Ecotopia - Ernest Callenbach I went into Ecotopia not expecting much in the way of serious character studies or deeds of derring-do. What I expected was a typical utopian/dystopian novel where the author focuses on describing the virtues or faults of their imagined society at the relative expense of all else; and I wasn’t disappointed.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how well the novel read.

It’s constructed as a series of articles and diary entries written by William Weston, the first American (officially) allowed to enter Ecotopia, the nation created 20 years previously by the secession of Washington, Oregon and northern California. The articles describe Ecotopian society, which is based around the ideal of a sustainable, modern society radically different from the growth-oriented, extractive society we’re currently saddled with. The diary chronicles William’s immersion in Ecotopian life and culminates in a near-religious epiphany, where he realizes he can’t return to the United States.

Strictly speaking, Ecotopia is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. It’s quite clear which society Callenbach prefers but there are numerous instances where the narrative points out the problems that persist in this new society, and the struggle to achieve a constantly shifting balance. And there are some aspects that may be problematic to the reader:

Segregation of races/cultures (side effect Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home or the Wild Continents of Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men/Star Maker)

Moving too far toward communalism? (for which I’m personally ill-suited but which seems preferable to the ultra-atomization of modern culture)

Continued flirtation with nuclear power

Callenbach’s effort doesn’t attempt to explain Ecotopia’s economy or schools or social relationships in great detail but it does compel readers (whatever bias they bring to the book) to think about the costs that our consumption-driven, growth-oriented, violent culture extracts from both people and planet. (I will admit that the author is preaching to the choir in my case - given the choice, I would happily emigrate.)

Not “highly” recommended, perhaps, but definitely recommended if your interested in the utopia/dystopia genre or environmental concerns.