Writing Utopian Novels in a Dystopian World


Many writers today look into the future and see a dystopian world just like our world today, only much, much worse.

When I set out to write about the future – or better said, “a” future, because we choose, don’t we? – I wanted to tell a story of humanity’s triumph. A world with no prejudice; a world of equality.

That would mean the elimination of the discriminators of age and beauty, and it would mean universal education and food supplies. It would mean universal health and the elimination of height and weight as differentiators. It would mean the elimination of race, religion, politics, and overpopulation. It would mean the elimination of wealth and fear.

Can you imagine that?

Can you imagine how difficult it would be for a reader here on old Earth to accept that humanity could ever achieve it all?

Here on old Earth, cynicism and rancor seem to rule dialog. We listen for errors and pounce when they appear. We call friendship something we have with people we have never met. Everything is transactional. There’s a quid for every quo. And, sadly, loneliness and isolation are rampant around the world.

We work for wages, or we live on inheritances. We are slaves to goals manufactured by an industrial model, where money determines all. Or, we are slaves to lifestyles we feel must be maintained at all costs. Most of all, we are slaves to time running out. We are born, through no effort of our own. We have no choice in this at all. Suddenly, there we are: in a family. in a town, in a country, in a world we didn’t ask for it, and we mostly discover that we don’t really want it.

We want to live, that’s for sure. And, our specie’s desire may well be to live honestly and without harm to anyone, but this world all but eliminates that possibility. The food we eat is harvested by indigents. Our clothing is produced wherever the labor is the cheapest, even slave labor is acceptable. Our governments pursue agendas that are conspiracies against our own happiness. Our institutions are mired in procedures, disagreements, and endless, senseless compromises of basic human values.

The best we can do is maintain. But, as in love, in life, too, this is a concept with no meaning. Nothing maintains. Nothing ever stays the same.

Writing utopian fiction creates such an automatic disbelief that today’s readers may not be able to overcome it. Imagination, creative thinking, faith, and hope may fill the writer’s efforts. But still, it takes courage to look into the future. “History is a damn dim candle over a damn dark abyss.” William Stull Holt, who wrote this thoughtful quote, was born in 1896, when the United States’ population was under 40,000,000 (about the population of Tokyo today).

Imagine him squinting into the future looking for us. There are several paths he could have taken in his imaginings, and the easiest would have been to assume that everything he knew in 1896 would still be true in 2019. The easiest “change” to see would be everything getting worse and worse. But the arc of history tells a different story, doesn’t it? Of course change is super slow, because people determine change, mostly. Natural disaster and environmental changes aside, it is us who make the future. But a future with no problems, no conflict among ourselves, and with full-on equality for all, few today see that as possible. Is it our “damn dim candle” that is letting us down? Or is it the “dark abyss” that we cannot fathom?

I chose the dim candle and have worked to brighten its lumens a little, to focus it a bit more closely, and to shine it on a brighter path ahead. I know it may be useless. I know few will believe it. But I hope some will turn to the deeper truths of human nature, and see the beauty there. It is as obvious as the nose on our face. All of history tells us this is true. But, still, most won’t believe it. Perhaps, some will.

Utopian writing in a dystopian world is like talking in a language that only you understand. It’s like seeing light in a tunnel that never ends. It’s like putting a message in a bottle and tossing it into the deep blue sea.

Writing utopian novels in a dystopian world is like whispering “I love you,” then waiting to see what happens.