The Youtopia Game


My first and only novel was written in order to enter it into a contest. The Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award was looking for novels that “create positive solutions to global problems.” This invitation seemed exactly designed for me as an environmental activist and practical utopian. In addition to the largest literary prize ever awarded (a cool half million), the winning book would be both published and turned into a feature film.

Characters and plot arose spontaneously, and I wrote furiously for 6 months. The result was The Youtopia Game, a semi-utopia of the near future, based on an alternate history of the recent past. The main character, an anthropology professor at a small Iowa college, originates a ‘game’ that is actually a universal vote on what all the people of the world really want. He is somewhat of a trickster hero, nicknamed Coyote, and has three different love interests in the course of the story.

Literary critic Joseph Meeker in The Comedy of Survival  maintains that the comic mode, especially the picaresque novel, is more adaptive than the tragic mode. Influenced by Meeker, I wrote the story as a literary comedy, with a touch of magical realism.

About 2,500 novels were submitted and judged by a celebrity panel that included noted authors such as Ray Bradbury and Nadine Gordimer. Long story short, The Youtopia Game did not win. Instead, the winning book consisted of dialogue between a man and a great ape—Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Since the winning book was barely a novel, and virtually un-filmable, I felt somewhat misled. Eventually I self-published TYG in 1993.

The Youtopia Game might be characterized as an interesting failure, that may still contain useful ideas. I still have some scores of the novel in new condition, and will send them, postpaid in the U.S., for $6.95 via PayPal.