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Literature / Utopia 58

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Utopia 58 is a 2019 post-apocalyptic novel, heavily inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by Daniel Arenson.

Several years into the future, most of planet earth has evolved into the Equalist Empire, the titular Utopia 58- so named because it is the fifty-eighth attempt at a communist paradise- where everyone and everything is designed to be equal. There are no genders, no ages, no colors, no names, and no differences between any individual of any kind. All must wear white robes, masks, and voice modulators to disguise themselves from one another. Anyone who doesn't abide by these rules can and will be punished, even if it means imprisonment or death, and even forbidden thoughts are punished via electrocution. The Father, a man shrouded in mystery but who is said to be the creator of the universe, rules over the empire with his elite, ensuring no one rises above their position.

In the nation known as the People's Republic of Isonomia, a middle-aged man known as KB209, or Kay, is attending one of the weekly rallies in the city, along with thousands of other individuals, in which they praise the Father while expressing hatred for a noble known as Bialik and his sinful nation of Zion, the primary enemies of the state. While there, he discovers a woman named Ellie rebelling against the Equalist Empire by wearing nail polish. After Kay meets Ellie and knows more about her, he finds out that she's part of a rebellion currently at war against the Equalists. Kay ends up fighting for his life as he and Ellie try to escape Isonomia and reach Zion, which Ellie explains is really a safe haven far away from Isonomia where rebels like Kay and Ellie can life a happy, colorful, fulfilling life without being judged for their differences, all while the White Army and the sadistic White General, EQL61, hunts them down on the Father's orders.

