I liked Walkaway. I am so tired of dystopias, and it seems like 99.5% of the sci-fi genre is dystopian. Even the utopian sci-fi's focus on a tiny island of utopia surrounded by a dystopian sea (eg. The Dispossessed and The Fifth Sacred Thing). If people can recommend more utopian books, please do.
Yes there were aspects to the writing style of Walkaway that were kind of annoying. I only vaguely remember the plot. It wasn't that important. I remember the ideas. None of which were totally new to me, but the scope of application was. Like how automated manufacturing could change fundamental aspects of society (like the obsession with ownership and property). And the likely role of abject violence in the coming revolution, even the utopian pick-a-path version.
For me, another really key thing were the characters, or rather the personas. As someone who's been living in a sort of Walkway-esque bubble within our current reality for quite some time (housing co-ops, Burning Man, livelihood through anarchist hacker networks) I recognised so many "types" that I've encountered in real life. I haven't read another book so obviously written by someone who lives and works in environments similar enough to me that they can peg the stereotypes so accurately, and play them up for dramatic effect. Like the contrast between the woman leader who actually builds shit and the leaderboard dude who does not get it at all (sorry, I forget everyone's names). Classic. Most people who write about these kinds of social dynamics have no lived experience of them, so they get it wrong, but not Walkaway.
Interesting that you mention the sexual liberation aspect as odd or over the top. I'm not a fan of sexual gratuity in books, generally. Yet, I see the sex and gender realm as where many experience the dystopian aspects of our current reality most often and most personally, so it makes sense that it would be a key area you'd contrast a utopian alternative. Like, what would your daily life, preferences, and relationships be like free from capitalist and patriarchal oppression? Sex and gender are right up front. How I remember that showing up in Walkaway is when the story treats things like they aren't a big deal, as opposed to going over the top. Like when one of the main characters gets together with a transgender person and it's just, like, not a thing, like the most normal thing in the world, barely even mentioned. That's utopian.
@Daan (the other one) You make some very salient points. It's been a while since I read Walkaway, but what I remember liking about the book was the social commentary. I think Doctorow used fiction to make a critique of modern capitalism that, had he done it in a nonfiction form, would have come across as an angry rant.
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