The “Novel Where You are the Hero”

One idea for popularizing the content of 'Ecotopia and the Roads Thereto' was a “novel-where-you-are-the-hero,” a genre of juvenile literature where the reader imagines her/himself a detective, an explorer or a spy and has various adventures. These novels give the reader-hero choices at the end of each little chapter, for example “Enter the Black Cave” or “Climb over the Iron Mountain.” If the reader makes the wrong choice, s/he’s captured by cannibals. If s/he makes the right choice, s/he gets to go on until the next turning point, the next choice, and so on. The artists and writers in my dream imaginatively transformed the adventures of “Roads to Utopia” into “novels-where-you-are-the-hero.” They divided the scenarios into short chapters, at the end of which the reader has to make a choice. Here are some examples I remember:
  • Should the people of Numania, an African country: a) make an alliance with religious parties in order to overthrow the dictatorship of a general in the service of a big foreign oil company? b) Appeal to the United States to intervene? c) Organise themselves into a coalition of unions, ecologists and fighters for the rights of women and children? c) use terrorism?

  • Should workers in Freedonia, an industrialized country facing competition from cheap foreign labor: a) accept wage cuts to safeguard their jobs? b) Seek a union contract advantageous to their particular group? c) Reach out to workers in other countries? d) Lobby for the restriction of imports?

  • Should revolutionaries in San Cristobal, an impoverished Latin-American republic: a) form a vangard party? b) go off into the mountains as guerrillas? c) infiltrate the Social-Democratic Party? d) call for the formation of a workers party? (e) organise popular assemblies and try to federalize them?

The ensuing chapters reveal the consequences of each of these choices. In one alternative, the movement is led astray, outmaneuvered, coopted and finishes in a dead end. In other words our young explorers get eaten by capitalist cannibals. In the other the movement takes a forward step on the road to a possibleUtopia. Succeeding chapters in the story offer new alternatives: From general strike to insurrection? With which allies? How to respond to the violence of right-wing militias?

These little illustrated stories were amusing and instructive. Later they became more widely disseminated via DVD’s, CDRoms, and Internet sites, with more choices and richer graphics. They had a certain success, were translated into several languages, and were even sold in pirated editions made in Asia (which their anti-capitalist “owners” found rather amusing).