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Science fiction and utopian fiction have always been strongly interrelated: in science fiction writers escape their own society for a better one as do the utopian writers who seek an ideal society. Thus, both genres tackle similar theories, concepts, and voices. The study tackles various techniques, themes of science fiction, and their usage in the search for utopia in the works of both Ursula Kroeber Le Guin and Octavia Estelle Butler. Utopia is an old term as old as human history itself; it appeared in Plato’s Republic and Laws (written around 380 B.C.F), and Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). Utopia in its simplest meaning is the feeling of frustration, and depression with the corrupt systems of society and aspiration for a better place. Utopian thinking creates new ways of seeing the past, present, and the future. The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries witnessed great changes in utopian writings with the publication of US writers notably charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the last third of the nineteenth century, time travel became a prevalent form of utopian novel especially in the works of Edward Bellamy and William Morris. With the coming of the twentieth century, writers began to search for utopia in the future not in their real world.
Science fiction deals principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals. It began to appear with the advancement in the field of technology, it was known as a literary genre when Hugo Gernsback, editor of the American Amazing Stories, first coined the term. True modern science fiction began with the French writer Jules Verne. Science fiction owes much to the Gothic novels, the scientific romance and utopia. Those who used to write in this field were male; it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that a woman won science fiction award. The predominant American women writers writing in this field are Le Guin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree and Octavia Butler.
Science fiction itself is subdivided into a number of genres such as hard science fiction, soft science fiction, feminist science fiction, cyberpunk, speculative fiction, fantasy and horrors. Hard science fiction explores ideas derived from real science whether theoretical or not, while soft science fiction examines social sciences including sociology and anthropology such as the writings of both Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick. This term describes stories focusing on characters and emotions such as the works of Ray Bradbury. Thus, Butler writes speculative science fiction, while Le Guin writes soft science fiction. Both of them explore modern, ancient social and cultural issues. They are preoccupied with the problems of their own society as well as the individual. To put it differently, they discuss race, gender roles, religion, social class, and social progress in metaphorical language. Thus, such kind of science fiction has a social message reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and John Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Moreover, social and soft science fiction are always related to speculative branches of utopian or dystopian stories such as Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In reading science fiction, one is exploring a variety of imagined worlds each with its own organization. All fiction does this, but science fiction compels the reader to compare the familiar with the strange. Thus, Feminist science fiction depicts questions about social issues such as the role of man and woman in society; the idea of equality between genders. Some feminist writers make use of gender roles in utopian science fiction. They write about a world where there is equality between men and women, ideal worlds where love and equality prevail between the two sexes. Other feminists write dystopian science fiction portraying the real world as a wasteland where gender inequalities and racial discrimination spread. The second phase of feminist writing began to appear in the 1960s along with the speculative science fiction, science fiction of ideas. In the 1960s and the 1970s, woman writers began to examine some themes of feminism in their writings such as Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Octavia E. Butler who explore sociocultural themes in their works. The portrayal of gender roles in science fiction varies throughout the history of the genre: some writers challenge their society’s norms while others go to extremes creating new genders such as the ambisexual gender created by Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin’s gender can change into male or female, in other words, they have no fixed gender. Butler writes dystopian science fiction in an effort to combat racial discrimination.
On the other hand, dystopian literature portrays society where social justice is lost and the characters are always searching for that kind of justice. If one compares utopia with dystopia, one will notice that each dystopian society bears within it the seeds of a utopian dream. There is always some sort of contradiction between utopian dream and dystopian reality. Dystopian fiction deals with the absence of justice in society, and the destruction of the individual’s private world. Thus, utopia, science fiction, and dystopia are three interwoven literary genres; they cooperate to coin only a part of modern fiction. Writers manipulate such genres in order to satirize their own world freely and fulfil the utopian society aspired for.
The dissertation falls into four chapters in addition to the introduction and the conclusion. The introduction sheds light on the background of both writers and the influences on their respective writings. It provides the reader with a detailed survey of all the novels written by both writers. Le Guin is a white American science fiction writer born on 21st of October 1929. She has written novels, poetry, children’s books, essays, and short stories in the field of science fiction and fantasy. She published her first works in the 1960s: her works depict many themes such as Taoism, Anarchism, and feminists’ ideas, as well as psychological and sociological themes. She is among the first white women writers to write in the field of science fiction. She has received several Hugo and Nebula awards, the Gandalf Grand master award in 1979, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand master Award in 2003. She has been granted eighteen Locus Awards. Her novel The Farthest Shore (1972) won the National Book Award for Children’s Books in 1973. She has won many awards throughout her life and Robert Heinlein dedicated his novel Friday (1982) in honour to her. She published The Earthsea novels in Fantastic in 1964. They were followed by three distinguished science fiction novels: Planet of Exile, Rocannon’s World in 1966, and City of Illusions in 1967. These three novels mix science fiction and fantasy together. They introduce the fictitious Hainish universe as well. This universe reflects Le Guin’s concept about human society in a metaphorical way. With the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969, Le Guin has reached maturity in writing science fiction novels. It has won the 1969 Nebula and the 1970 Hugo awards.
