Contemplate the role that religion and beliefs play in creating pre-historical societies–and their reverberations in cultural norms and traditions throughout history–and then imagine what that might look like centuries after an apocalypse where any remaining science and technology, poorly understood by survivors in a brutal world, would become magical, worshipped, and abused by the corrupted code of artificial intelligences that have become deities, and you will just scratch the surface of Rudolfo A. Serna’s novel.
Snow over Utopia, a short, ambitious novel, is like any religion, beautiful and tragic, at times disgusting, served better through blind devotion than sight, and completely misunderstood by those who wield its power. On acid. (And for some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking of Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist.)
The novel follows a young girl, Eden, with the rare and highly sought after trait of blue eyes. When her maniacal captors remove her eyes, she escapes with her eyes in a jar along with Miner, a murderer, and travels to Utopia, where nothing is as perfect as it seems. Told in dramatic, sweeping scenes that cover centuries in paragraphs through at times fragmented language that limit perception, mimicking Eden’s blindness, this challenging novel is completely unforgettable, using a narrative distance that allows it to leap through history, to convey centuries of slippery cultural change in paragraphs, and sewing endless riddles and insight along the way to its stunning resolution.
Each society that Eden and Miner encounter are formed on different beliefs. We learn how biker gangs began to worship the devil sewn on their leather jackets, over centuries modifying their bodies with green tattoos and horns, wearing the skin of human brethren like the leather of their ancestors. How mutantoid priests try to reconnect with humans in space (or perhaps aliens) and change the recurring messages into messianic prophecy, how the Robot Queen continuously clones and enslaves humans to mine the ore to power Utopia, that no one cares about philosophy. Most of all, we learn over and over how humans “want to believe”.
Humans are hardwired to believe in something greater than themselves and Serna goes to great lengths to prove that, in the right circumstances, that can be anything; an ancient Jaguar, a man crucified, or Santa Claus. In the wrong hands–or perhaps any hands–that belief is a mechanism of control that can warp societies and minds in terrifying, unbelievable ways.
Society’s progress rides on the backs of ordinary people made to believe they choose to follow the rules.
I will never forget this novel. It’s not for the faint of heart or those looking for a beach read. This is the kind of novel that can be confused with prophecy, because its conclusions, despite being at times hard to comprehend, are clearly the prizes of deep meditation on just what a post-apocalyptic society with vestiges of technology might become. There’s a deeply profound and disturbing truth at the heart of this novel and you will hear the echo of its beat long after the final pages.
Snow Over Utopia is a must-read for fans of apocalyptic fiction, dark fantasy, or sci-fi.
Categories: Book Reviews