Trample an Empire Down, by Mack Reynolds

trample-an-empire-down-by-mack-reynolds coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company
Published: 1978
Reviewer Rating: one and a half stars
Book Review by David Hart

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This is a absolutely amazing book. I know this because I have just finished reading it, and I’m absolutely amazed. Amazed that a respected SF author would write it. Amazed that it was published in 1978. Amazed that it was published.

Let me first describe the plot: it won’t take long. The future has brought Tri-Di, Hover cars, and the Guaranteed Annual Income. Most jobs have been automated, so most of the population have nothing to do. (Do you get the feeling you’ve read this before?) The three protagonists, educated and bored, get the idea of starting their own political party, subtly named the Subversive Party, both to make themselves some money and to change the world. Though supposedly revolutionary, it is actually legal because it’s all talk and no action, with only a vague plan even to contest the next election. It nevertheless quickly becomes infiltrated by the “FBI”, to the extent that by the end almost all FBI agents are party members, attempt a coup which fails, whereupon the story abruptly ends without any resolution.

So far, so bad. But now let me share with you the Subversive Party manifesto. It starts with banning advertising and planned obsolescence, and returning Texas to Mexico. Fair enough. But then the book then proposes legalizing any sexual perversion including pederasty, encouraging euthanasia at 60, and “send a firing squad to every insane asylum, hospital for incurables and old people’s home and mercifully execute them and about 85% of the guards, nurses and officials in charge”!

I mentioned earlier that the book was published in 1978. Well it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The writing style reeks of the 1950s, with 3D television, 2D plotting and 1D characters. It took me 90 minutes to read, just like a novel used to. Though real expletives are used later in the book, at first it can only manage quaint substitutes like “Holy Jumping Zoroaster!” (I’m not making this up, I promise). There are more anachronisms, too. Women’s Lib and sexual freedom are presented as gee-whiz novelties along with the hover cars; this in 1978, when the Permissive Society was on its second generation. Also the use of certain words for homosexuals, without apparent irony or condemnation, suggests the 1950s or earlier. So I Googled it, expecting to find it was a reprint of a much earlier work. No, not that I could find; the few references were to 1978.

So what is going on? I can think of two plausible explanations. The first is that the book might indeed have been written in 1950 and offered to 37 publishers, all of whom returned it with a note saying “You cannot be serious!”. So we can imagine the manuscript being retired to the bottom drawer, only to be unhappily rediscovered 25 years later and resubmitted. This time perhaps an editor was desperate and said “Yes, tart it up a bit but I need the final draft by tomorrow”. So in went the adult swear words and a reference to Watergate, and the rest is (future) history.

Well maybe, but this doesn’t explain the gross lapse of good taste by all concerned. I prefer the second possibility, which is that this is actual intended to be a parody, perhaps even a self-parody. There is no hint of this in the blurb or elsewhere, but it explains the exaggerated tastelessness, the anachronisms, and the slight air of whimsy in the writing. Also, remember euthanasia at 60? In 1978, Reynolds would have been 60 or 61. Furthermore, it is surely the only possible explanation for the cameo appearance late in the book of a caricature Nazi, complete with hyperexaggerated German accent, come to offer the loan of torture equipment for use in the revolution!

So how do I assess the book as a spoof? It excuses the bad writing, bad taste, bad plot and bad ending, but it doesn’t make reading the thing any more pleasurable. Mind you, I got the chance to exercise my brain to come up with the above explanations, and the enjoyment of composing this snotty review. I am also glad to report that I got the book for only 75c secondhand, and it is worth every other cent. So I’ve scored it as a parody. If you do not believe the parody hypothesis, please deduct 1.25 stars. Either way, don’t buy it.

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