Book Review: “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach

Cover of "Ecotopia" by Ernest Callenbach.
Cover of “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach.

I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“Ecotopia was founded when northern California, Oregon, and Washington seceded from the Union to create a “stable-state” ecosystem: the perfect balance between human beings and the environment. Now, twenty years later, this isolated, mysterious nation is welcoming its first officially sanctioned American visitor: New York Times-Post reporter Will Weston.

Skeptical yet curious about this green new world, Weston is determined to report his findings objectively. But from the start, he’s alternately impressed and unsettled by the laws governing Ecotopia’s earth-friendly agenda: energy-efficient “mini-cities” to eliminate urban sprawl, zero-tolerance pollution control, tree worship, ritual war games, and a woman-dominated government that has instituted such peaceful revolutions as the twenty-hour workweek and employee ownership of farms and businesses. His old beliefs challenged, his cynicism replaced by hope, Weston meets a sexually forthright Ecotopian woman and undertakes a relationship whose intensity will lead him to a critical choice between two worlds.”

I don’t know how else to put this, so I just need to tell it to you (or write it to you, in this case) straight: If you’re looking for a book with character development or a complex yet interesting plot, do not read this book. However, if you’re looking for a book on really interesting worldbuilding, however, read this book, because this is the book’s strongest element overall. I feel like this book was made primarily to flesh out worldbuilding, but not much else. The plot is extremely simple and it goes like this:

  1. Weston goes to Ecotopia to write a report on it for the New York Times.
  2. He gets into a relationship with Marissa, one of the Ecotopians.
  3. He ends up getting engrossed with her and Ecotopia to the point of staying there at the end and acting as its interpreter for the rest of the world.

This was, predictably from this summary, quite boring to read in terms of plot and character development. There isn’t a lot of chemistry between Marissa and Weston, despite how much Weston writes about how much he likes her in his diary entries, and there isn’t a lot of individual development for any of the characters, either.

Though I dislike the lack of interesting plotlines and lack of character development, I found that the worldbuilding of the book does give one ideas of how a more environmentally friendly world might look like. News about how climate change, pollution, and other environmental issues are affecting our world are quite commonplace, and though this book may be outdated on some elements (this book was written in the 1970s), it’s worth taking a look at for ideas as of what an environmental utopia could potentially look like. Granted, this worldbuilding is not a complete utopia, as there is a darker side to it in the book that I won’t spoil here, but the book does present this as an interesting concept to think about.

Overall, I rate this book 1.5 out of 5 stars due to the good worldbuilding that is established in this book.

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