The idea that utopias and dystopias exist side by side in real life intrigues me. Not just an idea, but a fact of daily life on planet earth. And that pockets of dystopia dwell within utopias. The circumstances of deep poverty not only in foreign lands, but also sometimes in parts of the same communities containing incredible wealth can be difficult to grasp, if you think about it too much.

Large metropolitan areas are stunning examples of this, and not limited to our own time. Victorian London was a world of exquisite beauty that had an ugly, tragic underbelly of unfathomable squalor and tragedy. The poor existed and expired practically under the feet of oblivious upper class walking grandeur.

That in our modern world some countries are so wealthy and powerful while others have huge populations of starving people, many of whom have never encountered the technology we take for granted boggles my mind. It seems to go against all logic, yet there it is.

While the dichotomy is confounding, I think it’s a fascinating extrapolation backdrop for science fiction and fantasy writers to explore. Some countries in our own real world are constantly outdoing themselves with newer and better technology, while in others a goat may be the prized possession of an affluent family. This kind of real life contrast opens up endless possibilities for the development of fictional worlds where bucolic landscapes rub shoulders with sparkling cities that are seats of great power, where horseback is the main mode of transportation for citizens of a fairytale society with relatives in a nearby land who may travel by steam powered train, or airship, or submarine…or
dragon.

Traveling around Germany revealed stunning contrasts with life in the States. I loved finding a castle ruin with intact window openings, because I could position myself in just the right way, with wall edges blocking any sign of the modern world (sometimes literally a single roadside sign), and I only saw rolling green pasturelike landscape or wooded areas. It was so easy to imagine a knight in full armor approaching atop a galloping steed, as our real world seemed to drop away into the past. Even driving along modern streets revealed large stretches of scenery that looked as it must have literally centuries ago.

So if the world we actually live in can carry so many instances and combinations of utopia and dystopia, modern and ancient, darkness and light even in our modern age, the possibilities for fictional variations are virtually endless. Looking around us reveals much human experience for extrapolation.

I think, on a subconscious level, taking on the challenges and heartbreaks of living in such a world through fiction helps us deal, also on a subconscious level, with the situations we can’t fix in real life. There’s nothing more satisfying to read than a story where good does overcome evil, light vanquishes dark, and hope wins out over despair. If only we could rewrite the real world so that, while there will always be variations on circumstance, there will also be many more heroes to bring the light.

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