Le Guin published The Earthsea trilogy: The Tombs of Atuan and The Lathe of Heaven after The Left Hand of Darkness. Such novels are set on the Hainish universe along with the West Coast of the USA, which is a recurrent setting in Le Guin’s novels. Tombs is her only novel with a female protagonist. Le Guin was influenced by Philip K. Dick in the lathe of Heaven. In 1973, Le Guin has published The Farthest Shore. She has also published two story collections, The Wind Twelve Quartets, and Orsinian Tales in 1975-6 along with a collection of essays, a book of poems, and a short realistic novel Very Far Away from Anywhere Else. She claims that fiction should have moral, political, and social purposes. 1979 witnessed the publication of Malafrena. Le Guin is a prolific writer as the 1985-93 witnessed her feminist maturity with the publication of Always Coming Home.
In 1987, Le Guin has written another short story collections, Buffalo Gals and other Animal Presences, which gave the reader a hint about the culture of Native Americans. Tehanu: the last Book of the Earthsea is the 1990 feminist sequel to The Farthest Shore. The later ten years in Le Guin’s life have been very productive, she has written more poetry, another juvenile, another five short story collections, translation of the Tao Te Ching. She has also tackled the same themes: politics, culture diversity, feminism, gender roles, Taoism, and myth. In 2000, Le Guin returned to the Hainish Universe in her novel The Telling; where old customs and beliefs were forbidden and the Corporation only cared about pure science. The novel represents a warning against interplay of politics and religion. Le Guin published the last story in The Earthsea Cycle, Tales from Earthsea where she examined both the past and the present of the Earthsea. Thus, there are still more stories to be told as Le Guin examines and probes inside human psyche which looks like an endless river.
Octavia Estelle Butler, a black American writer, born on 22 June 1947 in Pasadena, California. She is a short fiction writer, novelist, and science fiction writer, a winner of both the Hugo and Nebula science fiction awards and a MacArthur fellow. She was the only daughter of Octavia Margaret Butler and Laurice Butler. Her father died shortly after she was born. Her mother and grandmother had raised her. Her mother used to read her a story every day before going to bed until the age of six. Butler started writing stories at the age of ten. When she was 12 years old, she watched a science fiction movie Devil Girl from Mars, she believed that she could write a better science fiction novel. Butler is mainly concerned with slavery and its cultural implications; she once stated in an interview that she wanted people to feel and experience slavery through her writings. Such a theme dominates all her science fiction works. It is obvious in Butler’s novel Kindred (1979). Throughout her works, all her characters try to free themselves from some sort of bondage, such a feeling goes along with African American literature, which is full of memories of slavery and racial discrimination. Many critics consider Kindred as one of the classics of science fiction, though Butler called it “grim fantasy”. Butler has been an inspiration to new generation of women’s writer in the field of science fiction. She published her first three novels Patternmaster (1976), Mind of My Mind (1977) and Survivor (1978) in her “Patternist” series. She had published Wild Seed (1980) after the publication of Kindred. Her next wave of fiction tackled biological enslavement due to alien interference and drug addiction such as Clay’s Ark (1984); Lilith’s Brood (formerly The Xenogenesis Trilogy); Dawn (1989), and Adulthood Rites (1988).
Meanwhile, Butler examines the economic and spiritual enslavement in her two dystopian novel: Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). She believes that the only way for humankind to overcome such dystopian society is the Earthseed religion. Butler also wrote short stories: “Crossover” (1971), “Near of Kin” (1979), “The Evening and the Morning” (1987), “Speech sounds” (1983), and “Bloodchild” (1984). Butler was obessed with the idea of slavery, and racial discrimination. Thanks to science fiction she could examine and criticize such issues freely. Butler died at the age of fifty-nine, friends, colleagues, and readers have honored her life and work. The Carl Bardon society established a scholarship fund in her name. Many conferences and programmes attempt to commemorate and honour her as an important science fiction writer. The Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), and the Modern Language Association (MLA) show great interest in Butler’s works and their influence on other writers.
