Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism
Just the Facts: by David Nickle. 259 p. Published April 2011 by ChiZine Publishers. Advanced review copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.
Who Cares? Adult Historical Science Fiction (What the heck? Yeah, I’ll explain below)
Short Bio: (from ChiZine Publishers) The year is 1911.
In Cold Spring Harbour, New York, the newly formed Eugenics Records Office is sending its agents to catalogue the infirm, the insane, and the criminal—with an eye to a cull, for the betterment of all.
Near Cracked Wheel, Montana, a terrible illness leaves Jason Thistledown an orphan, stranded in his dead mother’s cabin until the spring thaw shows him the true meaning of devastation—and the barest thread of hope.
At the edge of the utopian mill town of Eliada, Idaho, Doctor Andrew Waggoner faces a Klansman’s noose and glimpses wonder in the twisting face of the patient known only as Mister Juke.
And deep in a mountain lake overlooking that town, something stirs, and thinks, in its way:
Things are looking up.
Eutopia follows Jason and Andrew as together and alone, they delve into the secrets of Eliada—industrialist Garrison Harper’s attempt to incubate a perfect community on the edge of the dark woods and mountains of northern Idaho. What they find reveals the true, terrible cost of perfection—the cruelty of the surgeon’s knife—the folly of the cull—and a monstrous pact with beings that use perfection as a weapon, and faith as a trap.
Eyewitness Account: So, ChiZine is a new publisher for me and I’ve just read two of their galleys this weekend (look for a Napier’s Bones review soon). They are admittedly a publisher of “weird, subtle, surreal, disturbing dark fiction and fantasy” and Eutopia certainly fits that bill. I don’t know if it was the cover, the title, or the blurb, but I had expected this book to be a futuristic dystopian novel – and was instead plopped down in a historical novel with some bizarre sci-fi/fantasy twists.
The plot jumps between two main protagonists – Jason Thistledown, the sole survivor of a plague in his small Montana town, and Andrew Waggoner, a black doctor invited to work in a logging town in Idaho. Both are confronted with the plans of others to make a “perfect” society – through Eugenics (“culling” out the weak in society, which means killing or sterilizing them) and through the creation of a “Garden of Eden” in the isolation of Idaho. The two men soon find that they are entangled in more than just the cruel working of man when encounter Mister Juke, who doesn’t seem to be quite human and proves that he can manipulate the minds and wills of the local hillbillies.
Perhaps it was the dichotomy between my preconceptions and the reality of the novel that made me confused for the first half of the book, but it took me a while to really get into the plot. However, the wait was worth it – the second half of the book really picks up some plot momentum and has a fairly smashing conclusion. The novel deals with a wide range of topics, from racism and the Eugenics movements to faith and the quest for perfection. Nickle’s main characters – Jason Thistledown, Aunt Germaine, Andrew Waggoner, and Mister Juke – were the best part of the novel, as each one is very distinctly and uniquely drawn (no mixing up characters in this novel!). Nickle gets two thumbs up for originality, as I’m fairly certain there isn’t another story like this – you might find yourself turning the pages of Eutopia just so you can see how he pulls all these diverse plot threads together.
I would like to caveat this book by saying its gets an N-17 rating from me; there are some graphic scenes that, while not necessarily containing violence, are slightly disturbing. This is certainly a book to try if you like the Twilight Zone or somewhat twisted/strange stories.
“Did any of them ever mark the day, he wondered, when they fell from reason into madness?
And then he wondered: Did I?”
Other Books Read by This Author: None.
★★★☆☆ Plot Development
★★★☆☆ Writing Style
★★★★☆ Original Idea
★★★☆☆ Page Turner