12Fantasy Review, No. 71, September, 1984, p. 40.
A Finely Crafted Adult Novel
Westall, Robert. Futuretrack 5. Greenwillow Books, New York, April 1984. 276 p. $10.50. ISBN 0-688-02598-6. Kestrel Books, London, September 1983. 5.95 pounds. ISBN 0-7226-5880-X.
Westall has written a provocative “near future” novel which, because of bad marketing, will probably go unread by those most able to enjoy it. The term “juvenile fiction” is often interpreted as a measure of quality as well as intended audience, yet Futuretrack 5 is a finely crafted, challenging adult novel — that just happens to be marketed towards “young adults.”
At the start of the next century Britain is rigidly divided into four main classes. An idle gentry, living on country estates, retains all political control. Unnems — the unemployed — live penned up in the major cities. Rural villages, limited to early twentieth century technology and strictly segregated from the cities and estates, supply all foodstuffs. Techs, fortified in their Oxford bastion, handle all logistical problems, as well as manage the country’s automated factories. Policing this uneasy imbalance are the Paramils — mostly Gurkhas — using “psychopters” to search out disruptive thoughts and disruptive thinkers.
Almost all the novel is devoted to Henry Kitson’s efforts to uncover how and why Britain has developed this social structure. Kitson, an Est, scored 100% on his school exams, leading to his involuntary recruitment into the ranks of Techs. Events force him to team up with Keri, an Unnem and current Futuretrack 5 motorcycle race champion. Eventually, having uncovered evidence of a genuinely horrid social experiment, they set out to change things.
Not surprisingly, the plot is too complex to be concluded satisfactorily in just 275 pages. Just the same, Futuretrack 5 is recommended reading — for adults as well as somewhat younger readers.
–Lawrence I. Charters