Utopia 239 by Rex Gordon
I discovered Utopia 239 in a local second-hand book shop. I fell in love with cover and the blurb sounded interesting.
Little did I know the joyous experience it was going to bring.
The novel is set in a dystopian 1960s. Selwyn Penderton, a scientist, is having a secret relationship with the daughter of a disgraced scientist. Gordon describes an England that closely monitors its citizens, enforcing strict rules that make everyone orderly sheep who are petrified of doing something wrong.
This first part of the novel is incredible. It’s well-written and shows a unique insight into the mood of Britain at that time. The way that it portrays oppression in such a normalised way was so compelling and I was fascinated by this world of coldness, restrictions and secrets.
But then Selwyn decides to do a spot of time travelling.
The disgraced scientist, Linz, tells Selwyn he has secretly been working on the idea of time travel and believes it is possible. He demonstrates this to him and Mary, his daughter, by making objects disappear. Although I am by no means a scientist, the terms Linz uses and the way he explains how time travel could theoretically work does sound like actual science and I thought I had discovered an unknown sci-fi classic.
Well, I had, but not in the way I expected.
Linz decides to build a time machine. Mary has to go with him because Linz is old and a little too quirky to survive by himself in the future, and after a little persuading Selwyn is allowed to go too. They’re not quite sure what’s going to happen and the build-up to the trip is very tense and exciting.
They have an uncomfortable and bumpy journey into the future, but eventually they open the door to the machine to discover they’re in an endless field of corn. They start walking and find a building in the middle of nowhere that seems rather odd as the bathroom consists of lots of toilets next to one another and there are soft couches everywhere.
When Mary walks into a bedroom she is horrified to find a large number of beds that is clearly used for orgies. Her mind is positively blown by how horrendous and uncouth the people of the future must be. She wants nothing whatsoever to do with them! And whenever she speaks her disgust is portrayed with endless exclamation marks!
Eventually they make contact with the people of the future. The men wear very tight and revealing leotards and the women have see-through dresses with nothing underneath. These abhorrent future people take them to the city where everyone shags everyone else, are obscene, swear lots and are generally really un-English. The trio are horrified and embarrassed.
After a while they start to get to know the people of this new England and realise how happy and free they are. They have long debates with them about their way of life and Mary ‘accidentally’ cheats on Selwyn at one point with a very handsome official.
The novel finishes bizarrely as they all decide to stay in the future and Mary and Selwyn kiss in public, which is the way to get married in this future England.
I can’t express enough how hilarious this book was. It was so good at the beginning and I thought I had found something akin to Nineteen Eighty-Four, but then it turned into a ridiculous 60s smutfest that genuinely made me lol. Mary’s fear and hysterical reactions to everything remotely sexual is hilarious, and the fact that dirty old man Linz is mostly okay with the filth that surrounds him is pure comic genius.
I implore all of you to judge a book by its cover, because without being so shallow I would never had discovered this sci-fi/soft porn hybrid. It was strange and weird and the only book to have made me snort with laughter. Rex Gordon, you are wonderful.