Mack Reynolds’ Rolltown (1976) takes place a few decades in the future where democracy has devolved into a meritocracy. The United States has a huge database for every individual and jobs are given based on IQ scores, etc. The most intelligent people get to vote. However, because of the meritocracy all racial tension has virtually disappeared since everyone is judged on their own merits. Those that are not intelligent and thus cannot find jobs (in part because of the mechanization of most production and service industries) are given a government dole, the NIT (negative income tax).
This rigorously structured system does not sit well with all members of society many of whom wish to escape from the confines of urban life. These hordes of dissidents join roving communities which trek across North and South America.
So far so good.
I thought that Reynold’s vision of the future with roving bohemian art communities would be absolutely fascinating so I tracked down a copy of his work. Boy was I disappointed. Reynolds’ pedestrian plot twist at the end completely ruins, and I mean with a hamfist gouges the soul out, of the work. I advise any potential readers to glue a piece of paper over the last page.
Brief Plot Summary
Bat Hardin is a hard-working, a compulsive reading, volunteer cop for New Woodstock — a roving community of bohemian artists. Bat is a conflicted individual — he’s convinced himself that his IQ score is low so he’s unable to rise up in the meritocracy of modern life, he has no artistic ability, yet is compelled to volunteer his services to this community (he lives off of NIT — the government dole). Bat is also an intelligent self-taught man with a fair share of flaws. He’s a wonderful character whom Reynolds absolutely RUINS with the last paragraph of the work.
The plot of the work focuses on New Woodstock’s difficulties traveling through Mexico. Most Mexicans hate Americans for destroying their culture — especially the Bohemian traveling communities with their loose morals, questionable agnostic New Temple, flaunted wealth, etc. So, a group of bandit Mexicans (and here the plot devolves into a straightforward future western) place an ambush for the community.
I found Bat Hardin to be a really compelling character before his heart and soul is eviscerated by the author. The world Reynolds builds is insightful and thought out — however the plot which unfolds doesn’t do it justice — hence the reliance on silly twist endings. There’s little magic in Reynolds’ descriptions of the workings and activities of the community — which is a shame — I wanted a community of Samuel Delany’s avant-garde theater antics, Jack Vance’s charm and wit….
All in all, Rolltown isn’t worth the effort of procuring — it’s a fast read with an appealing main character. However the average plot despite the well-realized future earth, the silly final twist, and Reynolds’ predilection for endless info-dump lectures makes this a frustrating experience.