Thursday 25 February 2010
Friday's Forgotten Book: THE SENTINEL STARS by Louis Charbonneau
The Sentinel Stars was published back in 1963.
Thomas Robert Hendley (aka TRH-247 because The Organisation prefers numbers to names) wakes up one morning and decides to go on strike.
East and West have merged and peace has broken out so our hero should be well and truly happy. After all he wears the blue uniform of a 3-day man working off his tax debt with a good job as an architect. He only has to work 3 days a week and everything he needs are right at hand. The Organisation supplies everything even down to his Assigned - a woman that the computers say is ideal for him. There is no intamacy as they live apart but are allowed one hour a week in a Public Intercourse Booth.
There is a target. The day that his tax debt is cleared he will be transferred to a Freeman Camp.
As he wanders around town he meets a young and beautiful red uniformed 5-day girl - they are attracted even though both know that they are transgressing the rules. As an architect he had worked on the design of The Museum where they meet up later in the day. Hendly takes Ann (ABC-331)to the forbidden zone where the sun is shining. He shows her what cannot be seen in the underground city. Agreeing to meet the next day they go their separate ways.
On his way home Hendley stops off for a meal only to discover that his ID tag does not work. As he arrives back at his apartment he is arrested and taken to the Morale Investigation centre. Here he is questioned by a fatherly Investigator about his failure to attend his workplace. When, under hypno-serum, he repeats what he has already said the Investigator gives Hendley a twenty-four hour pass to a Freeman Camp. Not as a reward but as a carrot to urge him on in his work for the organisation and to see just what it is that he has to look forward to.
On the flight to the Freeman camp he is subjected to prejudice for what he is and, though he understands their frustration, he cannot admit that he is one of them.
The Freeman camp is a wonder to Hendley but he soon learns that in this place there is just one rule - there are no rules.
He joins a game of water-polo where a team member is left to drown - winning is far more important. Nobody cares.
Then he meets Nik who befriends him and takes him to the Recreation Hall where there is a 'show' on. Hendley finds himself watching Ann performing an erotic dance. After the show there is a lottery where the winners with the selected ticket numbers get one of the girls. Nik fixes it so that Hendley gets to be with Ann, but his elation is short lived as he is drugged and his identity stolen.
Computers, he is told, do not make mistakes. The records show that Hendley had left the camp on time and that he must remain in the camp with Nik's identity. Escape comes in the form of another like himself. But his return lands him in Court with Ann on the charges of impersonation and rebellion. They are sentenced to permanent exile and released into the desert where they must survive.
It would be easy to say that this book could be compared to or influenced by novels like Huxley's 'Brave New World' or Orwell's '1984' and, maybe, justified. However, I think that this novel set in 2200 can stand alone. The use of uniforms creating a class system; Nik's need to escape the prison camp for Freemen - Nik was born free and berates Hendley about how lucky he was to have a purpose with a job whereas Nik had nothing to get up in the morning for; the lawlessness of the Freeman camp - is it the real alternative? Like, the cliche, is the grass really greener on the other side?
This is a book with a lot more depth than first appears.
While Louis Charbonneau wrote many sci-fi and general novels between 1960 and 1988 he wrote around 20 westerns under the name Carter Travis Young.