by Raymond M. Coulombe
Dystopian novels are all the rage. It’s pretty easy to look around at the world today and write a novel full of doom and gloom. Dreams are shattered, societal promises broken, freedoms lost, the rise of authoritarian leaders -all set in a crumbling wasteland. There’s plenty of room there for action and conflict to fuel a thrilling story.
What seems to have gone out of style is stories about societies that get things right. Utopias, where have they gone? Can we not imagine a better world? Has the search for perfection gone out of style? Have writers just gotten lazy?
We know what makes people happy. It’s not that hard. First we want our basic needs fulfilled. Then some love, a purpose and something interesting to do. People want a safe place to raise their children and a chance for everyone to grow. Some spiritual grounding is nice too. Societies that can achieve those simple goals are pretty good places to live.
Okay, I see the problem. Utopias sound boring as hell. Exciting lives are interesting to read about, but can be horrible to live. Still, there are ways to write a good story about a healthy society. The society could be threatened and the tension then comes from the potential loss of something wonderful. A writer could approach it from the other side and go through the struggle of building a better world from the ashes of the old. We could even have conflict between different visions on what makes a perfect society.
A good writer has plenty of material to work with. It would be nice to see a few examples of good functioning societies for a change. Frankly, it wouldn’t hurt to have more examples of how to get it right.