OK, I’m not really sure where to start with this. Eutopia by David Nickel* is genuinely one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read (in a good way). Thematically it’s about eugenics and creating a super race, but writing that out doesn’t at all capture the story in which those themes are explored. Because this story is just freaking crazy.
In 1911, Jason Thistledown’s life is turned upside down when his hometown of Cracked Wheel, Montana is decimated by a nameless plague. Because it’s winter, he has to keep his dead mother’s body in their barn until the ground thaws, and he is unaware that he is the only survivor. Strangely, just as Spring comes, he is visited by an aunt he never knew existed. She rescues him, and takes him to Eliada, Idaho where she has been sent to catalogue the inhabitants of that town for the newly formed Eugenics Records Office.
Aunt Germaine keeps a file on all the sick, crazy and disabled people she finds as she travels across the US. She claims the government is interested in knowing more about what kinds of people are living out West. Once she and Jason arrive in Eliada it becomes clear that her mission is slightly different than what she claims.
It turns out the entire town of Eliada is part of a eugenics experiment and Aunt Germaine and one of the local doctors are in cahoots to develop a race of extra-human hybrids by selectively breeding the townspeople with a parasitic species called Jukes. The Jukes gestate in human bodies, and their preferred host is a pregnant woman. It’s exactly as horrific as you might imagine.
Nickel plays out the plot well, with a coterie of characters who range from sweet and innocent, to vile and repugnant. He plays with the ideas of super-human perfection, religious euphoria and racist ideologies in unexpected ways, some of which admittedly made me a bit uncomfortable to read, but that’s probably exactly what he intended. Some of the white characters use the *N-word,* so be prepared.
There is a second book in the series, Volk, which further explores these themes in the context of Germany in the early1930s, which makes perfect sense. As the first in a series, Eutopia sets up an interesting exploration of early twentieth century eugenics, combined with a deeply terrifying family of backwoods degenerates, a deadly plague from Africa, and the wraithlike race of Jukes which seem to be impossible to destroy. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes reading fantasy/horror.
*David Nickel gifted me a signed paperback copy of Eutopia.
For cbr10bingo I’m tagging this one “And So It Begins”