Utopia 58 provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Gender: Actually legally invoked/mandated by law. As gender is seen as something which makes people unequal, the People's Republic of Isonomia, in their desire to make everyone equal, forces its citizens to disguise their gender with masks, robes, and voice modulators. The only legal exception is the Father, who is referred to with male pronouns.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey!: The pirates who sail the Atlantic believe 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to be a holy text, worship Nemo, and hope to be taken to the Nautilus when they die.
  • Anyone Can Die: Very few major named characters live to the end of the story. Not even Kay survives, whereas only a small amount of minor characters- and the villains- survive unscathed.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Most of the people in Isonomia know that the world is crumbling around them, and that people are routinely abused, arrested, or executed in the middle of the streets. None of them care, and just continue about their day. Justified as this is actually enforced by the government- anyone actually thinking or showing concern is shocked by their mindcap as punishment for having forbidden thoughts. In this way, the citizens are conditioned into apathy.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Subverted. After killing Tilly, Kay tries to shoot himself so he won't be captured by the White General. The White General deliberately shocks Kay and knocks the gun from his hand just so he can capture him alive.
  • Big Bad: The Father is the ruler of Isonomia and the Equalist Empire who built the country in his image and is the reason why most of the country (and the world) is in turmoil. The ending reveals that “he” is Ellie, the supposed Rebel Leader and love interest to Kay who had been manipulating him and the other rebels all along, making her also responsible for the evil actions the rebels took. She is actually the latest successor to the deceased original Father.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The villains, the Father and his elite, are responsible for allowing Isonomia's horrendous conditions to continue, and they sanction massacres, imprisonments, and torture on a daily basis. The heroes, however, aren't above harming or killing innocents just to Leave No Witnesses, and even though the book shows that many soldiers are just doing their jobs, the heroes gun them down with little hesitation. Also, Ellie, one of the rebels, is actually the Father who manipulated the others into their darker actions.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: When Ellie uses her mindcap to scramble a few Equalizers' brains, one of them ends up wetting themselves.
  • Death of a Child: Lots of children are killed throughout the story. Most notably is a young girl who was mauled by other children for drinking chocolate milk before everyone else.
  • Dirty Communists: The villains, the Equalist Empire/People's Republic of Isonomia, are a massive communist dictatorship spanning nearly the whole world. Though never explicitly called communist, the Father names several communist countries- the Soviet Union, Khmer Rouge-controlled Cambodia, China, and North Korea (and even the non-nation of Jonestown)- as prototypes of Isonomia. Also, everyone calls each other “comrade”, the stereotypical communist term of endearment.
  • Downer Ending: The rebels discover that Zion is nothing but a wasteland that was destroyed years ago. During their quest, all but Kay and Adrian are slaughtered, and Kay and Adrian are imprisoned and tortured for months. Kay finds out that his wife, Christine, killed their son Peter after Peter ratted Kay out to the Equapol and got Kay sent to a concentration camp for eight years. He also discovers that Ellie is secretly the Father, and she used him to lure out the other rebels so she could have them killed. Kay, Adrian, and a few other rebels are executed via stoning, and it's made clear that Isonomia's ways will continue for many years to come.
  • Eye Scream: Many. Most notably is a pirate missing an eye with a finch nestled in the empty socket, and in the final chapter where Kay gets stoned in his eyes during his execution.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Early on in the story, Kay attends an execution where thousands of Isonomians are stoning Zionites to death. Kay becomes a victim of a similar execution in the final chapter, along with eleven other rebels he fought beside.
    • Ellie gets accused of being a traitor sometime after Tenzin's Temple is attacked, both because she's the White General's wife and because she never takes off her mindcap. Not only is she a traitor, but she was behind every attack to begin with.
    • Ellie, when speaking of her husband to Kay, says that he never truly loved her, but that it was "fish love. He loves only how the fish tastes. What the fish can do for him." This sums up her own feelings towards Kay- while she is fond of him on some level, it is ultimately because he makes her feel good, his own sentiments be damned.
    • Kay gives a history lesson about how a boy named Peter got his father sent to a concentration camp for several years. Kay keeps remembering that he has a son, but doesn't know what his name is. Turns out that Kay's son was Peter, and Kay had been tortured so horribly that he forgot both his wife and son's names.
  • Forever War: Isonomia and Zion have been at war as long as anyone can remember. Subverted- Zion was actually wiped out 300 years ago, and Isonomia very likely rules the entire world. The war is just a ruse to keep the population in line.
  • Hope Spot: Several. If the protagonists ever find themselves escaping the White Army, meeting new allies, or having a chance to slow down or relax, expect the White Army to abruptly find them again and start gunning after them shortly afterwards. But the biggest is when they finally get to Zion... only to discover it has long since been destroyed. They meet up with a bunch of rebels anyway and prepare to escape and meet the rest, launching a final assault... but when they get to the tower, they discover Isonomia already owns it. Kay is captured, and Ellie reveals she is really the leader of the Equalist Empire who has been leading them into a trap all along. Cue the Downer Ending where the heroes are executed.
  • Individuality Is Illegal: To enforce Isonomia's twisted obsession with equality, everyone is forced to wear identical masks and robes to disguise their bodies, and voice modulators mask everyone's voices so no one can tell what gender anyone is. Everyone also has names instead of numbers to further enforce the idea that no one is an individual.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The enforcers of the Equalist Empire/Isonomia- the Equapol, White Army, and White Navy- all wear masks and helmets to conceal their face, as all Isonomians are required by law to be masked. It definitely helps lend an intimidating image to them.
  • May–December Romance: Ellie is 24, while Kay is probably around twice that age. Ellie's relationship with the 60-year-old White General may also count, since they were working together all along.
  • Mercy Kill: Kay kills Tilly after he realizes that he, Tilly, and Adrian are about to get captured in order to spare her from being tortured for several months by the Equalizers.
  • No Sex Allowed: Children are grown in vats instead, and since everyone has to wear robes and masks to hide their gender, copulation would destroy the illusion. Of course, that only applies to the common citizenry- the elite can hold wild sex parties with sex slaves all they want.
  • Offing the Offspring: Christine, Kay's wife, shot and kill their son Peter after he got Kay imprisoned and tortured in a concentration camp for eight years.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Isonomians swear on the Father in place of anything mentioning God.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Certain members of the Equapol and the White Army aren't sadists who uphold the law with an iron fist. Some of them, like T2150, are just doing their jobs like everyone else.
  • Red Herring: It's strongly implied that Adrian is the traitor, given that we never know about his family short of what he tells the rebels, and because he's an all-around Jerkass who repeatedly shoots down the rebels' hope and doesn't believe Zion exists, all while accusing the saintly Ellie of being the mole despite how little sense that makes. Turns out he's completely innocent and everything he said was true. The real traitor is indeed Ellie.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Kay's quest to free Ellie and find Zion ends with him realizing that Zion is a wasteland and Ellie is the Father, and she had been secretly sending the White Army to hunt down all the rebels. Then he gets imprisoned and is later stoned to death. He manages to pass off a scrambler to a young girl and tells her to build Zion before he dies, but even if she does, Isonomia won't change for another few decades, and that's assuming the girl even lives that long.
  • Thoughtcrime: And takes it to a new level- while most dystopias simply train the populace to suppress illegal thoughts, Isonomia can actually access thoughts through mind-caps that are forcibly implanted on people; these devices administer shocks to anyone thinking forbidden thoughts.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: To Nineteen Eighty-Four. The setting is a dystopia where the Shadow Dictator is worshipped by everyone, and thinking unapproved thoughts is illegal. The main character is The Everyman who works for the dystopia. He attends a regular rally where the audience spews hatred towards the primary enemy of the state- while there, he meets someone who captivates him. He meets a girl and learns she is a rebel; the two start a relationship, and the protagonist is welcomed into a secret rebel group by the one who captivated him earlier. But the rebellion is a trap, and his lover betrays him. The person who introduced him turns out to be deeply tied to the government and proceeds to torture the protagonist before leaving them defeated, and ultimately the dystopia still stands.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In the penultimate chapter, after Kay has been captured and all his allies have perished, he finds out that Ellie survived and infiltrated his cell dressed as the Father. Then it's revealed that she is the Father, and she has absolutely no intention of freeing him. The final chapter ends with Kay being executed.
  • You Are Number 6: Applied on a society-wide scale. Everyone has a serial number instead of a name.