- Utopian Literature and Science: From the Scientific Revolution to "Brave New World" and Beyond by Patrick Parrinder
Utopian Literature and Science by Patrick Parrinder is an elaborate addition to the discussion about the connection between science and utopianism. It traces the complex relationship between the two from Bacon's New Atlantis to twentieth-century utopian science fiction. The book argues that in classical utopias, science is either unnecessary or precarious and, thus, usually censored and controlled. In modern utopias, however, the connection between the two is complex. While science is essential to the formation of any modern utopia, its presence within this form of utopia remains unsettling and illustrates utopian contradictions, imperfections, and undesirability. The book proves this argument by pointing out the connection and the effects of different scientific discoveries (e.g., the telescope and microscope) and theories (e.g., eugenics and Darwinism) on utopian literature. This book is most beneficial to readers interested in utopian studies more so than in the idea of science or its history in literature. It is also beneficial to researchers looking for condensed material on a subject that has been lightly touched upon in scattered critical texts.
Parrinder's book is divided into an introduction, three parts, and a conclusion. Each part has three to four chapters. Each chapter discusses the [End Page 370] development of a common scientific theme and its connection to and influence on a variety of utopian texts. The first part, "Sciences of Observation and Intervention," lays out the discrepancy between two forms of science—the science of observation and the science of intervention—and their influence on utopian literature. This part argues that the perception of science and scientists fuels utopian fantasy; however, science and scientists' presence within utopia undermines utopian desirability and perfection.
The second part of the book, "The Human Animal," discusses the biology of human beings in utopia. It argues that, as much as we wish to ignore it, the perfect physical shape of utopian citizens is a result of liberal (i.e., encouraged) or authoritarian (i.e., enforced) eugenics. Though the perfection of the human form is a desirable trait in utopia, the means of achieving it (i.e., eugenics) is a major perpetuator of dystopia. In relation to this, this part also discusses the presence of the human-animal border in scientific romance (i.e., the line that also divides civilization from savagery and utopia from reality) and illustrates its elusiveness in prehistory and futuristic literature.
The final part of the book, "Modern Utopias and Post-human Worlds," digs further into the nature of utopian citizens. It questions whether utopia can be constructed on "scientific" lines to accommodate present-day human societies or whether it requires a new brand of a posthuman society. The answer is complex. Though many modern utopias entertain the idea of a posthuman society achieved through evolution or through induced technological and social transformation, the mere idea of achieving this stage is elusive and "forever unsatisfied."
Like all of Parrinder's writings, Utopian Literature and Science does not disappoint utopian literature critics. The book is well situated within the boundaries of utopian scholarly discourse; it builds on Kumar's, Claeys's, and others' discussion of the topic, and it depends on less disputed ideas about utopia. The book also contains excellent textual analysis, and—as expected—it adds juicy content to the field.
What is perhaps unique about this book, however, is that while its theoretical platform is well situated within the utopian scholarly discourse, the book nevertheless pushes the boundaries of this discourse to some unsettling limits. This push is apparent in the issue of scope and definition of both utopia and science. The subtitle of the book promises the reader to cover science in utopian literature "from the Scientific Revolution to Brave New World and beyond." This promise is partially fulfilled as the book discusses a variety [End Page 371] of very well-known and not so well-known utopian and dystopian works (e.g., Looking...