I have a new book out! At least, I have part of a book out. Erewhon Press has just put out the 150th Anniversary Edition of Samuel Butler’s classic utopian text Erewhon, and they very kindly asked me to write the introduction.
Butler came to New Zealand as a young man, and stayed for several years, working on a sheep station and writing articles for the local newspaper, some of which were the germs of what would become Erewhon. Even though he didn’t stay here, the book is very firmly located in the history of New Zealand utopias. Growing up here as I did, and with a long-held love for science fiction, I was aware as a child, albeit dimly, that New Zealand was a place of utopian dreams. (Thank John Wyndham for that. The children of The Chrysalids escaped their fundamentalist community, in the aftermath of atomic war, to come here.)
A lot of the utopian imagery surrounding this country is a product of colonialism. Actually, pretty much all of it is. New Zealand was actively marketed, in earlier times, as a perfect place for British settlers to make a new life. Even over the past few years, as we navigated our way through pandemic, New Zealand was held up as some utopian example of community togetherness.
That utopian perception has always been deeply flawed. We are not a paradise, and we have our own problems, and the creation of a settler utopia bulldozed any Indigenous idea of the same. However, what utopian literature such as Erewhon can do is to critique the idea of paradise. Who is it for? Who is it not for? What issues are there to be overcome? Butler, who was deeply concerned with the idea of a war between humans and machines – and he was at the forefront of genre writing there – decided to explore this. Erewhon was the result, and it is simultaneously confronting and (often) flat-out strange. Some of his ideas are mad. Some are terrible. But they’re worth grappling with, and I’m super pleased to have contributed what I hope is a generally academic, but still readable, introduction.