Utopias in Science Fiction Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia

About the science fiction writer Austin Tappan Wright and history of his envisioned utopia written about in the novel Islandia.

UTOPIAS IN SEIENCE FICTION

AUSTIN TAPPAN WRIGHT

(1883-1931)

He was born in New Hampshire, attended Harvard College, where he graduated in 1905, and then entered Harvard Law School. After practicing law for several years, he decided to enter teaching at the University of California, Berkeley. He was killed in an automobile accident in New Mexico at the age of 48.

His Utopia: ISLANDIA (1920s)

Wright wrote only one book, but he worked on his creation for his entire life, from his childhood years on, and left a body of work that compares favorably with the greatest fantasy creations of out time. Unpublished are a history of Islandia, genealogical charts, peerages, maps, gazetteers, and even specimens of Islandian literature (in the original, one presumes). He invented a language, country, and people that are wholly unique in the annals of imaginative literature. John Lang, a Harvard graduate in 1905, is appointed American consul to Islandia. Islandia is a lovely place, part of the Karain continent. The land is lush and fertile; the people are light-skinned, with a history and language all their own. Islandia has a recorded history dating back to the year 800. Its governmental structure is a constitutional monarchy, with the power of the king severely limited. The actual power is held by the council of state, composed of various nobles and military officers. The king has a vote on the council, although traditionally the vote has not been cast for many years. Although the nobility is hereditary, the social structure is not fixed, but remains somewhat fluid. Even commoners have their home seat, their plot of land. Islandians are country folk; they dislike The City, and those forced through circumstance to reside in the capital maintain at the very least a room in the house of a country relative where they can visit. The Islandians have resisted foreign intrusion; by law, no more than 100 foreigners can be in the country at one time; visas are issued irregularly, and few Islandians ever leave the country for any reason.

Lang finds the people gracious and openhearted, but deceptively simple in appearance; actually, Islandia's society is extremely complex, with many different nuances of honor and fellowship. Islandians distinguish, for example, between many different kinds of affection and love, including (between man and woman) friendship, sexual desire, and real love. During the course of the tale, Europeans try to manipulate the council to give them economic concessions. Islandia is rich in minerals, and the industrial powers want to exploit the land, under the guise of development. But the young king intervenes, and the proposal is voted down. Islandia will remain closed to foreign intervention. John Lang, of course, decides to remain in his newfound land and brings his sweetheart across the seas from New England. Together they find peace in the quiet beauty of an unspoiled country.

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