Monday, April 22, 2013

#30DaysofScootering: Earth Day and Ecotopia

Three miles of scootering this morning, to the bakery to pick up a loaf of bread and then out and about to check on the state of the trees, flowers, squirrels, ducks and the other bits of life in my town. Today is Earth Day and I'm thinking about an old book, Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia. Written in the 1970s and set in the early 21st century, Ecotopia is told by the character of Will Weston through a series of reports to the New York Times-Post and journal entries. Weston is the first officially sanctioned visitor from America to Ecotopia since it split off from the US several decades earlier to form a stable-state ecosystem in what used to be northern California, Oregon and Washington state.

As a novel, the book is terrible. It's one of those "Wow, there's certainly an agenda here!" books and too many characters do little speeches or are too dumb or too clever or just plain too "real people don't do that." I can suspend disbelief with the best of them when needed, but you have to give me people that seem real.

I did find a lot of interesting situations and ideas when I read this book more than three decades after it was first written. There's a scene early in the book where Weston is amazed by sorted trash and recycling bins. This was a mind blowing concept in the 70s and it's part of our civic fabric now. Awareness of watershed issues is pretty much mainstream thought now as well and something mostly ignored up until the 60s.

Despite having women in a lot of power roles in the book, it totally reads like a 70's guy fantasy. Weston comes to Ecotopia as a "reporter" and finds various pot smoking, beautiful free loving women (many of whom have sex with him) and (spoiler alert!) at the end of the book (surprise, surprise!) he decides he wants to stay. Go figure.

If I have a point here (and I'm not sure that I do) it's that Ecotopia as a book may not have aged well, but some of those ideals of the 70s have lived on. Despite various flaws as a novel, the book was and is quite influential and I found it worth reading.

By the way, if you want to read some really good novels with environmental themes, check out The Monkey Wrench Gang by Ed Abbey, A Friend of the Earth by T. C. Boyle or All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah, WA USA

1 comment:

adventure! said...

That's basically what I thought when I attempted to read Ecotopia in the mid-aughts: good ideas, bad writing. I think Callenbach wanted a way to "sell" his ideas so setting it in a sci-fi novel setting was his way. It probably got more people to read his ideas than if he published it as a dry non-fiction tome, though.