Trample an Empire Down
Written by: Mack Reynolds
Reviewed by: Rob Leicht
Genre: Science Fiction
I first discovered Mack Reynolds about six years ago while browsing the sci-fi/fantasy section at a local used bookstore. Reynolds (1917-1983) was a writer of science fiction and was most popular in the 1950s and 60s. Starting in the mid 70s his works began to decline in popularity until Reynolds fell of the map completely. This helps explain why neither I nor any of my science fiction reading comrades had heard of him until that point. After reading the back covers of a few paperbacks, it was soon apparent that Reynolds commonly wrote about alternative socioeconomic systems, futuristic utopias, and revolutions, within a traditional science fiction framework that included alien encounters, intergalactic adventures, and time travel. From the start I was intrigued as all of these themes resonate with me, my reading preferences, and my political ideology. Prior to starting Trample An Empire Down I had enjoyed each of the Mack Reynolds’ stories that I had read, but they are all a bit dated. As many science fiction authors of that era did, Reynolds wrote with a male audience in mind, and as such many of his novels contain cringe worthy comments of a sexist nature and a noticeable lack of fleshed out female characters. While I had found most of Reynolds’ works to have plots that are intriguing enough to overcome this, Trample An Empire Down falls short.
The story takes place in a future where computers and robotics have led to a high unemployment rate, and all citizens are issued a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) in order to meet their basic needs. A trio of educated but unemployed friends runs out of beer money a week before the next GAI payment. They decide that the best course of action is to start a revolution. This seems like a silly premise, but their early revolutionary goals of ending planned obsolescence and eliminating advertising and career politicians had me eager to read more. Through the creation of their own political party, the Subversive Party, the trio’s plan gains momentum—surprising considering they are ill-prepared to execute their agenda. However, as the party gains steam those original idealistic goals are soon left behind as it becomes obvious that the trio only care about what is in it for them. New party platforms include eugenics, government encouraged euthanasia, bizarre ideas on sex education, and anything that will allow them to profit.
Possibly the worst thing about this book is the lack of conflict. What little there is comes by way of a baby faced FBI agent going undercover to infiltrate the Subversive Party and never fulfills its initial promises. The trio and their eventual followers never seem to face any real adversity. As the revolutionary crew advocate stranger and stranger ideas I kept expecting them to face some catastrophe of their own making. This was to no avail as one thing after another goes right for the Subversive Party until an anticlimactic conclusion.
Although published towards the end of Mack Reynolds’ career, I get the impression that Trample an Empire Down was something that was written early on and then sat unpublished in a drawer for decades. It just does not have the same polished feel as his other works. At times during this book I wondered if I was reading satire, which Reynolds did occasionally write. When viewed through a satirical lens the story certainly makes more sense, but that does not make it enjoyable.