Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: 'City of Darkness' by Ben Bova

4 / 5 Stars

‘City of Darkness’ was first published in hardbound in 1976. This Berkley paperback (165 pp) was issued in November 1982, with a cover illustration by James Warhola.

It’s the near future, and the more affluent members of the US population live in clean, modern, sterile suburbs called ‘Tracts’. For teenager Ron Morgan and his friends, life in the Tracts is Boring. Having taken, and scored well, on his National Exams, Ron’s father is adamant that Ron attend Getty College and major in business, just like the Old Man. But Ron would rather pursue a career in science and technology, which angers his father. Tensions rise in the Morgan household.

In a fit of teenage rebellion, Ron decides to leave home and make for New York City, which he had visited previously with his father. Bova's incarnation of New York City is not the metropolis we know and love. Past outbreaks of plague and social disorder have led the federal government to expel the inhabitants, and close down, most major cities. Among the few exceptions is New York, where Manhattan is enclosed under an enormous transparent dome. From July 4th to Labor Day the city, and all its seedy, crime-infested, rubbernecking, dirty glory is open to tourists. But after Labor Day, the city is sealed off.

Those still within its confines the day after Labor Day are condemned to spend the next 10 months scrounging for a living as best they can. There are no police, no medical care, and no laws and restrictions….except those imposed by the violent street gangs that rule New York.

For suburbanites, and men in particular, New York City is like one giant Times Square, circa 1974. A world of sleaze and titillation awaits those who travel to its neighborhoods. For Ron Morgan, it’s an irresistible destination.

In due course, Ron takes the air train from New England to New York and steps out from the confines of Grand Central Station onto to the crowded, hot, smelly, raw streets of the Big Apple. He exchanges his straight-laced suburban clothes for the leather- and chrome - look of the streets, and takes in a forbidden pleasure: the sleaze movie theatres of 42nd street !

[ Bill Landis would be proud….. ! ]

But, for all his efforts to blend in with the locals, Ron soon becomes the victim of a classic Big Apple scam aimed at naïve newcomers. With no money, and no Identity Card, Ron discovers he cannot leave the City. Any attempt at jumping the turnstiles will get him sent to the city’s notorious prison, The Tombs.

Labor Day comes and goes….and Ron Morgan is trapped in the City of Darkness……

While clearly aimed at a Young Adult readership, ‘City of Darkness’ is an engaging, fast-moving novel that adult readers also will enjoy. Bova doesn’t hold back from placing as much violence, desperation, and social satire into his novel as the Young Adult designation will allow.

Many readers will be pleased to find that classic films such as The Warriors, and Escape From New York, are prefigured in many ways by ‘City of Darkness’.

This one is worth picking up.

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

I loved this book when I was 12!