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Recommended Utopian Scifi Novels

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message 1: by Ryan (new)

Ryan Naughton | 8 comments Having realized that I'm running low on Culture novels to read, I would like some recommendations for genuinely Utopian science fiction novels. And I am not talking false Utopias or Dystopias disguised as Utopias, but genuinely Utopian science fiction books.

message 2: by TRP (last edited Feb 22, 2016 04:52PM) (new)

TRP Watson (trpw) | 193 comments I think there are elements of a technological Utopia in Peter F. Hamilton's books. His Commonwealth and Mindstar series of books do seem to show a positive technological future even if there are some pretty terrible things that happen in them.

message 3: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8155 comments Is there such a thing as a utopia in fiction? A true utopia by definition has no conflict, which doesn't leave much room for story. Books like the Culture or Mindstar are not Utopias in the actual definition, because terrible things do happen. You can't have people getting murdered and planets exploding in a utopia.

There have been short stories which are utopian, such as "Safe At Any Speed" by Larry Niven, but as for books I'm coming up blank.

If they do exist, I'd think they'd be more like travelogues than anything else, like the typical "man is catapulted into the distant future" type of story, where it's all about the world building and how much better the future is.

message 4: by Ben (new)

Ben Nash | 200 comments Kim Stanley Robinson has spoken in defense of utopia.

While his works aren't what you might typically what you'd think of as utopian, I like the way he presents realistic spins on positive futures.

message 5: by Brendan (new)

Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Seconding KSR. The Mars trilogy is pretty much a very long and detailed exercise in utopia-building.

message 6: by William (last edited Feb 23, 2016 08:46AM) (new)

William | 397 comments If you're looking for a "classic" then you could try Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells.

message 7: by Tobias (last edited Feb 23, 2016 09:41AM) (new)

Tobias Langhoff (tobiasvl) | 136 comments Even if a society is truly utopian, there can still be other socities that are not. The utopia can be invaded by external forces. Not that I have any examples ready (although I think parts of The Culture could qualify), but I should think it possible to write utopian fiction with interesting plots and even conflict.

message 8: by Aaron (new)

Aaron | 264 comments Glasshouse by Charles Stross reminded me of some aspects of the Culture setting. It's post-utopian, but many of the utopia leftovers are still in place.

message 9: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2775 comments Hrm.... well, there's The Dispossesed though it's more an illustration of a utopia with issues.

message 10: by Ju (new)

Ju Transcendancing (transcendancing) I would suggest that Envoy'Envoy' by Shannah Jay would qualify (romance also features in the story). I love this mostly because it's about individuals confronting their own bias and thinking above their societal conditioning.

message 11: by Henry (new)

Henry (htruane) | 1 comments It's been quite a while since I read it, but the world of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is a utopia. A lot of the book is about how even in a utopia you don't experience it as such, though. It depends on how you define 'genuine' utopia, as there will always be pick at any example of definition.

message 12: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8155 comments I think you guys must be defining utopia differently from its actual definition.

A utopia is ideal. It is perfection personified. There is no conflict. No war, no fighting, no ill will, no bad manners, no stubbed toes or ice cream headaches. It's Heaven on Earth.

It kind of feels similar to how people now use "literally" to mean "figuratively". "It's utopia... but there's a murderer loose!"

message 13: by Ben (new)

Ben Nash | 200 comments The video of the first part of the Kim Stanley Robinson interview I linked above has him saying some interesting stuff about utopia. It's worth the ~7:30 watch, but I'll pull a few quotes.

"...utopia does not mean immortality, nor does it mean perfection. So in utopia people are still gonna get sick and die, and in utopia you have the character A falls in love with character B who falls in love with character C who falls in love with character A, and these are painful, so that, um, tragedy and pain still exist in utopia, and that's one point the utopian novel can make."

"It's hard to write about utopias because we're not used to them, and it is very, um, easy to fall into a kind of trap of describing the system rather than having a plot unfold within the system..."

"...utopia will always be under threat, and dynamic, uh, it will never be completely established, and if it is, then you almost have a dystopia of permanence and rigidity. So there are stories to be told about the creation of utopia, of the maintenance of utopia, and maybe restitution of it if it falls apart. So stories can be found and novelized in the utopian strand. And people have an interest, so it's somewhat of an empty ecological niche in the cultural world, and so as you fill that niche, people have an interest."

Quotes are all taken from this video, where he goes on to elaborate somewhat on the points above as well as talk on other aspects of utopian stories.

message 14: by Rick (last edited Feb 24, 2016 11:37AM) (new)

Rick | 2775 comments Well if you want to start at the source, read More's Utopia:

(background here:

Note that even in this foundational work, it's only Utopia for the citizens. Slavery exists in utopia and slaves are outsiders or criminals.

message 15: by Ben (new)

Ben Nash | 200 comments Whoah, the first external link in the Wikipedia article goes here: "A complete edition (including all of the letters and commendations, as well as the marginal notes, that were included in the first four printings of 1516-18) translated in 2012. Licensed as Creative Commons BY-SA and published in multiple electronic formats (HTML, PDF, TXT, ODF, EPUB, and as a Social Book)."

message 16: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2775 comments Nice catch Ben, thanks!

message 17: by Joanna Chaplin (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Trike wrote: "A utopia is ideal. It is perfection personified. There is no conflict. No war, no fighting, no ill will, no bad manners, no stubbed toes or ice cream headaches. It's Heaven on Earth."

