Tuesday 28 March 2017

News from Nowhere by William Morris

I'm reading a lot of utopian fictional literature at the moment; stories set in an imaginary world far better than reality. The word utopia literally means "no place", with a touch of irony. These readings are part of my research for my own new novel, Roswell Revealed in which I have to envisage the world after UFO Disclosure, see: http://hpanwo-bb.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/roswell-revealed-sample-first-chapter.html. News from Nowhere is a book originally serialized in a newspaper in 1890 and was penned by the democratic socialist William Morris. It tells the story of a man who goes to bed one night in at his home in London in the contemporary late nineteenth century and wakes up in a world a hundred and fifty years in the future that is transformed. London has ceased to exist as a big city and is instead a loose collection of settlements surrounded by gardens, farms, forests and fruit trees. A few of the original buildings are there, including the Houses of Parliament, but they are now used as a market for manure (some might argue that's what we use them for in the real world). The first-person narrator describes this future idyll in enormous detail. The houses are well-designed and decorated; the men are all strong and handsome and the women are all beautiful. He falls in love with one of them called Ellen. The people wear colourful clothes and they spend their time making artworks, having social gatherings and engaged in work that is so enjoyable that it, in itself, has become a form of leisure that people actively seek; and they covet it when it's not available to them. The weather is warm and sunny the whole time. He meets an old man who tells him that in the 1950's there was a revolution that destroyed the existing unjust order of capitalist exploitation and replaced it with a society based on stable stateless anarcho-communism. Morris was a friend of Frederick Engels and he knew Karl Marx. News from Nowhere, despite its title being a half-smile to the meaning of utopia, is clearly inspired by The Communist Manifesto. Morris' imagined Marxist paradise is somewhat primitivist. A lot of the industrial technology of the Victorian era has been abandoned and people have returned to farming by hand, for the simple reason that it is more fun. There is an innocence and naivete to the unapologetic and affectionate way Morris portrays his setting. This was a book about socialism written long before the Bolshevik revolution and all the other excesses and atrocities of the twentieth century as people attempted to put Marx' theories into practice. At that time Marxist ideas were unsullied by real world experience. Amazingly there are many similarities between the scenario of News from Nowhere and its antithesis "Galt's Gulch", the imaginary anti-communist and ultra-capitalist idyllic society created by Ayn Rand for her epic novel Atlas Shrugged, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-fountainhead-by-ayn-rand_29.html. One very interesting element of the story is near the end when the characters are taking a trip up the river Thames to a farm in Oxfordshire to join in with a harvest when they pass a cargo barge sailing downstream. The story goes: "Both on this day as well as yesterday we had, as you may think, met and passed and been passed by many craft of one kind and another. The most part of these were being rowed like ourselves, or were sailing, in the sort of way that sailing is managed on the upper reaches of the river; but every now and then we came on barges, laden with hay or other country produce, or carrying bricks, lime, timber, and the like, and these were going on their way without any means of propulsion visible to me; just a man at the tiller, with often a friend or two laughing and talking with him. Dick, seeing on one occasion this day, that I was looking rather hard on one of these, said: 'That is one of our force-barges; it is quite as easy to work vehicles by force by water as by land.' I understood pretty well that these 'force vehicles' had taken the place of our old steam-power carrying; but I took good care not to ask any questions about them, as I knew well enough both that I should never be able to understand how they were worked, and that in attempting to do so I should betray myself, or get into some complication impossible to explain; so I merely said, 'Yes, of course, I understand'." Is he talking about free energy here? That concept is very openly discussed in Atlas Shrugged and by 1890 there may well have been rumours of a cover-up. Because of its age, News from Nowhere is today available in the public domain online, see: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3261/3261-h/3261-h.htm and as an audiobook, see: https://librivox.org/search?title=News+from+Nowhere&author=Morris&reader=&keywords=&genre_id=0&status=all&project_type=either&recorded_language=&sort_order=catalog_date&search_page=1&search_form=advanced. But it is still in print if you like traditional paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Nowhere-Other-Writings-Penguin-Classics-William-Morris/0140433309.

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