LITR 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

Instructor's Presentation

 Virtual Utopias:

Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (1992)

& Dennis Danvers's Circuit of Heaven (1998)

Objectives: 1c. Can utopias join science fiction, speculative fiction, and allied genres in a “literature of ideas?”

4d. How do literature and literacy appear in utopian or dystopian cultures? Include computer literacy: What is a “virtual utopia” in science fiction and technology? How has utopian speculation, communication, and organization adapted to the Web? Does the Web itself assume utopian or millennial attributes? Can virtual reality appear utopian while actual reality becomes dystopian?

+ virtual reality = Platonic ideal, actual reality = material forms

Discussion question(s): What other virtual or cyber-utopias? Print-texts or elsewhere? Games?

If cyber-utopias appearing in print-texts is inherently ironical, what implications for future of literature on paper or new digital medium / media? Are games like novels?


Application to Oryx and Crake?

Crake & Jimmy as teens appear not to be inhabiting or visiting cyberspace but using computers to play chess or watch video

avatars less familiar in 2004?

porn, snuff sites as dystopia?

71 Ultratexts

188 curricular emphasis > Webgame Dynamics + Problematics

243 library job earmarking books for destruction or digital form

276 sunset _ videocam screens

315 digital TV: erotic wallpaper



Platonic passages in Oryx & Crake

26 furniture called reproduction--an original somewhere

all belonged to the OrganInc compound

77 computer chess: this is a real set . . . neither is a plastic set

The real set is in your head.

83 "What is reality?"

144 All sex is real.

302 What is really?






virtual utopias: Snow Crash & Circuit of Heaven

virtual utopias: "virtual" refers to "virtual reality" or "virtual worlds"; technology allowing viewer to interact with simulated environment, + related literary style of cyberpunk

Literature of Future site for High Tech / Virtual Reality


Popular culture: The Matrix (1999, 2003);

Strange Days (1995, d. Kathryn Bigelow)

Tron (1982), Tron: Legacy (2010)

Except for these limited victories, film versions of cyberpunk literature have been disappointing critically and commercially.

video games, e.g. World of Warcraft; Tank



Virtual reality--many terms for same development, or different aspects of it;

e.g. cybernetics, IT (instructional / information technology); computer-simulated environment; artificial reality; computer graphics; cyberspace; computer-simulated world; wired / wireless world; online

separation of participant from actual reality: cocooning, infosphere, metaverse (cf. separation of utopia from normal world)

reality becomes code, data, information

 maybe not that different from reading a book

compare Platonism, platonic ideals, simplified geometrical forms

escapes rough edges & messiness of material forms, biological existence


Second Life


Wikipedia on Second Life

Users / avatars as “residents”

Linden Lab stated goal of creating world like Metaverse in Snow Crash


Snow Crash (1992)

Neal Stephenson (b. 1959), Snow Crash NY: Bantam, 1992

The Diamond Age 1995

Cryptonomicon 1999

The Baroque Cycle 2003-4; eight novels published in 3 volumes

Complexity and detail, pop-culture hip + slapstick comedy and satire


Characters: Hiro Protagonist, pizza delivery man + samurai warrior in Metaverse

Y.T., skateboarder who helps Hiro in dramatic on-time delivery

Rat Thing, bionic dog-like guard on whom Y.T. takes pity

The Raven, Byronic bad guy



6 dystopia > Burbclave = city-state; privatization of state and security

18 family

23-5, esp. 24 Hero at computer > Metaverse

26 freed from constraints of physics and finance (cf. genetics and conditions)

contrast with earth dystopia

32 apartheid Burbclaves

33 microplantation

35 avatars

36 gorilla, dragon

Metaverse as metaphor

37 off-the-shelf avatars—Brandy and Clint (satire; cf. Pleeblands Street of Dreams)

38 a new ethnic group

57 Juanita and faces

58 ethnic group: military

63 Adam & Eve

69 Infocalypse



Circuit of Heaven

Dennis Danvers (b. 1947), Circuit of Heaven 1998 + End of Days 1999


Characters: Nemo, living outside "the Bin" (virtual reality)

Justine, composite construct whom he loves, must join in virtual reality

2-3 add Newman Rogers; cf. Big Brother

13-14 cf. Genesis

16-17 Justine > bookshop

36-37 reality only better + maintain illusion of Metaverse

50-51 virtual birth, x-labor

55 escalator + 60, x-labor

62 parents

72-3 rapture & fire, apoc.

84 underground

104 beautiful / same

183 garden city

190-1 Paradise Lost




Rob Horning, “Marginal Utility: Virtual Utopia.” PopMatters. 9 Oct. 2006.


Virtual Utopia


Virtual Utopia & Utopian Theory