You may recall David Nickle's essay about the inseparable nature of HP Lovecraft's support for eugenics and his horror. It made an excellent intellectual argument, but that's nothing to the emotional punch of the novel inspired by the subject, 2011's Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism.
Doctor Andrew Waggoner — a Paris-educated Black American doctor — is hospitalized by Klansman in the utopian settlement of Eliada, Idaho, where he soon encounters Jason Thistledown, the sole survivor of a plague that wiped out the town of Cracked Wheel, Montana. The two of them become unlikely allies in uncovering the mystery of "Mr Juke," a strange creature housed in the hospital's enormous quarantine.
Mr Juke is a monster, of an ancient race of parasites whose offspring incubate in the wombs of human women, and who are able to inspire religious ecstasy in the people who serve them. Mr Juke and his kind might have lived undiscovered in the back country, in grotesque symbiosis with the hill people, if not for Eliada's eugenics project, through which hill people are systematically catalogued and sterilized "to improve the race."
The biology of the monsters is handled beautifully, and may call to mind the books of Peter Watts, such as Blindsight and its recent sequel, Echopraxia — no coincidence, as the two workshop together in Toronto's Cecil Street group.
It's a story of piano-wire suspense, grotesque horrors, and, above all, visceral insight into the race politics of American horror, and how they are bound up with the American project itself, the many groups who set out to carve themselves utopias in the "endless" wilderness of the frontier, treating it all as terra nullus and the other humans — especially poor, indigenous and black people — as inconveniences to be despatched.
This is a story with many different villains, all of whom seem to be on the same side, but each of whom is eventually revealed to be playing their own game. What seems like a unified ideological front at first is revealed as a marriage of convenience or an emergent property. This complex story of how unthinkable evil can arise from so many disparate incentives is one of the best of the many truths in this book.
Nickle is a versatile writer — from the Christmas horror story he wrote with Karl Schroeder to his Rob Ford knife-fight story to his masterful take on ghost stories. But Eutopia shines even in this company.
Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism [David Nickle/Chizine]