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Episode 278: Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach

Since we’re doing an entire season on future-looking books, stories, and essays, it seemed like it would be a real oversight to not consider at least one utopian novel. Ernest Callenbach wrote Ecotopia while living in Berkeley and working as an editor for the University of California Press. He couldn’t find a publisher, but managed to get the money together to self-publish the novel (a more expensive, and more difficult proposition in 1974 than it is today). The book built up a cult following, and after an excerpt appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Ecotopia was picked up by Bantam and given a wider release. Now, more than forty years after its release, it’s a book that’s still taught at universities and discussed in environmental circles.

The novel is set in 1999, a few years after the Pacific Northwest and Northern California have seceded from the United States. The book’s narrator is the first journalist to visit and report from inside Ecotopia; the book alternates between his newspaper dispatches and his personal journals. We talk about the book’s utopian vision, and to what degree it still feels environmentally relevant. We also talk about utopians more generally. We live in a time when dystopian stories are everywhere–in novels, on movie screens, and on television. Is there room in our current world for utopian storytelling? And what might that look like?

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Thanks for listening!

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