European writers made extensive use of Australia as a site for utopian imaginings well before the continent’s actual conquest, exploration and colonization. In Australia as elsewhere, as the nineteenth century proceeded into the twentieth, utopias were increasingly displaced by dystopias. The best known of these is almost certainly Nevil Shute’s nuclear doomsday novel On the Beach. This chapter will be concerned to analyze a second Australian dystopia, George Turner’s 1987 The Sea and Summer. Turner was one of the first science fiction writers to devote serious attention to the politics of climate change. In 1985 he published a short story, ‘The Fittest’, which began to explore the fictional possibilities of the effects of global warming. He quickly expanded this story into the full-length novel published as The Sea and Summer in Britain and as Drowning Towers in the United States. Like On the Beach, The Sea and Summer is set mainly in Melbourne, a vividly described, particular place, terrifyingly transformed into the utterly unfamiliar. Turner’s core narrative describes a world of mass unemployment and social polarization, in which rising sea levels have inundated the Bayside suburbs; the poor ‘Swill’ live in high-rise tower blocks, the lower floors of which are progressively submerged; the wealthier ‘Sweet’ in suburbia on higher ground. Initially, the novel received a very favourable, critical response, yet it has now been out of print for over a decade and, unlike On the Beach, has never been adapted for film, television or radio. This chapter will argue that Turner’s novel is long overdue a positive critical re-evaluation.
This paper begins with the proposition that Fredric Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future (2005) is the most important theoretical contribution to utopian and science-fiction studies since Darko Suvin's Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979). It argues that Jameson's derivation of 'anti-anti-Utopianism' from Sartrean anti-anti-communism will provide 'the party of Utopia' with as good a slogan as it is likely to find in the foreseeable future. It takes issue with Jameson over two key issues: his overwhelming concentration on American science-fiction, which seems strangely parochial in such a distinguished comparativist; and his understanding of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four as an 'anti-Utopia' rather than a dystopia. The paper argues that, for Nineteen Eighty-Four, as for any other science-fiction novel, the key question is that identified by Jameson: not 'did it get the future right?', but rather 'did it sufficiently shock its own present as to force a meditation on the impossible?'. It concludes that Jameson fails to understand how this process works for dystopia as well as utopia, for barbarism as well as socialism.