Eight Against Utopia by Douglas R. Mason
Paperback Library, 1967
Price I paid: none
For 7,000 years the domed city of Carthage has protected its citizens from the ice-covered world outside. But now Gaul Kalmar, a brilliant engineer, discovers that the entire planet is habitable. Tormented by the dehumanized tyranny of life in Carthage, he enlists the aid of seven other rebels in a desperate attempt to escape.
Not only are the group’s actions observed by the ever-present Monitors of Carthage, but even their innermost thoughts are recorded by the Secret Police. Yet they are ready to take any risk to win their freedom, even when Kalmar must announce: “The city has an anti-hostility screen. Nothing with a human heart can cross it!”
What delightful garbage I’ve been given! This book is another gift from Joachim Boaz. I regret that it took me this long to get to it, because I needed something to get me good and riled up. This one did the trick. It was so awful.
But at least the cover is great. I’ve said this before, but you can’t get much classier than bubble domes. They’re the great staple of classic science fiction. You can use them anywhere. Put one on Mars, Venus, the Moon, whatever, you’re protected from space. Put one underwater and you’ve got a city called “Neptune Seven” or whatever. Or, in the case of this book, you can throw down your bubble dome on good old planet Earth and use it to survive for seven thousand years.
Seven thousand! That’s a lot of years! It boggles the mind.
I don’t think the book ever tells us when the bubble domed city of Carthage was created. All we know is how long everybody was inside of it. It’s also never told what caused the city to come together in the first place. We’re told that the Earth was frozen for a long time, so I suppose it could have been an encroaching ice age, but it could have been a nuclear winter. Interestingly, the concept of nuclear winter has existed in science fiction circles since Poul Anderson and F.N. Waldrop wrote “Tomorrow’s Children” in 1947. Serious scientific consideration of the concept didn’t come around until the eighties.
Whatever the reason, there’s a bubble dome in this book. And there’s a dystopia inside. Or maybe a utopia, if you listen to the title of the book. Except that the title is, I guess, supposed to be ironic.
Worth noting is that the original title of this book was From Carthage Then I Came. How’s that title sound to you? A little bit clunky? Maybe pretentious? Well, that’s what almost everything else in this book sounds like, so it was an appropriate title.
I swear, the dialogue in this novel was some of the worst I’ve had the joy of dealing with. It was on one hand flat, dull, and spiritless and on the other clunky, overly complicated, and archaic. That’s when it wasn’t grossly offensive.
I’ll get to that later.
At the beginning we just meet some guy named Gaul Kalmar. He’s an engineer, and through his eyes we get to see how the futuristic bubble city of Carthage works. It seems to work well, actually. There’s free, clean energy for anyone who needs it. There’s no scarcity. Everybody has room to live and work and be generally happy all their lives. It’s pretty great, to be honest.
Except there’s no FREEDOM
Oh god the FREEDOM
This is the most vague problem to have. Don’t get me wrong, I like freedom. I’m for it. I’d argue that it’s one of the most important things.
But when a dystopian novel has nothing more to say than “We don’t have freedom,” that’s a problem. There’s nothing concrete about why these people are rebelling. (Kalmar recruits seven other people). Sure, things are rigidly controlled. People have jobs to do and they do them as per the Computer’s wishes. But that could be more than just “tyranny.” It might be “survival.”
I mean, come on, this bubble dome has protected people from the outside world and whatever was wrong with it for seven thousand years. That’s the kind of thing that requires people to do what needs to be done, and perhaps it takes a giant computer to figure all that out.
If there’s any real problem with this city, it’s that people are being mind-scanned at all times. The details on how this kind of mind-scanning works are a little fuzzy and actually kind of interesting. It’s not like some computer is constantly pulling out imagery from people’s brains. It’s more of a high-tech EEG that’s running at all times, looking for bursts of brain activity that might indicate some kind of problem. These problems aren’t necessarily things like “yearning for freedom,” but more along the lines of obsessions, addictions, intense emotions, and so forth. Basically this helps keep crazy people from running around in society too much.
And this crazy tyrannical government doesn’t even kill people that it finds unsuitable. There are therapies and treatments for people who have brain problems. Of course, the knee-jerk reaction to that (and that’s the reaction all the characters seem to have) is that people who deviate from the norm will have their brains wiped and replaced with something more amenable to the state. Maybe there’s some brainwashing or something. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Maybe the state just gives them some medication to help even out their moods. Maybe the state has a computer that teaches mindfulness meditation practices. We don’t know that it doesn’t. All we have to go on are the words of eight people who I’ve come to the conclusion are actually the villains of this novel.
