Utopia, dystopia, uchronia: make the difference!
Image taken from the television adaptation of the novel The Handmaiden Scarlet written by Margaret Atwood in 1985.
Utopia, dystopia, uchronia, do you make the difference? Métro explains it to you and makes some suggestions “made in Québec” or elsewhere in order to (re)discover these sub-genres closely or remotely linked to science- fiction.
While a utopia presents an ideal world – at least, from the author's point of view – a dystopia presents a dark future or even a utopia that sometimes turns into a nightmare.
If these two subgenres generally take place in the more or less near future, this is not necessarily the case for the uchronia, which can take place in the present or even the past.
According to Mathieu Lauzon-Dicso, bookseller-owner of Librairie Saga and co-responsible for the imaginary VLB collection, “a UTOPIA is a non-place, an imaginary country where all of social life is meticulously organized so that everything there is harmonious”, can we read in his lexicon available on the site of Lettres québécoises (LQ).
When Métro asks the bookseller to name examples of Quebec utopias, the latter replies that “pure and hard utopias are rare and generally boring”.
“Lately, we tend to see dystopias transforming themselves into a better world,” he says, giving the example of two novels published by VLB, Le Burning Bookby Andréa Renaud-Simard and The Invisible Lines by Su J. Sokol.
Set in the near future, The Invisible Linesdepicts a left-wing American family fleeing their despotic country, in order to illegally immigrate to Montreal, which has become a sanctuary city.
Interesting anecdote, Su J. Sokol, like his characters, has left the United States several years ago to settle in Montreal.
A dystopian story depicts “a futuristic society that deprives its citizens of their individual and collective freedoms, of their happiness, even of their humanity. In this harmful context, everyone is monitored, controlled and punished so that order is maintained for the benefit of certain privileged people”, according to the lexicon on LQ.
Mathieu Lauzon-Dicso also makes a distinction between a dystopian story and a post-apocalyptic story. In the latter case, “often, society is on the ground, there is no order, no control of social rights, so it is the law of the strongest, he explains. It’s chaos, whereas dystopia is control, stability, for the benefit of an elite or a dominant group.
George Orwell's 1984 novels – in which the planet is divided into three great states, including that of Oceania, ruled by a single Party overseeing all the actions of its subjects and having as its leader Big Brother – and The Scarlet Handmaiden by Margaret Atwood – which draws up an indictment without appeal against all fundamentalisms, featuring a republic founded by religious fanatics – are classic examples of dystopian literature.
Before defining the uchronia, let us specify that this genre can also be a dystopia or a utopia. On the other hand, while utopia is a “non-place”, uchronia is a “non-time”, explains LQ's lexicon.
“From a point of historical divergence, the uchronia imagines a sequence of events different from those known. It's the famous “What if…?” “”, is it summarized on LQ.
The most famous proposal in the genre concerns the Second World War. “And if the Germans had won the war?” ask certain uchronic works, such as Le maître du Haut Châteauby Philip K. Dick, published in 1962, or the video game franchise Wolfenstein.
Another classic in the like, this time on the comic side, it's Watchmenby Alan Moore in which the United States won the Vietnam War thanks to a superman with unlimited powers, which allowed Richard Nixon to be elected president five times.
Regarding Quebec literature, Mathieu Lauzon-Dicso gives the example of the fantasy series Queen of memory and Voix des stones by Élisabeth Vonarburg in which Jesus has a sister, this which means that “all the history of religions is different from ours”.
The concept can also be applied to the independence of Quebec. “And if the Quebecers had voted in favor of yes in 1980” is Daniel Sernine's proposal in his novel Chronoreg, published in 1992. In this story, a war opposes a sovereign Quebec, Newfoundland and Canada who want to grab the rich hydroelectric resources of Labrador.
Conversely, other novels opted for a brighter version of an independent Quebec. This is the case of the novel Maudite sloche by Carol Courchesne, published last fall. If the uchronic aspect of the story serves mainly as a backdrop, several positive elements stem from the independence of Quebec in this book, allowing, among other things, more harmonious relations with the Aboriginal nations.