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Demand the Impossible

Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination

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Edited By Tom Moylan

Although published in 1986, Demand the Impossible was written from inside the oppositional political culture of the 1970s. Reading works by Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, and Samuel R. Delany as indicative texts in the intertext of utopian science fiction, Tom Moylan originated the concept of the «critical utopia» as both a periodizing and conceptual tool for capturing the creative and critical capabilities of the utopian imagination and utopian agency. This Ralahine Classics edition includes the original text along with a new essay by Moylan (on Aldous Huxley’s Island) and a set of reflections on the book by leading utopian and science fiction scholars.
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Chapter 9: “And we are here as on a darkling plain”: Reconsidering Utopia in Huxley’s Island, Tom Moylan

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CHAPTER 9

So that means […] you either have to give in to things as they are, or you get defeated by them. I don’t think this is the way it works. I think you can change things, and people need to be reminded of this. And that is what science fiction does.

— SAMUEL R. DELANY (Interview)

In his last work of fiction, Aldous Huxley explored the possibility of a better world in the years after World War II, a period dominated by nuclear militarism and imperialism and a resurgent capitalism reaching around the globe and into the lives and bodies of individuals, groomed as compliant workers, passive consumers, and docile subjects. Whereas Brave New World (1932) has been received by most readers as a dystopia, Island (1962) has generally been taken up as a utopian novel; and Huxley himself saw it as a “corrective” to that earlier work. When I was initially writing on the critical utopias of the late 1960s and 1970s, I thought about doing a chapter on Island; but in the end I focused on US works from the late 1960s/1970s and left Huxley behind. Now, after decades, I have taken another look at Island in terms of its relationship to the utopian impulse and the utopian literary form.1 After discussing the novel as it took shape for Huxley and ← 207 | 208 → commenting on its content and form, I view it through a series of readerly lenses (as in the shifting...

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