prodigy: "Blondie" from Leone's Old West trilogy accompanied by Pikachu. (I used to live alone before I knew you)
the late, or rather, later Henrik Egerman ([personal profile] prodigy) wrote2011-06-06 10:46 am
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David Nickle, Eutopia

Wow. Okay. So did you know that you wanted to read a piece of historical science fiction/horror set in 1911 about eugenics and racism and religion narrated by a sheltered but perceptive white teen orphan and a snarky and resourceful black doctor? That is, did you know that you wanted to read a Lovecraft pastiche, except without the racism and floridity and with critical acknowledgment of said racism and entertaining writing? I think I sort of did, but not nearly as much as I discovered I actually did once I started reading Eutopia. This book was amazing. I actually read it all in a day/night, and didn't even mean to.

We actually stumbled on it in the Cherry Hill Barnes & Noble, or [personal profile] relia did anyway -- she picked out a cover that featured a black-and-white photograph of a girl in a white dress, except that just the girl's eyes had been replaced with some kind of shiny glossy cover-paper: causing them to glint soullessly off the image. It's hard to describe and it doesn't come through on Amazon. It is the creepiest effect.

I love horror, but I better love horror that fixes the usual problems of horror: the lack of humanizing factors, the lack of humor and entertainingness, dislikeable narrators, internalized racism in characters and setup, narm, boringness, all that good stuff. Eutopia was none of that! It was gripping from the get-go and I loved both of the narrators: Andrew Waggoner, the doctor in over his head in the creepy model eugenics town of Eliada, and Jason Thistledown, the plague orphan picked up by a woman claiming to be his long-lost aunt and taken to the same place. Jason's story was faster-moving at first, but I had a particular fondness for Andrew: he might have been a civilian, but he was one hell of a civilian and it was hard not to root for him and his intelligence and adaptability and attitude the whole time. I didn't get bored with Jason chapters, though: he got a lot of character development and I thought he was well-done as a fairly uneducated, naive boy who was nevertheless smart and brave and grew up a great deal over the story. But Andrew! Andrew Andrew Andrew. I would read another book about Andrew.

The horror story was well-handled and I can say it didn't suffer from Moffatism or "I'm too important to explain what actually is going on by the end, it's deep!" I followed it, it was duly creepy and disturbing, and moreover stuff was happening and fast from the beginning rather than the usual horror formula of "sixty minutes of nothing, thirty minutes of people dying." It was very Lovecraft, all of it, the small-towniness and creepy rural populace and stuff, but it actually did a good job of not founding it on classist or xenophobic grounds -- hard to explain how without spoiling, but it doesn't posit that backwater people are inherently evil or stupid or fanatical, I'll just say. It also reminded me a bit of both Bioshock and the IF game Anchorhead, but in a good way. There was a definite Andrew Ryan character.

It's hard to speak of what other characters I liked or didn't like, or plot elements, without being spoilery to some degree. The nature of the story was such that pretty much all characters aside from Andrew and Jason had ambiguous loyalties and morality, but there were good reasons for that. Only one or two of the characters gave me pause as to their overall handling, though, and even then I'm not sure that wasn't intentional.

The main warnings I would give this book are all number of trigger warnings: graphic violence, sexual assault, abuse, racism, classism, xenophobia, genocide, slavery, all that pretty stuff tucked under the rug of American history. It's all taken dead seriously, and is a bit uncomfortable on whole -- I wouldn't suggest reading if you have strong triggers on any of these things -- but if you can stomach I think the subject matter is worth it. Also worth mentioning is that while there are a host of important female characters, the two primary characters are by far the most relateable in the story, a consequence of which being that none of the women are quite as relateable as Andrew and Jason; this is true of the secondary male cast too, though, so I didn't have a problem with it. Your mileage may vary.

Now I'm gonna go and put that book cover face down.

Turning the cover face down

[identity profile] jack-yoniga.livejournal.com 2011-06-29 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the great review of EUTOPIA (I'm the Co-Publisher of ChiZine Publications). If you'd like another Dave Nickle book that you'll want to turn face down, try his short story collection, MONSTROUS AFFECTIONS:

http://chizinepub.com/books/monstrous-affections.php

Enjoy, and thanks so much for the support!

Brett
http://chizinepub.com