1516 - present | books and various objects
Utopias exist to remind us that there could be a better social order than the one we are in. Our present system is the result of a centuries-old power struggle, and it is devastating people and the biosphere. We must change it - and fast. But to what? Utopias are thought experiments. Imagine if things ran like this: Wouldn’t that be good? Well, maybe...let’s live in it fictionally for a while. What problems crop up in this system? Can we solve them? What if we tweak things this way, or that? Let’s tell this story and then that story, and see how plausible they feel after we spend some imaginative time in them. The problems that might develop in a proposed better system both propel the novel’s plot and give you things to think about. Then, hopefully, you can apply what you’ve learned to your current political situation. Having glimpsed a destination you like, you can then consider the actions available in your own time to get there. The great feminist utopias of Joanna Russ (The Female Man) and Marge Piercy (Woman on the Edge of Time) gave life to the experience of women’s political solidarity, and readers were then encouraged to change their present situation in those directions.
Now the onrush of catastrophic climate change has forced a reckoning. We either invent and institute a better way, or a mass extinction will take us down with it. Necessity has thus jammed utopia into history and turned it from a minor literary genre into an important tool of human thought. We need it like never before, and as the need has become acute, the bar has in effect been lowered: If we manage to dodge a mass extinction event, then we can call that utopia. People in any non-catastrophic future can heave a sigh of relief, grateful for such a stupendous effort by our generation. A healthy relationship to nature will create and require lots of good work as well as a commitment to justice for all Earth’s creatures - humans very much included. That may be as close to utopia as we’ll ever get, and it would be close enough. - Kim Stanley Robinson