Rating: 4 out of 5
Rudolfo A. Serna’s novel Snow Over Utopia is… umm. Well, I’m having a little difficulty with this review so please bear with me. It’s surreal. Kind of psychedelic, really. And I wasn’t always entirely sure what was going on, or where/when things were in relation to each other. (That’s what dropped it from a 5 to a 4: I don’t really enjoy being confused all the time while reading.)
There’s a town in which slaves with dark hair and dark skin work at pulling ore from a mine. People in this town don’t have names; they’re known by their occupation. A girl gets noticed for her unusual blue eyes. You see, there’s a religion used to help keep the slaves in line, and one of the tenets of that religion is that a figure called “the Juggernaut” used to have blue eyes, and any miner who finds those eyes is guaranteed a happy afterlife (I think). It helps to keep the miners working, always hoping to make that find. When someone takes those blue eyes from the girl, she’s helped by an old woman who lives alone–except for the nearly-dead folks she “resurrects” to serve her. She names the girl Eden, and sends the girl, together with a man called Miner who escaped the town, on a trip to Utopia. There, supposedly someone will be able to restore her sight.
This is definitely sci-fi rather than some sort of historical or alternate fantasy world, despite how the above sounds. There are nanomachines, mutated people who run the town from behind the scenes, psychic transmissions, an Earth Machine with a Witch Mother program running on it, a Robot Queen, genetically altered humans, a futuristic Utopia filled with nearly-identical blond-haired blue-eyed people programmed to be happy, a terrible slave town where people are kept constantly drugged into submission… It’s quite wild. They’re really two ends of a continuum of slavery. One that’s supposedly for the betterment of the overlords in charge, and one that’s supposedly for the betterment of the population. There are purple fumes, yellow potions, and pink flowers that get turned into yet more drugs.
The characters are, uh… hard to really get a handle on. Miner and Eden are the most complete, although a friend Eden makes along the journey (Delilah) and that girl’s father (the Librarian) have some interesting depth. There are “free-range humans” still living on the planet. A group of hunters have genetic alterations. Some descended from gangs use significant body modifications and try to kill the hunters. The Robot Queen seems like she’s going to be the standard fascistic ruler (of Utopia) with the usual accoutrements, but develops into something more than that.
There were definitely times when the book surprised me. At one point I remember going, “wait, what?” and going back a page to make sure what I thought had happened had really happened.
I just wish the story had been less confusing. I always felt like I needed more context, or more specificity, or… more something. I enjoyed what I read, but I wanted to understand it better.
Minor content note for a little bit of sexual content, violence, and cannibalism. I think.