents, that possibility.

The food we eat is harvested by indigents. Our clothing is produced wherever the labor is the cheapest, even slave labor is acceptable. Our housing is mostly for profit, not for livability. Our governments pursue agendas that are conspiracies against our happiness. Our institutions are mired in procedure, disagreements, and endless, senseless compromise of basic values.

The best we can do is maintain, and that, too, is a losing battle. As in love and in life, this is a concept with little meaning. Nothing really maintains. Nothing ever stays the same.

Writing utopian fiction creates such an automatic reaction of disbelief in today’s readers that overcoming it may have become impossible. Imagination, creative thinking, faith, and hope may fill the writer’s efforts, but, it takes optimism and faith in human nature to look through this prism of potential into a new and free futurity.

“History is a damn dim candle over a damn dark abyss.” William Stull Holt, who heralded this conundrum of tomorrow’s uncertainty, was born in 1896, when the United States’ population was under 40,000,000 (about the population of Tokyo today). Imagine him squinting into his future, looking for us.

There are several paths prognosticators can take in their imaginings, and the easiest one is always to assume that everything we know now will still be true in the future, with everything getting worse and worse. Look at the science fiction movies of vast explosions and horrific conflicts and devolution.

But the arc of history tells a different story, doesn’t it?

Change is super slow, because people determine change, mostly. It is us who make the future. But a future with no problems, no conflict among ourselves, and with full-on equality for all? From the depths of our frustration and disappointment, the darkness 

But is it our “damn dim candle” that is letting us down? Or is it the “dark abyss” that we cannot fathom?

I chose the dim candle and have attempted to work to brighten its lumens a little, to focus it a bit more closely, and to shine it onto a brighter path. I know it may be useless. I know few will believe it. But I hope that some will turn to the truth of human nature, and to see the beauty there. It is as obvious as the nose on your face. All of history tells us it’s true. But, still, most won’t believe it.

But some will.

Writing utopian novels in a dystopian world may be like shouting in a forest where no one can hear; or like looking into a tunnel with no light; or like putting a message in a bottle and tossing it into the deep blue sea …

Or, like whispering “I love you,” then waiting to see what happens.


Bill Purdin has published three novels – as W. Mahlon Purdin – describing the world above. They are entitled: “The Rise of Farson Uiost,” “Sargasso,” and “The Dreams of Ida Rothschild.” They detail a new world of equality and the thrills of working together for the greater good of humanity. All three novels are available: click here.