Ecotopian fiction with some political awareness?
May 26, 2008 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Book recommendations: ecotopian fiction? (Something to read after The Fifth Sacred Thing)?

I just read The Fifth Sacred Thing. I really liked it and am looking for something to read next. Basically, I'm looking for ecotopian or utopian books, particularly those with a progressive political awareness. Any suggestions?

Here's my attempt to describe what I liked, but you can skip this if you're in a hurry:

The book is set in 2048. Southern California has been taken over by a militaristic alliance of The Corporation and the religious Millenialists. Together they own all the water, run human breeding pens, and have perfected torture. But up in San Francisco, an early rebellion against the takeover allowed northern California to blossom into a communitarian ecotopia.

I liked the vision of the utopian society -- ecologies restored, feminism (one main character is a midwife), and the consensus-based community model, particularly because they seem fairly realistic (petty bickering, boring meetings). I also liked the dark parts when the main characters traveled through the south: non-violent political resistance and struggle are necessities, and the main characters struggle to remember that another world is possible.

I've already read World Made By Hand, Ecotopia, and Into The Forest, and I liked them roughly in that order (best to least). I'm not averse to science fiction or extra-planetary ways to explore the same issues, though I do prefer the alternative futures that are close to home.
posted by salvia to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Kim Stanley Robinson has written a number of ecotopian science fiction novels and stories. Pacific Edge is definitely the closest to your request. It documents political and communal striving in a near-future, ecologically aware Southern California.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:02 AM on May 27, 2008

Ursula LeGuin's Always Coming Home and The Dispossessed.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:11 AM on May 27, 2008

And, speaking of consensus, Molly Gloss's The Dazzle of Day.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:13 AM on May 27, 2008

John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up may be just the thing.
posted by spasm at 1:09 AM on May 27, 2008

Seconding KSR, especially the Mars trilogy.

One could make an argument that the Dune series have ecotopia as a key plot line - Herbert was certainly very interested in ecological issues and dedicated some of his books to people working in the area.

Robert Heinlen (quit groaning!) did quite a few utopian stories, or stories set against utopian societies, many of which are a long way from the libertarian stereotype usually assigned him: consider Friday, Stranger in a Strange Land, Revolt in 2100, and some of the short stories in 6H.
posted by rodgerd at 1:15 AM on May 27, 2008

seconding LeGuin and Brunner

also, check out Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time and He, She, & It - both feature ecotopia visions of society competing with technocratic ones
posted by jammy at 5:00 AM on May 27, 2008

A look at both sides of futuristic utopia can be found in This Perfect Day by Ira Levin. Fantastic book.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:20 AM on May 27, 2008

Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia and Ecotopia Rising are classics that almost every other ecotopian book echoes. His books also perfectly capture the utopian/dystopian dilemma where the "ecotopia" is created only by the hippies planting nuclear weapons in eastern cities, and maybe even detonating a few, I don't remember. Here is a recent review of both Callenbach's book and a new one by Kunstler that I haven't read yet. (Oops, just reread your question and saw that you have read both, but have left this in case someone else is using this for pointers about what to read.)

Andrew MacDonald's The Turner Diaries is violent, repellent, and was likely the motivation for the Oklahoma City bombers -- think of it as a Nazi utopian fantasy of Pacific Northwest separatism. But it is, at heart, a utopian or ecotopian book in the same tradition as the others, just from a right-wing perspective, and is worth reading for a reminder of the unpleasantness lurking in the edges of most ecotopian books (eg Callenbach, Robinson, etc).

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower are must-reads, as are quite a number of Ursula K LeGuin's books. In addition to the ones mentioned above, her book Always Coming Home is an ethnographic imagining of a future ecotopian society, like so many others of these set in the Pacific Northwest. It's far richer and more detailed than most of her writing, which tends to produce rather short novels full of large concepts (eg The Dispossesed); to my eyes, it is one of her best works. Here is a review.
posted by Forktine at 6:23 AM on May 27, 2008

Your question might just stretch to cover Ian McDonald's Hearts, Hands and Voices. It's got the militaristic, authoritarian, technological culture vs the rich, ecological, post-green-wave culture, and it's fairly heavy on the male-worldview-vs-female-worldview stuff, too.

"Grandfather was a tree. Father grew trux in fifteen different colours. And mother could sing the double helix song. Sing it right into the heart of things."

Damn good writing. Rich, expressive. Not overly utopian, though.
posted by Leon at 6:53 AM on May 27, 2008

I found nothing in the least bit ecotopian about the Turner Diaries. It is pretty much about politics and race so I can't agree with Forktine on that. Yes, the nightmare envisioned seems to be someone's utopia, but I would hazard to guess it's due to the lack of pigment in that nightmare, nothing to do with the environment.

I do agree about Butler though. Read Parable of the Sower just last year and while while bleak, it does render a future where a more harmonious relationship with nature is, well, required. Also nthing the Kim Stanley Robinson books.

I'm not a huge fan, but you might also like the work of Daniel Quinn. A lot of folks I know who have enjoyed Fifth Sacred Thing have also enjoyed the Ishmael books.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:21 AM on May 27, 2008

I found nothing in the least bit ecotopian about the Turner Diaries. It is pretty much about politics and race so I can't agree with Forktine on that.

You'd think so. And then the Sierra Club goes into spasms over the question of "overpopulation" and immigration, and you look at the violence underlaying the Robinson, Butler, Callenbach, LeGuin, and other books (the Percy ones come to mind, too), and sometimes the ends of the spectrum are not so far apart. Really, I'm not "recommending" the Turner Diares per se -- it is a nasty, nasty book and when I checked it out I had to wonder if my friendly librarian was going to report my interest in it to Homeland Security. At a minimum, it will turn your stomach. But that it belongs in the list of ambiguously utopian/dystopian/ecotopian books, there is to me no doubt.

I also want to urge going deeper into LeGuin's writings. Everyone recommends the Dispossessed, and it is an ok book. But she has probably most of a dozen books that come at ecotopian questions from different perspectives -- The Name for Our World is Forest, or The Telling (and most of the Hainish books, in fact), and so on -- it is a foundational theme for her, and runs through even her most uninspired books.
posted by Forktine at 8:01 AM on May 27, 2008

Richard Grant: Rumors of Spring.
Pat Murphy: The City, Not Long After
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:02 AM on May 27, 2008

Brunner's The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar may be excellent books examining ecology, but utopian they sure ain't.

I was posting to recommend Robinson's Mars trilogy, but I was thoroughly scooped on that. Ditto The Dispossessed, too.

I wouldn't call David Brin's Earth ecotopian or utopian, per se, but it is another near future examination of ecology.

In case you look for it, The Name for Our World is Forest is actually The Word for World is Forest.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 8:55 AM on May 27, 2008

Does Herland count?
posted by hulahulagirl at 1:48 PM on May 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I can't mark any best answers -- all the answers here are helpful. I've heard of a lot of these authors, or read one of their books, but it's good to have specific titles related to this topic and some discussion of what they're about. I liked some of the broader interpretations of the question as well (eg, Ian McDonald). Thanks!
posted by salvia at 2:09 PM on May 27, 2008

Seconding The City, Not Long After, which from what I know of The Fifth Sacred Thing (a friend of mine has read it) should be very similar thematically, and also Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias trilogy, which features his characteristic sociological wide-angle view of a society.
posted by whir at 4:05 PM on May 27, 2008

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