sorry we torched the world and now you have to live like saints and suffer
December 22, 2011 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Now the future is a kind of attenuating peninsula; as we move out on it, one side drops off to catastrophe; the other side, nowhere near as steep, moves down into various kinds of utopian futures. In other words, we have come to a moment of utopia or catastrophe; there is no middle ground, mediocrity will no longer succeed. So utopia is no longer a nice idea, but a survival necessity. "Remarks on Utopia in the Age of Climate Change," from Kim Stanley Robinson. Previously.
posted by gerryblog (15 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
And what are we to make of the fact that, at a time utopia is demanded, any and all regulation is shunned as extreme-left planned-economy Stalinism? 15th-century monarchies had better foresight than most of our current G20 governments.

I'd also add that while decarbonizing is nice, it's only a small picture of the impending-environmental-catastrophe puzzle. If we stop dumping carbon in the air but keep dumping nitrogen in the sea, we're just as screwed.
posted by mek at 6:40 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, mek, I have to agree with him that we can either give up completely and accept our doom or push for radical change; there is less and less in-between, anymore. You don't have to call it utopia, but of course if you accomplish what we need to accomplish, it would end up looking like one compared to where we are. Much as our lives would seem utopian to a 15th century serf.

Thanks, gerryblog, I really enjoyed this.
posted by emjaybee at 6:46 PM on December 22, 2011

I recently read "Ecotopia" by Ernest Callenbach - while it's definitely a utopian novel, rather than a blueprint for actual change, it's incredible how much of the technology therein is actually possible, right now. Additionally, some of the "ecotopian" ideas are becoming accepted and maybe even mainstream - the importance of organic food; renewable energy sources, etc.

So, if I understand correctly, all we need is for consumers to demand this stuff and then the invisible hand of the market does the rest, right?
posted by dubold at 6:56 PM on December 22, 2011

So, if I understand correctly, all we need is for consumers to demand this stuff and then the invisible hand of the market does the rest, right?

Nah, it's gotten all lubed up by Big Oil and is now busy jerking off Wall Street speculators. The rest of us will just have to wait our turn.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:02 PM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. A great article by a writer I really like. Bring on the utopia!
posted by gingerbeer at 8:03 PM on December 22, 2011

This was an interesting read. I found his utopian novel far and away the weakest of the series, and his recent dystopian book was totally unreadable, but this essay was very good. Early in the essay, he wrote:
What emerged as most important for my novel was the utopian non-fiction of the 1970s, books which I think were a manifestation of the hippie generation growing up, beginning to have kids and trying to plan how to live the ideals of the revolutionary sixties. These books made quite a bookshelf: The Integral Urban House, Progress as if Survival Mattered, Small is Beautiful, Muddling Toward Frugality, Appropriate Technology and so on. They are still worth reading, but they were all unaware of the coming Reagan/Thatcher counter-revolution, which would render them largely irrelevant in the following decade. ... They would make a portrait of the hopes of that era similar to the portrait created by the era’s science fiction; the two literatures would be complementary.
I was really struck by this, because these are two of my favorite genres. I love utopian/dystopian science fiction (the distinction between utopian and dystopian is often not at all clear, and one person's utopia is another's hell), and I have this irrational love for those crazy 1970s books that littered the house when I was a kid, with their brown and tan covers and line drawing illustrations (example; another). The nonfiction dystopian books of that time, like The Population Bomb, haven't aged as well, now that we have mostly safely made it past their predicted apocalypses. But the utopian books, especially the shelter and appropriate technology how-to guides, have a charm that is, if not timeless, at least not at all dissonant with the present.
posted by Forktine at 10:03 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Um, Forktine? "I found his utopian novel far and away the weakest of the series, and his recent dystopian book was totally unreadable."

KSR's most recent book was about Galileo and aliens. Before that was a series called "Science in the Capitol" , focused on global warming, that was fairly utopian in outlook (a mix of political action, engineering, and spirituality seems to work out very well of the characters and earth as a whole), and the alternate history The Years of Rice and Salt.

The Orange County Trilogy (the one containing Pacific Edge, the utopian novel I think you're referencing above) is from the early 1980s! (Unless you mean Blue Mars, the most "utopian" in feel of the Mars Trilogy...published 15 years ago?)

Unless you see Years of Rice and Salt as a dystopia (?), I think you've shoehorned in a book or two from another writer?

What strikes me about this essay is how much KSR himself has come to sound like the Mars Trilogy characters he created 15-20 years ago. This entire essay - minus the career run-down, obviously - could be an Art, Nergal, or Nadia monolog from Green Mars or Blue Mars...whereas at the time, KSR in real life sounded a lot more like Sax.
posted by Wylla at 11:19 PM on December 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I meant The Years of Rice and Salt; I thought it was new because I picked it up from the "new book" section of the library recently, but wikipedia tells me that it was actually published 10 years ago. Still unreadable, just not new; and from the description more "alternative history" than dystopian. And by the weakest of the series, yes, of course I meant Pacific Edge from the Orange County series that he is discussing in the essay. My apologies for the lack of clarity.

I think he is a fantastic and thought-provoking writer, but highly uneven; of his books that I have opened, I've either loved them or tossed them across the room unfinished. Personally, I'll take that kind of experimentation and ambition over consistent mediocrity any day of the week.
posted by Forktine at 5:53 AM on December 23, 2011

I love Years of Rice and Salt, and wouldn't describe it as a dystopia either (except insofar as the history of the world is an actually existing dystopia). I found the reincarnation hook to be a very clever way to tell that story.
posted by gerryblog at 7:15 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

God, I love the Mars trilogy. I don't think anything else he's written really comes up to that standard (although Years of Rice and Salt really hit some high marks). I was really interested when I learned he was doing his Capitol series, but the results were kind of disappointing.
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:16 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't let that turn you off of Galileo's Dream, AdamCSnider - it's definitely a way more compelling read that the Science in the Capitol trilogy...which I, too, thought fell below KSR's usual high standards.
posted by Wylla at 10:59 AM on December 23, 2011

i would be interested to see what art this utopia will produce

for 'this' i mean 'any'
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:46 PM on December 23, 2011

Does art need dystopia, or does dystopia need art? Is utopia art enough? Meh.
posted by mek at 2:47 PM on December 23, 2011

i will admit it is a chilling thought
Is utopia art enough?

i dunno but youd better be careful when you ask the utopians

as in, make sure you have a way to run away
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:13 PM on December 23, 2011

KSR clearly does think that utopias would produce art - his utopian books are full of art and art hobbyists.

(Although his utopias are much more 'messy' than most - people still have problems in them, they still require work, and in one case - Blue Mars - they essentially have to be overthrown and re-booted. So these aren't the perfect steady-state utopias of some SF. Iain m Banks' Culture, for example, has artists mentioned, but seems to produce mostly extreme sports...)
posted by Wylla at 7:52 AM on December 24, 2011

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