Wednesday, December 19, 2007


A real danger with utopias is the need the author has to show the reader around his or her ideal society.

It's possible to write any kind of story, including one that is nothing except a tour of a landscape or city, if you are a good enough writer. But most readers are going to expect an action line; and if your interest in city planning or recycling overwhelms your interest in telling a story or creating a work of art, you may run into problems.

And if you are going to produce a lecture, you had better have some really interesting ideas about city planning or recycling.

I think Kim Stanley Robinson has a done a good job with utopias in Pacific Edge and his Martian books. You can make utopias interesting by remembering that they don't have to be perfect societies, just better ones; and it you remember that people are going to remain imperfect. Robinson shows you a working utopia in Pacific Edge, which continues to have problems such as jerks and zoning variances, and in the Mars trilogy, he shows you a utopian society -- or at least a better society -- coming into existence.

I found the Riverdell and Lothlorien truly unattractive in the Ring movies. I am pretty sure I leaned over to Patrick and said, "Elves have terrible taste." There is something about the idea of loveliness and loftiness that makes people create sentimental slush.

I am not sure we can even imagine a good society, though Robinson gives it a good try.

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