The main word here is "ideal". It's like an asymptote in math. There's what you're shooting for, and the practical reality. I think you can have books that are asymptotically utopic, even if, of course no one's going to get all the way there.

I like the *idea* of the Culture novels, but when I'm actually reading them, I tend to find its humanoid citizens annoying and hard to relate to, like so many spoiled children. Which makes me wonder about Star Trek, sometimes.

So Ryan, can you dig down a little deeper in what makes something a good candidate and something a bad candidate for you? Optimism? On the whole, really good per capital quality of life? Find the "but wait, the whole system's horribly corrupt!" reveal a little tired? What parts of the Culture novels do you like the most?

message 18: by William (last edited Feb 25, 2016 08:28AM) (new)

William | 397 comments Part of the fun of reading books about "Utopias" (such as Men Like Gods) or the building of such a system (such as Julian May's Magnificat) is getting your head around why people would want a given feature, or conversely, why they would hate it.

Wells' vision includes everything in a wonderful order, with even the environment tamed. A lovely, safe world to live in? Or a hell of banality?

May's future envisions "Unity" in which humans and beings unite in a loving union of minds to do away with war and misunderstanding. Would you see this as the ultimate noble goal, or the ultimate destruction of the essence of humanity?

As with all good SF, its great to be provoked into seeing different sides of issues you might not otherwise think about. To draw you in there has to be some issue (the "murderer loose in utopia") that's just like the unexplained black box in an otherwise Hard SF novel - it is what guides you through and makes it a fun read - as opposed to simply reading a sociological essay.

message 19: by Trike (last edited Mar 02, 2016 03:07AM) (new)

Trike | 8155 comments I've had a niggling little idea about how to get around the issue of conflict in a utopia without redefining the word, and Tom's comment in the latest podcast (#245 - Terry Pratchett Helps Us Feel Better) helped crystallize it.

Utopian societies are free of conflict and suffering, but to many people that sounds stagnant and boring. (Personally, I like it when things are dull and drama-free, but then that's because I've experienced high stress and it's incredibly painful, both physically and emotionally. (view spoiler))

To avoid stagnation, it helps to shake things up. Societies where people are too comfortable tend to not innovate or invent much. Conflict kills but it also stimulates.

So how do we get to have our cake and eat it, too? By treating life like an episode of Star Trek.

As Tom mentioned, Roddenberry's idea was that the Federation was a utopia surrounded by a dystopia. The fact that none of the writers could ever stick to that underscores how difficult it is to write utopian fiction. Even when the utopian bubble was localized to just the Enterprise there was still conflict among the crew.

So what you'd need is some mechanism that allows for a Reset Button. This implies godlike superscience, but hey, if we're talking utopia, we have to have it. It can be slightly less godlike if we postulate a Matrix-style singularity where we've uploaded our minds into computers.

There is murder and death and war and terrorism and teenage drama, which the people experience just as we do now, incentivizing us to figure out ways to improve conditions and better understand the universe, but on an individual level the killing stress we experience gets wiped clean with no lingering trauma. Lost limbs are restored, there's no PTSD, people come back to life, everything is all better... just in time for our next adventure.

Then, as we embark on the next adventure, we forget the meta-contextual universe we live in and once again everything is life or death until we solve some problem, whether major or minor. A video game utopia. Schrodinger's utopia: both real and not-real.

So what we'd think we are experiencing is the cycle of history with improvements carried over from one epoch to the next, but while empires rise and fall and conditions ebb and flow, on the personal level what we get is immortality without lasting pain. On the macro level it's the dystopian life we already know while on the micro, personal level it's utopia.

Maybe we're already experiencing this and some of us have intuited it, which is how we've come up with ideas like reincarnation.

So there you go, simultaneous utopia/dystopia. What do you guys think?

message 20: by Dave (new)

Dave Wallace | 8 comments I like Nathan Lowell's Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series. It's not a perfect world but there are no battles with aliens, plagues, out of control robots, mind control.......... It is a golden age after all.

message 21: by Joanna Chaplin (last edited Mar 10, 2016 06:04AM) (new)

Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments I haven't read it yet because I think it just came out, but I've been seeing some interesting press on The Cold Between. As far as where it is on the dystopia/utopia spectrum, it sounds about Star Trek or more utopic. The author discussed it for John Scalzi's blog.

Relevant pullquote:

"Central Corps, the military branch of the government unifying the colonies, spends more time with diplomacy and humanitarian efforts than armed conflict. We have survived our checkered history of violence, wandered into the stars, and arrived at a point where most of us live in peace.

And people are still murdered."

This is probably the level of near-utopia I am most comfortable with. Some of our most annoying problems have been cleared up, but there's still work to do worth doing.

It does, however, sound like there's a little bit of "dig a little into the systems and find the problems" thing that Ryan may not care for, but to me, it sounds like what I wanted out of The Traitor Baru Cormorant and didn't quite get.

"Elena is focused and determined, and entirely unable to admit the possibility that there might not be a solution after all. As everything she’s believed in falls apart around her, she clings ever more strongly to the hope that if she finds the truth, she’ll be able to put it all back the way it was."

I at least, am intrigued.

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