Chapter one entitled “A Theoretical Study: Utopia, Science Fiction, and Dystopia.” tackles the main characteristics of utopian fiction versus dystopian fiction, in addition to the main features of science fiction. It traces the historical background and the main features of each genre. While Chapter two is entitled “Exploring the Elements of Utopia, science fiction and Dystopia in Le Guin’s three selected Hainish Cycle Novels: The Left Hand of Darkness (LHD) (1969), The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (DIS) (1974), and The Telling (2000). It conducts an analytical study of the three selected novels in order to show how Le Guin attempts to fulfill her utopian society. In The Left Hand of Darkness, “Genly Ai” is sent on a mission to achieve interplanetary union between the Ekumen and planet “Gethen” or “Winter”. Ai is shocked by the ambisexuality of the inhabitants of Gethen. His inward journey, misunderstanding, self-awareness, and his relationship with Estraven, the prime minister form the plot of the novel. Le Guin creates ambisexual gender, androgynous society in order to attain her aspired utopian society. Such ambisexual or unisex is a metaphor of harmony, integration, and wholeness. She explores racial, gender roles that are both a reaction to and a protest against the cultural attitudes prevalent in American society.
Meanwhile, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia is not only an escape from an anarchist society but it is also a means of establishing an anarchist-socialist utopian society. Shevek, the protagonist, is in a dilemma, as he cannot reconcile his scientific role to his individual role within society. Thus, he flees to Urras where he could fulfill his “Simultaneity Theory” that would serve the whole world, it would help people to travel and transmit their messages through the ansible (a device that travels faster than light). The Telling is Le Guin’s twenty-first dystopian novel where she tries to apply the teachings of Taoism to establish her utopian society. It deals with a deep question of history, culture and language. It is the tale of discovering oneself. Le Guin chooses a female protagonist, Sutty who is sent on a mission to reconcile planet Aka with the Ekumen (interplanetary Union Federation). Sutty discovers that the Cooperation abolishes the real culture of the planet and imposes a new culture depending on pure science.
Chapter three is entitled “A Thematic and Technical Study of Butler’s Three selected Science Fiction Novels: Kindred (1979), and The Parable Series (1993 and 1998). It explores how Butler attempts to fulfill her utopian society through studying racial discrimination, and slavery especially in her most controversial novel Kindred. In Kindred, Butler uses Dana, a free black woman who has been enslaved in her twenty-sixth birthday. She time travels backwards from 1926 Los Angeles to the early nineteenth century. Whenever her ancestor Rufus faces any trouble he calls her to save him. Though Dana is a free woman, she has been enslaved on the Weylin plantation where her ancestors used to live. Butler attempts to attain her utopian society through criticizing the American society’s ethnicity.
Chapter three also explores Butler’s two dystopian novels: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. She portrays American society as a wasteland in the future; it has collapsed both economically and ecologically. All the characters are desperate, Lauren Olamnia, the protagonists of both novels and the autodigetic narrator creates the Earthseed religion in order to fulfill her utopian society. It is a strange religion as there is no God to worship or even to help: everyone should depend on oneself and one’s abilities to overcome his own problems. The Earthseed religion provides its followers with a certain goal that help them to face both the present, the past, and the future. Thus, Butler attempts to attain her utopian society by depending on cultural role and its impact on society. She calls for tolerance and cohabitation.
Chapter four entitled “Le Guin and Butler: A Comparative Study” shows some points of similarity and differences between them. Each of Le Guin and Butler writes science fiction, it is not an end in itself, rather, it is a means of fulfilling their utopian societies. It should be noted that each one of them has been influenced by their culture: Le Guin as white American writing soft science fiction and Butler as the first African American to write in the field of science fiction. Both of them use their protagonists as their narrator-focalizers, autodigetic narrators and they write in a simple way. Their writings differ from their contemporaries as they write about gender roles, cultural implication, some feminist issues as well as aspects of racial relations and their influence on both writers. Both of them depend on the quest journey in their writings. Le Guin, as well as, Butler call for the idea of tolerance and cohabitation despite racial, gender, colour, or religious differences.
Such study aims at giving both Le Guin and Butler the appreciation they deserve as both of them are pioneer females in writing science fiction in an era which was predominated by males. They are genuine writers who succeed in conveying their message of tolerance and cohabitation and how one should accept the others no matter how different they are. Both Le Guin and Butler tackle some feminist issues such as race, gender roles, culture and religion.Thanks to science fiction they could explore these freely. They are really original writers whose shadow is not seen in those that preceded them, but it will be seen in a new generation of science fiction women writers that will follow their steps.