I haven’t talked about the plot. That’s okay because there wasn’t much of one. The first half is the planning stage and running around trying not to get caught by the mind-scanning übercomputer. There were some neat bits there, mainly in watching Kalmar talk about plans while furiously trying to think of something else. We also meet the other Seven Against Utopia, and there’s a mechanic and a psychiatrist and some women.
Oh God, here we go.
So for the first half of the book I was mainly bored. Trying to figure out these characters’ motivations gave me a headache, and things tended to jump around so that it was hard to follow. But as the book reached the halfway point, right after the folks manage to escape, I found myself getting more interested. Not because the story got any better, oh no, but because it started to get patently offensive.
Six of the eight manage to escape. Kalmar and his ladyfriend, Jane, get left behind in the confusion. They meet up with a woman named Goda, so now it’s Nine Against Utopia.
Kalmar has a thing for Jane’s hair. And her body. It just goes on. She can’t be described without a passing reference to how attractive she is. And then we meet Goda and it’s the same thing. She’s very attractive, and that’s all. Kalmar muses occasionally on how nice it is to have two beautiful women with him, even if he doesn’t feel any “emotional” attachment to Goda.
Over with the other escapees, who managed to steal an old flying ambulance to make their getaway, things are worse. Much worse.
For one, there’s a traitor to the group. It turns out to be one of the women, Tania. She’s obviously very pretty. And that’s why she gets to stay. That’s the only reason. One of the guys, Shultz, has a huge boner for her, and so they don’t get rid of the person who nearly cost them all their lives. There’s a bit of dialogue between Schultz and one of the other guys (page 66):
“What’s the idea of bringing Mata Hari?”
“Reclamation job. She does something to me.”
“You can have her.”
No. That’s just…no. Don’t ever talk like that, in a book or in real life. Never mind the fact that this is a pretty good example of the stilted dialog that was in this entire book. It’s also [trigger warning] fantastically rapey.
Later we get a bit where Shultz and Tania have to share a bunk for some damn reason. As they drift off to sleep, Shultz casually reaches around and grabs her boob. She doesn’t react. Then we get this bit of exposition on page 95:
Only minutes separated them from sleep, but he carried into unconsciousness the responsive pressure of a firm nipple against the center of his palm. Whatever her mind said, her body was inclined to be a traitor.
No no no no NO
Oh my GOD no
Kalmar, Jane, and Goda finally meet up with the other six. They get into some adventures while looking for somewhere to live and evading capture from search parties from Carthage. Kalmar proves himself to be superman over and over again, and things are going generally well. For the men, at least.
The book uses the word “pneumatic” to describe a woman at least four times.
There’s this bit near the end where the group has to climb up a cliff face. They get caught by people from Carthage, who start shooting at them. In a last-minute confession, Tania tells Shultz that she was coming around to him, and then she gets vaporized. It is very sad. Shultz immediately just turns to Goda, the new girl, and is like “Oh, well. You wanna?”
I’m picking on Shultz because he was the worst offender, but Kalmar was pretty bad himself. He’s always going on about Jane’s hair. At one point he looks at Goda—I think this was right after they first met—and describes her as wearing clothes, but it was easy to imagine her not wearing clothes. Stay classy.
The women don’t much help. At one point after a traumatic experience they comfort themselves by putting on makeup.
The party finds an old bunker. There are skeletons inside and it looks to be from our own time, possibly. Everybody figures out how to make things work and there’s this scary bit where water comes rushing in for some reason. There’s a boat and it turns out that the boat has guns on it, so they just take it and head on out to the world. A Carthaginian search party finds them and gets blown up. Everybody is happy and they decide on where they’re going to go live. I think they decide on the west coast of England.
It basically ends there, but not without one further thing to get me really mad.
Jane starts thinking about how they’re going to survive. Everybody has specializations they brought along from Carthage, but in her mind it’s a relief that the women won’t have to make use of theirs. After all, they’ll be too busy cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. The men can handle the other stuff.
