Imagine a world without poverty, hunger, and hatred. It’s an attractive thought, but is it possible? The word utopia was coined by Thomas More in 1516 in his book about a fictional island society. Originally, More intended the term to mean “no place” from the Greek οὐ (“not”) and τόπος (“place”), but over time the οὐ was conflated with εὖ (“good”).
This twist in meaning is strangely fitting given the nature of utopian fiction. Can a “good place” exist, or is it all just smoke and mirrors concealing some horrible, hidden truth? Is a utopia even compatible with human nature? Authors of the genre grapple with these questions, often walking a fine line between utopian and dystopian descriptions. Intrigued? We’ve got some vital utopian novels for you to check out below.
The Lathe of Heaven
What if your dreams could control your reality? What would you dream of—an end to world hunger, to prejudice and discrimination? What about world peace? Such power may seem enticing to many, but not to George Orr. Living in a future (and still rainy) Portland, Oregon, George’s dreams are coming to life.
Disturbed and desperate for help, he turns to psychiatrist Dr. William Haber, who immediately recognizes the power George possesses and begins to manipulate him. The two men quickly discover the disastrous results of playing God.
In this deeply philosophical and riveting novel, acclaimed science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin addresses the dangers of power and the volatility of human nature. This book is a must-read for any science fiction enthusiast.
When the Overlords arrived on Earth, everything changed. Technologically and intellectually superior, they could have violently imposed their will on humanity. Instead, they demanded peace, ushering in a Golden Age where there were no wars, no poverty, no suffering.
But this utopia comes at a price, as the people of Earth soon begin to realize. With all the world’s problems solved, there is no need for human ingenuity or creativity. Humans become restless, eager for the movement and change that once built empires. But with the overwhelming power of the Overlords bearing down on the world, resistance to this illusory peace could bring about the end of civilization.
Divided into three parts, this classic of alien literature expands on Arthur C. Clarke's short story “Guardian Angel,” and is told through the perspective of an anonymous omniscient narrator.
Enemies of the System
In the far future, Homo sapiens evolve into Homo uniformis, a fully civilized species of humankind no longer affected by the flaws of human nature like war, disease, and emotion.
From this utopia come fifty-two elites on a tour of Lysenka. After an accident leaves them stranded, they soon discover that the planet is home to the descendants of a crashed spaceship. Over the course of a million years, these humans have devolved in ways unimaginable.
Faced with a horrifying glimpse into their future should they remain, the utopian elites must find a way to escape before they are consumed by the animal within.
This book about a sustainable environmentalist utopia follows journalist Will Weston, the first American citizen to enter Ecotopia. Twenty years prior, Northern California, Washington, and Oregon seceded from the Union, forming their own country in the hopes of creating a “stable-state” ecosystem. Ecotopia is now a thriving civilization with energy-efficient cities, pollution control, and a matriarchal government.
Although initially skeptical, Will soon finds himself enchanted by the Ecotopian lifestyle and impressed by their progress. Ernest Callenbach tells the story through a collection of diary entries and articles written by Will. Hopeful and inspiring, this science fiction environmental classic has maintained its relevance since its initial publication in 1975.
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Woman on the Edge of Time
Consuelo “Connie” Ramos, a Chicana living in New York City, has been declared insane. But Connie is overwhelmingly sane, merely tuned to the future, and able to communicate with two potential timelines in the year 2137.
One future features a utopian androgynous society called Mattapoiset, where humans of all races, genders, and sexualities live in harmony. The other future offers a horrific alternative where grotesque exploitation and violent racism and misogyny have destroyed society for all but a few wealthy elites.
Faced with these two futures and an increasingly disturbing present, Connie tries to change the course of humanity. Absorbing and transformative, Woman on the Edge of Time is a classic of both utopian and feminist literature.
Set in Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History universe, this classic science fiction novel introduces Lazarus Long—the kilt-wearing, gun-strapped immortal space traveler featured in several of Heinlein’s books.
Lazarus is old, so old he can’t remember how old he is. Descended from a family bred for health and longevity, Lazarus and his extended brethren live in secret.
When their abilities are revealed to the world, they're forced to flee Earth before the government and the public, eager for the chance at immortality, can get their greedy hands on them. Hijacking a spaceship, Lazarus and co. sail through the universe looking for another world to call home.
In this utopian counterpart to Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World, a thriving and prosperous island nation in the Pacific attracts the eye of an English journalist and the envy of the world.
William Farnaby, journalist and lackey of oil baron Lord Joseph Aldehyde, has successfully managed to wreck his ship on the shores of Pala. All according to plan—with the exception of a leg injury.
As an agent of a conspiracy to take over Pala, Farnaby has arrived with a mission: convince the island’s queen, the Rani, to sell Aldehyde Pala’s oil rights. But to his surprise, Farnaby soon finds himself enthralled by the Palanese spiritualism, philosophy, and culture.
Venus Plus X
Charlie Johns awakes a stranger in a strange new world. Believing that he somehow was transported to the future, Charlie learns that he is in the country of Ledom.
In this utopia, all humanity’s problems have been solved by technological innovation and, to Charlie’s surprise, eradicating biological sex.
The inhabitants of Ledom are determined to convince Charlie of the benefits of living in this model society, but things are not as they seem.