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Newtopia

baby
Maybe because of the long and fascinating (and learned and witty and wise) conversation held here a while back, but I thought that once upon a time I asked for suggestions of utopian novels.  I am going to be teaching a course (of my own devising, how nice) in Utopia as Fiction, a topic I've long pondered.  Students will be asked to write their own utopian fiction in the course of the class, and also read and critique a utopian novel or fiction selected from a list.  

I gave something like this course the very first time I taught at Yale (or anywhere), in a program called College Seminars, where students in the Yale colleges chose their own course to sponsor from many applications.  

I gave them a list then that now looks a bit stodgy and old-fashioned, though the new class would certainly still be offered Herland, Lost Horizon, maybe Walden Two or Robert Graves's  very peculiar Watch the North Wind Rise.  But I need hipper and more contemporary offerings.  (The Dispossessed will be on the main reading list.)  A Kim Stanley Robinson one about California was mentioned herein in connection with treatment of disabilities in Utopia.  Any others we can think of?  Remember, Utopia not Dystopia (or at least Utopia out of Dystopia.)

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crowleycrow
Apr. 4th, 2012 10:46 am (UTC)
That's wonderful. The very idea of "high tech solution." It must have been damn loud and smelly up there on the Promenade. The scheme reminds me of the wildest fantasies of Bruce McCall's Zany Afternoons. The Moto-Ritz Towers et al.
anselmo_b
Apr. 4th, 2012 09:38 am (UTC)
The New York of Robert W. Chambers' "The repairer of reputations", is an interesting case. It's anti-Semitic, Jingoistic and whatnot, and it's the setting of a horror story, but it's supposed to be utopian nevertheless. It can be read online here:
http://www.yankeeclassic.com/miskatonic/library/stacks/literature/chambers/stories/kinginye/repaire1.htm
erikdj
Apr. 5th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
Utopia in the eye of the designer: soldiers, scholars, and priests
A few here have mentioned KSR's Red Mars (and by extension his Mars trilogy, wherein Mars-as-utopia finally happens near the end), and Starship Troopers.

Much as I love both, KSR's Mars trilogy is a perfect example of the species of "hard sci-fi" wherein the scientists somehow become political leaders and national heroes as well, with total control over the state budget to actuate every cool trillion-dollar project that Saxifrage Russell thinks might be a good idea. The wish-fulfillment quotient for the science-loving reader is what makes such books sheer political fantasy, masquerading as sci-fi.

On the other hand, there's Starship Troopers: required reading for the Marines, and seemingly read by just about every military person who reads for pleasure at all. The soldiers came back from the war, took over from the useless civilians, and crafted a democratic state that somehow never goes the tyrannical way of every single military-led revolution ever (albeit in their democracy one you have to have your honorable discharge in hand to participate, or even to vote). Still essentially fantasy, masked as hard sci-fi.

If you'll grant Canticle for Leibowitz as a fairly idyllic self-contained "utopia" of post-apocalyptic monks, relating to technology and historical evidence as both incipient scientists and men of faith, this hints at an interesting approach to Mr. Crowley's course: a set of novels portraying utopias as designed by (fictional) scientists, soldiers, and priests. (Someone must have written about utopias designed and run by actual professional politicians, so that's a possible fourth viewpoint.) Identifying the overlaps and conflicts between these various utopias, based on the agenda of authors and/or characters, might be one interesting way to approach them.

(Someone above mentioned Anathem--a long, long read, but maybe a better example of society-building "priests of knowledge" than Canticle.)

P.S. I have to mention Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities: not one utopia, but a whole series of fantastic societies, each described in a page or two.

crowleycrow
Apr. 6th, 2012 12:18 am (UTC)
Re: Utopia in the eye of the designer: soldiers, scholars, and priests
Sp Lafferty's "Past Master" would work as a priest entry.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 6th, 2012 04:35 am (UTC)
More Le Guin
If you're looking for newer and hipper, Le Guin has a novella in Birthday of the World called Paradises Lost. Far subtler and lovelier than Dispossed or Omelas. Doesn't hit you over the head with a hammer. Takes a utopia and introduces a wonderful worm in the apple.
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