Charles Platt -The City Dwellers (1971, Sphere Books, London, 158pp)

Whilst British 70s Sci Fi novels abounded with "The city is bad, we must escape to the Welsh countryside" style tales this one is fairly unique in that whilst the drop outs survive for a while their rural boltholes inevitably wind up being as doomed and fucked up as the city.

Divided into three sections the novel initially adopts the usual dualism of the evil mills versus the rustic countryside as a Thalidomide afflicted doomsayer, a pop singer and a pretty young prostitute find themselves increasingly dissatisfied with city living. As the 70s writ large the novel's futuristic city is divided into two zones (one for conservative Civics, the other for the proles) with the characters' environment allowing them to skate the edge of a debauched, bohemian lifestyle that is exciting, but morally and physically unsustainable.

The author's depiction of festering slums and wealthy towers tottering towards the abyss is interesting enough at this point, but the real pleasure is to be found in his over the top description of a future pop concert.

Despite being exhausted and somewhat over the whole rock icon lifestyle our singer is still able to pull in the fans by offering a Total Experience. T.E. being somewhat like a cut price virtual reality using massive video screens and pumped in pheromones (!) to bring the pre-teen audience to rapturous orgasm. The descriptions of one such concert is meant to embody the decadence of a future England, but instead comes across as a Boyzone performance on acid.

After the first section the book shifts to a couple's alternative lifestyle in the countryside and it is here that it simply begins to falter as the author appears to increasingly lose interest in what he has begun. What originally sets out as a chilling yarn now simply becomes a series of disconnected snapshots of an unpleasant future replete with the most unimaginative chapter titles I have ever come across.

By Part 3 the whole thing is somewhat hurriedly rushing towards the bitter end as we leap from slow rot to rapid decline. Following a major crisis the city now undergoes rapid depopulation as thanks to pollution, poverty and general apathy everyone has simply given up breeding. Those that remain live squalid, lonely lives dedicated to scrounging whatever tinned and freeze dried food they can find whilst waiting for the end (which for this reader simply couldn't come soon enough).


"Then the intro was over and the curtains parted and Greg was face to face with the audience, a wall of human colour hazy behind the spotlights, rippling mass of young girls open mouthed and screaming, hungry and demanding. The music blasted out from a battery of sound panels above the stage and Greg walked forward buffeted by sound and colour, moving instinctively to the music. Behind him the screen lit up in an exploding barrage of depth images, swirling and shimmering, merging and blending as the clamour of the music increased. Then he started singing and simultaneously his face emerged from the colours of the screen behind and either side of him, magnified several hundreds of times. TE cameras mounted up by the spotlights zeroed in on him and behind him his features grew until his eyes and mouth filled the entire vast screen, moving as he moved, contorted with emotion, radiating sex, want, hate, lust, power. Giant fans wafted waves of heady masculine odour over the audience. Colours flashed in synchronised patterns, shifting with the music that drowned even the screaming. The whole structure of the concert hall trembled." (page 15)