Saturday, 7 September 2013

70s Saturday Sci-Fi Scans

Today we visit a place that has knocked around in the human head for a long, long time - the utopia! The hard, sad truth is that utopias can't exist; even the word means "no place". However, that hasn't stopped people with very good intentions from giving it a shot for a long, long time with variable success. With the counterculture wave of the sixties and fallout from political corruption in the seventies, it makes sense that Ernest Callenbach came up with...


Ecotopia cover

Imagine a future that works!
We are in the year 1999. Since 1980, Ecotopia has been isolated, Chinese fashion. Now, finally, an official visitor is admitted. He is Will Weston, crack investigative reporter. Like a modern Gulliver, Will is sometimes horrified, sometimes overwhelmed by strange practices and sensual encounters. He discovers a nation which, in lucky circumstances, has taken charge of its own biological destiny. As Will becomes deeply involved with a sexually forthright Ecotopian woman, ritual war games and a female-dominated "stable-state" government, his confusion of values intensifies and reaches a startling climax. The novel of your future.

I could stare at the cover all day. The slightly off center circle seems to signal that everything is not all right in Ecotopia, not to mention the "square peg in a round hole" metaphor going on. The fleshed out faces of the two women pull off a neat illusion, and the way the hands connect and interplay is very subtle (the yellow fist on the right might be a bit hard to see). The psychological nature of this image almost betrays the back cover copy of sexual forthrightness. Even the miltiant, stencilled title is a giveaway.

How far off 1999 must have seemed in 1975! I was 22 in 1999 and even that seems a long time ago now. I missed out on a lot of the trends that lead up to this novel, but I'm going to guess that Callenbach was spot on in picking trends and societal changes to include in the book, especially since he lived in Berkeley, California. Good writers always have their thumb on the now, even if it seems dated later. Presented in diary format, Will chronicles the day to day life of Ecotopia, its government and industry.

As readers and viewers, we've come to expect that there's always something sinister with perfect societies, otherwise utopias would be boring as heck. But, sometimes these sinister ends play out in real life too. If one can feel a little jaded and disappointed about utopias, we can at least thank them for one of the biggest trends of the past ten years - dystopias!