21 December 2007

Rich, challenging, literary anthology that demands re-reading

Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias

Kim Stanley Robinson
Tor Books, 1997

At first I was a bit disappointed in this collection, because the earliest stories didn't seem ecotopian, utopian, or even SF in character. After I discovered the editor's endnotes, though, the intention behind the collection and its total vision became apparent, and the inclusion of the early stories made perfect sense.

As Dr. Robinson himself notes, the stories don't tend toward standard utopian themes---namely the planned, perfect, permanent society---but they instead reflect the dirty, earthy, organic, fertile concerns of the ecotopian. The "stories reveal everywhere their writers' belief that the societies they depict are preferable to the boxed existences of modern, urban life" (p. 346) through embodied engagement with the world of physical nature and the re-infusion of meaning into everyday life. "What these stories ask us to reconsider is what is really important in life, and thus new definitions of utopia must be reconsidered as well" (ibid).
"It's not that [these stories] advocate a simple return to nature, or a rejection of technology, which given our current situation would be nothing than another kind of ecological impossibility." Instead, these stories, "reject ther inevitability of a machine future" (p. 11).

Not all of the stories are immediately accessible, and many, if not most, demand re-reading in order to get a full appreciation of both the ideas and the writing in which those ideas are expressed. Most of the stories in the anthology really impressed me, but my favorites (at least right now) would have to be "Hogfoot Right and Bird-hands," "House of Bones," "Chocco," and "Newton's Sleep," all of which explored essential themes about what it means to be human in communion with (or separation from) the world of biological nature.

All in all this is a superb science fiction anthology that belongs on the bookshelves of anyone interested in utopian and ecotopian fiction, about the current state of humanity, and about our possible futures.

(This review was originally written on January 27, 2007.)

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