John Neufeld -Sleep, Two, Three, Four. (1971, 191pp, Avon Books, USA)
With Nixon's dirty tricks campaign in full swing, paramilitary SWAT teams being set up across the country and the FBI murdering and framing militants it was all too easy during the early 1970s for American troublemakers to see the creeping hand of Fascism at work. This novel, obstensibly aimed at the teen market, projects what were seen as the seeds of such an authoritarian takeover into the 1980s.
Very much a product of its time Sleep, Two, Three, Four is set in a society in which a paranoid, unscrupulous Administration has guaranteed itself a lifetime rule by suspending the constitution and declaring permanent martial law. Thanks to the use of "black bag" operations in which government double agents randomly attack and rape citizens this turn of events has been embraced by a white middle class frightened for both it's life and property. Blacks, Native Americans and other so called "minorities" are contained and dying out within festering slums whilst anyone challenging the system is locked up. Adolescents are sent to "Maturity Centers" in preparation for adult life and any children deemed as "sub-normal" or posessing "pre-criminal personalities" are shipped off to labour camps.
The novel's teenage protagonists are forced to try to escape this stifling reality after they join a nascent, but growing underground resistance which is involved in killing off members of the government terror squads. Following a bungled attempt to capture the sadistic leader of one of these squads the teenage team is forced to flee across country with a disabled brother and unwilling sister in tow.
Whilst the writing is often painfully and self conciously hip the novel nevertheless works well both as a cautionary tale and a dystopian thriller. Even its inevitable awkward teenage romance avoids becoming too cheesy. Neufeld and his seemingly paranoid contemporaries were not so far off the mark either as Watergate and the actions of the Italian P2 lodge were soon to illustrate how far some in high places were willing to go in order to maintain power.
"Wow! Over and over again, Never Ready Newman breathed the word. He breathed it listening to a serene and strangely beautiful person named Baez; it slipped out hearing Country Joe and the Fish- 'really weird looking' Never Ready thought, watching the set. He pulled Wagenson's 'degenerate' label from his memory and tried it on what he saw.
He gasped again as on his tiny screen three hundred thjousand people began clapping their hands and singing against the War!
Never Ready felt elated in an odd way. he hadn't been prepared for any of this. Not the color or the people or the music- strange sounding chrods and rhythms that, although he couldn't remember hearing them before, seemed somehow mysteriously familiar, as though when he was a child he might have danced and whirled to it in a circle as his parents laughed and clapped their hands for him."
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