Voyage to Utopias: A fictional guide through social philosophy, by Tony Fitzpatrick

Policy Press, 2010, 256 pp, pbk 1 84742 089 3, £12.99

Two children, Zadie and Jake, visit their grandfather, Cramps, and he takes them on a journey through time and space. Each time they land they’re in a world which represents a social philosophy. We meet the Noughts, paid for queuing; the Rads, who want to change things; the free market Dearbrook; Williams the communist; Myllan the egalitarian; Hughes, the pragmatic environmentalist; a Remoralisation Centre; the Museum of Cultural Identity; and a communitarian, a republican, and a radical devolutionist. We meet Aon and Kayne, who get swept along in Cramps’, Zadie’s and Jake’s time travels; we meet Virgil, the machine which controls it all and sometimes doesn’t; and we find out that Cramps and Virgil have an interesting history.

Fitzpatrick has written an ‘educational novel’ which he locates in the same category as The Pilgrim’s Progress, Gulliver’s Travels and Sophie’s World. The ‘educational’ intent is clearly signposted by the table at the beginning which tells the reader which social philosophy can be found in which chapter – ‘Free market liberalism: chapters three – four’ – and by the notes and reading lists at the end of the book. Fitzpatrick is clearly hoping that the book will help undergraduates to get to grips with the variety of social philosophies, which is what the book’s dialogue is all about.

But is it a good novel? In The Pilgrim’s Progress the plot and the educational content draw from the same theological wells, which is why the book works so well. The structure of Voyage to Utopias is a time travel story, whereas the dialogue is social philosophy, so we sometimes feel as if we’re reading two books at once, the latter of which feels more like William Paul Young’sThe Shack than Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Shack was a huge success, and I hope that Fitzpatrick’s book will be too.

For the twelfth chapter’s brief vision of environmental disaster alone the book should be on the reading list of every student of social philosophy.