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The Racial Horizon of Utopia

Unthinking the Future of Race in Late Twentieth-Century American Utopian Novels


Edward K. Chan

Race and utopia have been fundamental features of US American culture since the origins of the country. However, racial ideology has often contradicted the ideals of social and political equality in the United States. This book surveys reimaginings of race in major late twentieth-century US American utopian novels from the 1970s to the 1990s. Dorothy Bryant, Marge Piercy, Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler and Kim Stanley Robinson all present radical new configurations of race in a more ideal society, yet continually encounter an ideological blockage as the horizon beyond which we cannot rethink race. Nevertheless, these novels create productive strains of thinking to grapple with the question of race in US American culture. Drawing on feminist theory and critiques of democracy, the author argues that our utopian dreams cannot be furthered unless we come to terms with the phenomenology of race and the impasse of the individual in liberal humanist democracy.
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Epilogue: After 2000 and Multiculturalism as Nightmare


Although my study of race in late twentieth-century utopian novels ends at the year 1999, of course issues of race and utopia continue into the twenty-first century. We have begun to see somewhat of an explosion of literary and scholarly work at the intersection between race and science fiction (SF). In the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, several novels that can in some sense be considered eutopian have dealt with race in some fashion.1 Possibly due to the start of the new millennium, three eutopian novels that deal with race came out in the year 2000 alone.

One candidate for consideration is The New City (2000)2 by Stephen Amidon. This book presents a 1970s version of a planned community that tries explicitly to incorporate racial difference (mostly, white and black) as well as socioeconomic difference. Amidon represents racial difference as an irrepressible force that intertwines with the main plot, which involves the lives of a black and a white family. Although the eutopian spirit definitely informs the narrative, the inhabitants often express criticism of their ← 183 | 184 → lives in the planned community, and many cracks surface in the social infrastructure of the city, thus compromising its eutopian status. Despite the community’s eutopian aspirations, the work ends in tragedy.

Sharon Shinn’s Heart of Gold (2000)3 shows a sustained treatment of racial difference in an imagined future society that is far from eutopian. The setting does seem futuristic, but there...

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