That’s right, these eight people fled paradise to found a new society based on TRADITIONAL GENDER ROLES
AIN’T IT GRAND
Holy cow this book was so stupid. It was so idiotically reactionary that I just can’t bring myself to find anything positive to say about it. Sure, there were some neat science fiction concepts, but they were presented to us as bad things because they inhibited FREEDOM and let WOMEN WORK and took away time from GROPING THEM
Everything the men said or did in this book was taken note for note from what a stereotypical militant feminist thinks that all men say and do. It was hilarious. These men were animals and they were presented as the heroes. The women were ornamentation. Even the one that was a straight-up traitor to the entire operation was relegated to a “slim figure” and a “perfect oval face” and “shiny black hair.” And of course the traitor was going to be a woman. After all, aren’t they fickle or something? Is that what the take-away was there?
Anybody who likes this book is a bad person.
There isn’t much I can say about this novel that I would consider positive. The best I can come up with was a bit where Galmar describes how certain people start to snap under the pressure of being constantly mind-scanned, so it turns out that one bit of therapy for that is a room where the mind-scans are blocked and the person can think freely for a couple of minutes. This is apparently quite cathartic. That’s neat on its own, but I also liked that once or twice the group rented out one of those rooms for a few minutes to make their plans. Not only did that give them a little freedom to think, it also convinced anybody on the fence how nice it will be once they get out of this city and feel like this all the time.
So there, that’s one good idea. That’s the best I can do. I don’t want to give this book any more credit. It might even deserve some, but you’re not going to get it from me.
8 thoughts on “Eight Against Utopia”
When I watch Forbidden Planet I have to grit my teeth during several scenes. I have a love/hate relationship with the movie. I admire Anne Francis’ ability to move, run, etc. without once exposing herself, love Walter Pidgeon and Robby the Robot. I cringe at the smarmy navigator who woos Altira by warning her against his captain and the doctor but protests that he should not be considered harmless. The captain obviously a much nobler type ‘rescues’ Altira from the navigator but becomes angry at her seeming obliviousness to her effect on his healthy, sex starved crew. He should have left her to the navigator’s crude lovemaking. Who knows what might have happened if he, the captain, had not come along. There is an underlying assumption that men are dangerous to women and a woman needs to choose a man who can protect her from other men. There are a lot of silly, awkward, 50’s style, adolescent assumptions salted all through the movie but it is the threat of sexual violence that creeps me out. I watched The Angry Red Planet the other day which was much more hokey and embarrassing and filled with ‘the little woman’s role’ tidbits than Forbidden Planet but no trace of that undercurrent of men being always on the verge of rape unless the woman finds ways through behavior or by choosing a protector to ward off the attack. Many of the older movies expose behaviors acceptable then at least by the mainstream culture that are not condoned in our art today. It may be a somewhat superficial change but it’s a start. Enjoyed your review of the book. Now I won’t have to read it.
Glad it did the trick. I think the only good thing about the novel was the cover! The Carthage reference escapes me as well…. If Carthage survived underground post-Punic wars or something? who knows.
Best I can figure on the Carthage reference is that Augustine had a line in Confessions that went “TO Carthage then I came…” T.S. Eliot reused the line in The Waste Lands.
This info comes from my roommate. I’m not sure of Eliot’s context, which is probably what Mason was referencing, but Augustine treats Carthage as a den of sin.
but that would work as well, they are fleeing the corrupt/sinful city….
This book was also released in the UK as “To Carthage Then I Came”
Douglas R Mason also wrote as John Rankine. I own all of his books, which took quite some doing. I firmly believe he is the worst published author I have ever read, by a long shot. The first three paragraphs of The Janus Syndrome, as by Mason, are, I am certain, the worst three paragraphs written by anyone, ever. In case you doubt:
“Rated top for hominids, point of origin Earth planet, might well be work, food and love.
Brant, lifting a metre square cladding sheet in the sweat of his brow to the skeleton frame of his gazebo, reckoned he was short weighted on items two to three inc.
In a good mood for maxims, he gave himself another. Work is a great therapy. This one lost out. He said, “To Hell,” and dropped the whippy square to fall on the inside, to a purple carpet of thunder berry and leaned out on his safety belt.”
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Holy wow, it’s like my brain knows that those paragraphs are in a language it knows, and that only makes them more frustrating to stare at.
Yup. I’ve treasured those paragraphs for years. It is terrifying that he was a school headmaster for something like 40 years.