Sunday, August 06, 2006

Wanna talk about Erewhon?

One of those things-you-always-hear is that when you once get an idea or something particular happens to you, you suddenly see the same thing everywhere. You get a dog, and you notice dogs; you're thinking about buying Crocs sandals, and suddenly you notice everyone who's wearing them. Anyway, Grandpa Squirrel brought over the Toronto Star Ideas section from this weekend, and it had a great long article by Ronald Wright (meant to be a conference address) on "A slow death by progress", that mentioned Samuel Butler's novel Erewhon.

Here's a bit of it:
In his 1872 novel Erewhon (an anagram of nowhere), Samuel Butler created a remote civilization beyond the mountains of New Zealand that had industrialized long before Europe, but where the side effects of progress sparked a Luddite revolution.

The great danger, wrote an Erewhonian radical, was not so much the existing machines as the speed at which they were evolving: If not stopped in time, they might develop language, reproduce themselves, and subjugate mankind.

Butler was sending up Darwinism here, but the anxieties stirred by the panting monsters of the Steam Age were real enough. Years before he became Queen Victoria's favourite prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli had anticipated Erewhon's fears in his novel Coningsby: "The mystery of mysteries," he wrote in 1844, "is to view machines making machines, a spectacle that fills the mind with curious and even awful speculation."

1 comment:

Henry Cate said...

David Weber writes Science Fiction. In his Honor Harrington series he has a solar system named Erehwon. When I first saw the title of your post I thought, cool, someone wants to talk about Science Fiction. Then I thought bummer. Then I realized it was still Science Fiction, just an older venue.

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