The best books of utopian fiction

The Books I Picked & Why

News from Nowhere

By William Morris

News from Nowhere

Why this book?

Deeply engaging and bold in its vision, News from Nowhere shows how a truly egalitarian society can work without any centralised power and private property. Seen through the eyes of a socialist who wakes up one day to find himself in such a world, I particularly liked how this departs from usual socialist visions which are dependent on a central state; here, ‘public’ property truly belongs to the public! Written in the 1890s, this book spawned many other utopian writings, but perhaps none matched up to the simple sophistication of Morris’ vision.


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Island

By Aldous Huxley

Island

Why this book?

The complete antithesis to Huxley’s much more famous book, Brave New World, this novel depicts the ideal life of an imaginary island, Pala, somewhere in South-East Asia. Huxley seems to have picked up elements from the actual life-ways of islanders in the Asia-Pacific region, rather than do a lot of futuristic fable-building. Economic production, spiritual and ethical values, nature conservation, and other aspects of life are integrated into a harmonious whole which is quite alluring! But though this was written 30 years after Brave New World, Huxley seems not to have completely shaken off that dystopian outlook. The ending of Island is disquieting, to say the least. Or perhaps he is simply reminding us that an island of utopian living is not enough, and will always be threatened if the world as a whole remains enthralled by the trappings of money-making and power-seeking.  


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The Telling

By Ursula K. Le Guin

The Telling

Why this book?

We live in a world where freedom of thought and expression is constantly threatened by those who would like to be unquestioned rulers. Le Guin’s Aka planet is one such, where those in power have attempted to erase history and ban books. But as in so many of Le Guin’s books, a utopian streak comes shining through here in the form of an underground movement keeping alive memory through the sacred act of telling. I loved the subversive current in the story, The Telling of which is itself an act of hope and inspiration.  


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Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements

By Adrienne Maree Brown, Walidah Imarisha

Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements

Why this book?

Anthologies of science fiction often tend to be darkly foreboding. This one takes us on a journey of 20 bold, hope-inspiring stories infused with the scent of freedom, justice, emancipation. The authors, many of them black, feminist, queer, rebel artists, and the like, all involved in some kind of social action, come up with dazzling imaginations of what a better world could look like. Like any good collection of stories, it’s the kind one can dive into every once in a while, whether one has 10 minutes to read or the whole day … and having finished it, come back to it yet again for a dose of inspiration.


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The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson

The Ministry for the Future

Why this book?

The latest book on my list of 5 is a blockbuster in many ways. Taking the earth’s biggest crisis, climate, head-on, the author starts with a horrifying heatwave killing 20 million people in north India but then goes on to build a much more hopeful and astonishingly realistic narrative of how the world moves rapidly into tackling the crisis. It's fiction, but not fantasy, and Robinson builds a solid scientific base for the actions his characters take. As in most of the books in my list, women take a lead … and though I’m not nationalistic, I was more than a little pleased that the author puts India at the centre of many of the solutions!


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