(Dean Ellis’ cover for the 1970 edition)
Eight Against Utopia (1966) is the second escape from a domed city novel published by Paperback Library I’ve read — the first, Rena Vale’s Beyond the Sealed World (1965) was a truly dismal “adventure.” Mason’s take on the theme is only marginally better. The first half, life and escape from the domed city of Carthage, is more intriguing and engaging than the second half, an endless unexciting chase sequence along the coast of North Africa. Mason’s novel is painfully flawed in its social theory and mechanics of delivery. Even on the level of a future adventure tale, most of Eight Against Utopia fails to conjure a modicum of excitement and wonder.
Brief Plot Summary
Gaul Kalmar, a brilliant engineer, discovers a passage to the roof of Carthage, a massive domed city built 7,000 years before on the ruins of historic Carthage in Tunisia. From the observation deck he discovers that the world is not covered with ice as the rhetoric of the state, ruled by the first President (his brain is connected to the city’s mainframe), proclaims. Carthage maintains control over its citizens by monitoring brainwaves. When anyone is emotionally riled up due to seditious thoughts, the police swoop in.
Gaul approaches a few of his friends, including Tania Clermont a state psychiatrist whose treatment rooms are safe proof from the peering brain monitoring waves, and decides they need to escape from the city. The reasons for escape, instead of changing the society which has raised them, are rather nebulous. Yes, the official rhetoric is all lies, yes human individuality is curtailed, but the choice to escape instead of instigating a revolution isn’t clear.
Final Thoughts/Analysis (*spoilers*)
“Children in Carthage had been cared for by the city; only allowed home when they were house-trained, biddable, on the way to their limited selfhood. Here, there would be everything to do. She and the other women would be no longer primarily have a professional niche. They would be back at the hearth and skillet, with all the old traditional roles to fill” (158).
Douglas Mason — along with other writers who depict escapes from highly regimented societies — tend to condemn all facets of the state including progressive elements such as careers for women and endorse a return to power structures of traditionalist societies. His heroes do not change society, they escape from society. His heroes do not want to return and help their fellow man throw off the shackles, but claim they are too far gone (or, barely think about it at all). The above quote is a perfect example: the escapees from Carthage all agree that it will be best for their new colony to have carefully delineated gender roles based on age-old paradigms that are according to Mason, inherently “natural.”
With this in mind, our heroes are the most regressive and traditionalist progressives possible. Likewise, they have little real reason to abandon entirely a city in which they were born and raised and nurtured (it did save them from an ice age) their fellow man for 7,000 years. They are “repressed” but personally experienced nothing more than when they had been born and first realized they were being monitored. Supposedly they have all been model citizens until suddenly deciding that their freedom have been curtailed. How exactly they would know what freedom IS isn’t all together clear. One would suspect a plan to uncover the government’s lies instead of running away would be a more logical course of action.
Also, due to Mason’s state which monitors all minds, he is forced to make the most stilted, artificial dialogue possible so Gaul’s plan isn’t uncovered. This would make sense if Mason was actually proficient with dialogue — but when our heroes have escaped, the dialogue remains little changed! There are a plethora of other character related problems. Our male characters do manly things and fantasize about the women every few paragraphs and hope that they aren’t intellectuals (I’m not kidding!). Our female characters in times of stress calm down by putting on makeup, and suspiciously, the one traitor is a career woman! But of course, Mason eventually makes her redeemable due to her beauty.
Carthage is clearly meant to be a repressive (and simultaneously progressive in parts) embodiment of a future extrapolated from the Soviet State. Our heroes’ nebulous drive for individualism combined with a return to traditionalist gender roles and life in the wilds of the now mostly rural world smacks of American anti-Communist propaganda at its worst.
(At least both Jack Gaughan and Dean Ellis’ covers are masterful).
(Jack Gaughan’s cover for the 1967 edition)
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