September 20, 2014 1 Comment
Eight Against Utopia is the first (I am reasonably certain) novel by Douglas R. Mason. It was published in 1967 under this title. A year prior, this novel was published under the title From Carthage Then I Came. The cover art for my 1970 edition is by Dean Ellis.
This is not a well-written novel. I mean this in several ways. At the most basic – it’s not always coherent. It is like an editor just hacked at it randomly – an editor who has not even read a chapter, but had some quota/word count and so he just chopped wherever. The story suffers for this. I do not need every detail written out for me, but there are times where I swear the pages must have stuck together and I missed something. Besides that, the dialogue is horrendous. Now, dialogue is one of the things I think are the most difficult to write. But the work here is awful. The few points where Mason attempts to use sarcasm or wit fall flat – because one actually thinks he might be serious. Sometimes his “humor” is actually offensive and inappropriate. Most of the dialogue is written as if it were a bold sketch suggestion for actors who would then ad lib at their own discretion – no one would actually speak like this.
This is a very misogynistic/chauvinistic piece. I grew up watching Archie Bunker and thinking hockey is the greatest sport on earth – so if the chauvinism is subtle and mild, I might miss it. No worries here with this novel – it is big as day and bright and flashing in neon. This is quite surprising because I did not expect this level. I would expect this in any of those pulp 1940s/1950s “men’s novels.” Sure, it’s common as water in those. But I had assumed in Mason’s science fiction, the misogyny would not be at that level. Surprise. And sure, we can say the novel is a bit dated (it’s not that old) and even so, a little chauvinism is a far cry from outright rude and barbaric thinking. Much of this comes into play in the story when the male characters – in the middle of risking their lives, completing dangerous physical exertions, being sleep deprived, being chased, or applying themselves to intense intellectual scenarios – have to pause every time a skirt walks in the room. And the “way” Mason describes these moments is just creepy and icky. I’ll be honest: at several points I would not have been surprised if suddenly Mason turned the storyline into some erotic fiction orgy. Thankfully, that did not happen. Whew.
Finally, in terms of terrible writing, the most interesting part of the story is the situation in Carthage (the domed false-utopia). But instead of developing this further, Mason’s storyline spends most of the book after the escape from the dome. So, then it becomes a survival story. A wilderness chase. And all of this is implausible and poorly written. I wish that Mason had stuck with events in Carthage. Having left Carthage, characters act like they have the physical and mental stamina of heroes of the Iliad. It’s just not thought out. And when Mason writes action scenes, it is sometimes difficult to imagine what is going on. Even The Executioner series of men’s adventure/pulp manages to make action clear. Mason fails spectacularly at all of these things.
It is a fast read, though. I read it quickly and it was still better than a few other terrible, horrible, awful novels I have been forced to read. (e.g. The Great Gatsby) Also, I like some of the original concept of the storyline. This is a copy of Big Brother in 1984, surely. But I do not mind reading about this topic. However, Mason has Big Brother (in this case, The President) somehow monitoring citizen’s emotions, vocal tones, inflections, and thoughts. Well, this is interesting. Or, it could be if it were fleshed out and developed and done by an author who actually understands anything about writing (including character development and dialogue). I actually really want to take this kernel of idea and hand it to any other capable author and see what they can do with this concept.
Also, I do not think Mason has a concept of how long 7,000 years is and how much can happen in such a long time. He needed to get with some historians and some sociologists et al. Some items in the story seem plausible, others not at all. 7,000 years is significant. Anyway, don’t bother reading this slog. It would only be good for those who have already read everything else and who can look past a whole lot of bad.