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Not Dystopian, But Utopian!

3691 Views 33 Replies 28 Participants Last post by  UnicornEmily
We all know how popular dystopian stories are, and they are great for many reasons! I want to know, however, where the utopian stories are! As writers, we know that any good story must show some kind of struggle. This is easy to create in a dystopian world in which a main character must fight the system, etc., but it seems a little more difficult in a utopian world. I don't think it's impossible, though. I am very curious about this, and I hoped someone could recommend existing utopian novels for me to read and research! What do you think of a utopian novel vs. a dystopian?

I am so interested in the idea of a utopian novel, because, while dystopians show us the horrible places society could be heading if we go about it incorrectly, utopians offer a look at how good things could be if we go about it correctly. Both kinds show us that we should change our ways, but when the majority of these stories are negative, it's hard to have hope. Knowing what not to do is a lot easier than knowing what to do, and I think humans/society could use a bit of a nudge in that respect.
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A couple years ago I read a YA series that starts out in a utopian society. The Matched series. I loved it.
You might want to read Asimov's Foundation trilogy. A utopian society that faces both internal and external conflict. Nothing lasts forever.

Another thing to think about is that one person's perfect utopian might be another person's living hell.

Good luck
From what I've seen, most utopian settings rely on some form of magi-tech to remove resource scarcity (like Star Trek with its replicators) or are worlds that appear utopian on the surface but are really dystopian underneath and get that way through some form of repressive totalitarian ideology (such as in Equilibrium).
A Utopian story wouldn't sell well. At least, not if the story revolves around it entirely and shows how everything is just rainbows and sunshine.

I personally wouldn't mind, but I'm in the minority. I'm like super-weird and anomalic for tons of other stuff so it should be no surprise. But the average reader is not like me or you.

Introducing Utopian ideas could work as a start of a story, where it further devolves into something scary/tragic/tyranic. Or in the end, as a form of a happy-end-epilogue, a reality brought forth by the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice of the characters that drove the story. Both sound very cliche, but its what the reading populace wants to read. And most writers know this, which is why they don't mind smacking a lot of cliches and deja vu tropes in their work, because they know the reading crowd, and they know they can sell it.

The way I avoided being too cliche in some of my works was, to introduce different kinds of problems to a utopian society. And make those problems seem very, very relevant to the story, that it carries some weight while a person reads it. I'm still not confident about that particular work as I think its very flat plot-wise but it was an interesting experiment as WIP, because it helped me find alternatives where there aren't any readily available.

Another work painted a utopian society on the basis of anarchistic philosophy. Communism has been beaten to death in both utopian and dystopian fiction, and the only alternatives people seek are just forms of it, basically derivatives of the same. So I chose a ideology that is closer to my heart, so it turned into a nice narrative vision which I'm in the process of adapting it further to a short story or novella, and it was well received by friends. Some who are romantically capitalistic. So that helps a lot.

If you are looking for such a book, or if you are looking to write such a book, keep in mind for these things. Either the cliches, or the possible alternatives. Depends on what you look for, or what you will settle for.
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IMO, by definition, if it's utopian it will be boring. If there's conflict, it's not utopian anymore. The protagonist(s) don't necessarily have to fight the system, but they have to struggle with something.
I do think utopian books could work if the conflict revolved around something besides the society, such as outside forces threatening the wonderful world they've built.
CadyVance said:
I do think utopian books could work if the conflict revolved around something besides the society, such as outside forces threatening the wonderful world they've built.
Good point - but we're back to defining a "utopian" genre. Is it utopian anymore when some outside force threatens it? Or at least, will it stay that way? I guess it could be done, but would people consider it "utopian" or would they assign some other genre to fit the wider aspects, for example, general or military or adventure science fiction.
Isn't Star Trek basically Utopian? I know it's a TV show, but it's obvs super popular. You'd just need to find a way to make there be conflict. Star Trek has it by expanding out into the Universe and finding conflict.
Utopian settings could work, sure.

But on a story level, utopia is resolution (generally). It's what you get when the hero saves the day (generally).

