Erewhon; or, Over the Range

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Butler, Samuel. Erewhon; or, Over the Range. London: Trübner, 1872. New York: NAL, 1960. Afterword by Kingsley Amis.

Described by Sargent as "The classic utopian satire." See esp. chs. 23 -25, "The Book of the Machines," for organism vs. mechanism, machine takeover, humans as part of a mechanized system, and foreshadowings of F. Herbert's Hellstrom's Hive, and J. Sladek's The Reproductive System (q.v.).[[1]] See also Butler's separately published "Darwin Among the Machines" (1863).


In his Chapter 5, "From the Somme and Verdun to Hiroshima and Nagasaki" in Voices Prophesying War, I. F. Clarke notes that in "Darwin Among the Machines," Butler imagined that the "gradual evolution of increasingly complex machines" might eventually develop in them "a consciousness of their own, as the higher animals had done, and in consequence [...] might come to dominate their creators." In Erewhon, the story is filled out with the traveler from more or less our world exploring "Nowhere" and coming

upon a museum in which cylinders, pistons, and fragments of advanced contrivances were preserved. The Erewhonians had experience and [...] rejected all the marvels of Victorian technology four hundred years before the industrial revolution had begun in Europe. They had discovered how the machines were designed to supplant the race of man. Butler had helped to start the now familiar debate about the effects of science on humanity; and that debate gained in clarity during the half-century before the First World War as other able writers followed Butler precedent with the Luddite visions in W. H. Hudson's A Crystal Age, William Morris's News from Nowhere, E. M. Forester's "The Machine Stops," and the successful war for Merry England in G. K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill. (p. 150)

Discussed for its racial aspects in Isiah Lavender's Race in American Science Fiction. See also Mariella Scerri and Victor Grech's "Sentience in Science Fiction 101." SFRA Review #315 (Winter 2016): pp. 14-18.[2]

RDE, initial, expanded 20Dec20, 9Jun21