Had Enough Of Dystopias? These Books Imagine A Different Future

by Charlotte Ahlin

Between hip teen dystopias like The Hunger Games, sobering adult dystopias like The Handmaid's Tale, and actual real life dystopias like the current state of politics in America, it's easy to feel down about the future. We're starting to resign ourselves to the idea that we're all going to be Mad Maxing around a horrifying desert landscape by the year 2050. But let's not forget that the word dystopia is really a play on utopia. A lot more science fiction used to imagine a bright future for humanity. So, if you're starting to feel glum about where the human race is headed, here are a few books with positive visions of the future, to give you a different perspective.

It seems like the only fictional futures we see these days fall on the post-apocalyptic side of the spectrum. And look, I'm not saying that we should all stop recycling in the vague hope that the future will fix itself. I'm not even saying that we should stop reading YA novels in which sexy teens save a ravaged planet. I just think it's OK to read about an optimistic future every once in a while. After all, we can't strive for what we can't imagine.

Positive visions of the future give us a goal to fight for. So if you're in the market for something less dystopic and more utopic, here are a few books to check out:


'Herland' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman knew what was up way back in 1915. In her utopia, teachers are exalted, war is unthinkable, and men are extinct. Herland is all about a society consisting entirely of women, who are miraculously able to reproduce without men, and who are all generally kind and smart and cooperative. It's classic feminist sci-fi at its best.

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'The Draco Tavern' by Larry Niven

The Draco Tavern is kind of like if someone wrote a whole book based on the cantina scene in Star Wars, but with a little less murder. It's a collection of short stories all set in the titular tavern, where aliens come to hang out and get tipsy (and yes, the main alien race is all female). It's not a perfect future by any means, but a vision of aliens who just want to hang and not kill us all is still pretty sweet.

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'The Dispossessed' by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Dispossessed is sometimes printed with the subtitle "an ambiguous utopia," and that's pretty darn accurate. Le Guin shows us the "utopic" planet of Urras and the anarchist world of Anarres, both with their own set of problems. But Le Guin also envisions a great future potential for humanity, and a world where people put the needs of society ahead of their own.

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'Men Like Gods' by H.G. Wells

Men Like Gods is about as classic as classic utopia fiction gets. It's the future and everyone is smart and happy! This is one of the books that Huxley was satirizing with Brave New World, but if you can set aside your cynicism for a few minutes, it's a beautiful vision of a distant future in which humankind has it all figured out.

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'Ecotopia' by Ernest Callenbach

Northern California, Oregon, and Washington have seceded from the U.S. to create an environmentalist's dream. Ecotopia follows the first outside visitor into this earth-friendly world, with its energy-efficient “mini-cities” and its 20-hour work week. Ecotopia might be on the "too good to be true" end of the utopias, but it's still nice to imagine a future for America where trees still exist.

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'Lilith's Brood' by Octavia E. Butler

OK, yes, technically this one is a post-apocalyptic story. Most of humanity is extinct, which is not necessarily a great future. But Octavia Butler manages to turn a bleak future into a gentle, thoughtful exploration of gender and consent, as a strange alien race arrives on Earth to help rebuild human civilization with their own genetic material.

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'The Lifecycle of Software Objects' by Ted Chiang

Baby robots. BABY ROBOTS. Ted Chiang is a master of the "what if...?" genre of sci-fi story. In this novella, he explores the idea of artificial intelligence... what if it grew and changed, just like an ordinary child grows and changes? It's a quiet, touching little robot story that explores future tech without any of that Black Mirror pessimism.

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'Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom' by Cory Doctorow

In a post-scarcity world, where everyone is basically immortal, Jules decides to move to Disney World. Murders still happen, sure, but death is no longer permanent. Everyone has time to compose symphonies and learn ten languages. Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is both a silly, off-the-wall comedy and a genuinely interesting exploration of morality in a world that has evolved past all of our modern woes.

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'Star Trek: The Classic Episodes' by James Blish

Yes, I am putting a Star Trek book on this list, and you just have to deal with it. I know that novelizations of TV shows are not quite everyone's cup of tea (although many of these episodes started out as short stories in the first place). But, both in literature and television, Star Trek is one of the enduring visions of a positive future. It's never completely perfect, but the future of Star Trek is always a future of equality, diversity, justice, and aliens with lumpy foreheads.

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'Islandia' by Austin Tappan Wright

In many ways, Islandia is another "too good to be true" utopia. But this time, the author has spent decades carefully building a fictional culture that just sounds so much better than anything humanity has managed to create yet. It's a more nuanced world, and fully fleshed out. Reading Islandia is like actually glimpsing a remarkable, undiscovered country (or perhaps a gentler future for the human race).

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