Dystopia, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with conflict. Conflict sells (again, generally).
Lionel's Mom said:
A couple years ago I read a YA series that starts out in a utopian society. The Matched series. I loved it.
LOVED that series! 8)
Most utopian settings are used to show the sacrifices made for peace and uniformity.  Think, The Giver.  Everyone is at peace, fulfilling their role, seemingly utopian until feelings are reintroduced.

I am working on a futuristic setting where travel is near-instantaneous and disease has been practically eliminated, life is full of conveniences but I wouldn't call it utopian. It's a detective series.  People still do bad things to each other, no matter how peaceful and advantaged it is.
Isn't Star Trek basically Utopian? I know it's a TV show, but it's obvs super popular. You'd just need to find a way to make there be conflict. Star Trek has it by expanding out into the Universe and finding conflict.
Star Trek was a Utopia for the Officers and those with power. It didn't show the POV of the enlisted man working at some drudge job in the bowels of the ship. To him/her the universe might have seemed as a hierarchy that favored the select few.

The only way a utopia might work is everyone agrees to sacrifice their wants and desires for the good of the society. That sacrifice is either voluntary or imposed. What happens when someone doesn't want to sacrifice. What happens when someone disagrees with the way the society works. At that point it stops being a utopia. At least for that person.

I think you can write a story about a failed or failing utopia. The conflict occurs when one persons utopia (People in power) is viewed differently by someone else (person without power). It could be power over the society or even power over their own choices in life.
Dinotopia is a utopian concept.
I watched one of the movies and waited for the crack in the facade - the sudden realization that Soylent Green is people or whatever.
But it never came.
It's like watching paint dry.

Utopia means "no such place" so by definition a utopia cannot exist.

As others have said, it might seem like utopia if you're on the bridge giving orders, but for the guys on the oars life sucks.
Sounds like the oarsmen should stage a revolution!
'Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street.
Wasn't the threat in Dinotopia from those evil carnivores that just wanted to eat others to stay alive?

As for Star Trek, I'm sure the federation would like to be a utopia, but there seem to be an awful lot of dubious moral decisions going on all the time.  Plus the borg are more a utopia than the federation.
Iain M. Banks's Culture novels are utopian science fiction.

He solved the "utopia is boring" problem mostly by having his stories involve conflicts from outside the Culture. Most books were about agents from the Culture trying to intervene in some outside society's problems.

Basically, the Culture is a nice place with very few downsides. The biggest problem seems to be boredom and a lack of purpose, but few people get that badly, and the ones who do usually join the Culture's "Contact" division to make the rest of the universe a better place.

Meanwhile, the books spend a lot of time examining just how hard social engineering really is, especially when governments outside the Culture have a vested interest in keeping people oppressed. The series isn't full of happy-go-lucky funtimes, and can get pretty grim at times, but the Culture itself is rarely threatened. Mostly, it's about the characters who get caught up in the radical social change that happens when the Culture shows up.

(Incidentally, I wouldn't recommend starting with the first book, Consider Phlebas. It's really different from the rest of the series, and the books are all standalone anyway. If you're okay with a book about political maneuvering via sacred board games, I think Player of Games is probably the best starting point.)
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I read this one ( ) about 15 years ago and it stuck with me all this time.. A desperate man without many redeeming qualities murders his girlfriend and stumbles into a hidden Utopian society. It's a toss up whether the society will salvage him or whether he'll ruin them. A good read! ;D
The utopian settings tend to be used when it only appears to be a utopia - the cracks or dark underside comes out.

Or when people from the utopia intervene in other cultures that aren't utopia.

Both of these rely on something non-utopian for conflict. Which is understandable since total utopia is the absence of conflict.

Perhaps another way of approaching it would be to have a character from somewhere else come into the utopia and have to adjust? Then there is still conflict - internal - with utopia as the main setting, that doesn't rely on it being dystopian in disguise.

ETA: just read the post above after posting this - so that seems to be an example of what I was saying. :)
The Mistborn novels of Brandon Sanderson start off with a dystopia - the main premise is what happened if the Dark Lord won? And then the third in the trilogy, Hero of Ages ends on a sort of utopia. There is a fourth book called Alloy of Law which I haven't read yet, I don't know if that is a story set in the same universe or a continuation.
In the original Thomas More book, Utopia, there is still war (albeit rare), and every household owns two slaves. One man's utopia is another man's nightmare.
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