Superb setting fizzles with steamless plot (3/5)
Rear cover synopsis:
"Life on the small asteroid Kopra, the dumping ground whose sole function was to receive specially packaged waste material from surrounding pleasure worlds, was harsh and dirty. Carefully avoided by Off-Worlders for centuries, Kopra and its rough and ready, filth encrusted inhabitants suddenly became the object of extraordinary interest to officials from the United Asteroid Belt Pleasure World Federation [UABPWF]. What happens when the two opposing cultures meet; the super-sanitary citizens of the Pleasure World and the filthy underfed villagers makes an adventure as exciting as it is bizarre."
Oliver Roach is an Observer and Recorder of Data under the direction of a pompous Minister from UABPWF (Zone 2). Oliver's mission is to simply assist the minister in disseminating information about the planned temporary evacuation of the planet for ten days, as the gravity generator keeping the planetoid together is in need of replacement. The once modestly-sized asteroid 100 year ago has since become a dumping ground for garbage from the entire Federation. Now, the asteroid is piled 10-miles deep of ecru sludge, jagged protuberances, and radioactive debris. Once the temporary evacuation is complete, the Koprans can return to their malnourished, alluvial, squalid but still quite happy existence.
Oliver works for Minister Larkin, whose "pride is too great and his mind is too inflexible" (121) yet must span the bridge between the opposing cultures. His unwillingness to adapt to the crude local ways is countermanded by the impudent mannerisms of the local headman, Isaac Gaylord. Once superficially soiled, Oliver allows the dankness to penetrate his thinking, too. With the assistance of a mud-covered love interest, Juliette Gaylord, Oliver becomes accustomed to the filth which surrounds him and joins the Gaylords on a mission to contact the nomads on the asteroid for evacuation. Oliver soon learns that the mission could have been a fateful one because of the minister's ulterior motives for the planetoid's fate.
I found the civilization living on the garbage planet of Kopra to be most interesting. They are scavengers by 100-year nature, living off the, sometimes perfectly good, unwanted items of so-called more civilized planets (draw comparisons here with Western mass consumption). When the fanciful Pleasure Federation drops in and says, "Hello, we need to change your planet. Get off it!" then the garbage inhabitants get a bit upset. Eve though they've regressed to "the drinking, the dirt, the dancing and the debauchery" (33) they still have some positive qualities about them: family, utility, and pragmatism.
The planetoid of Kopra requires a sense of suspended belief, where rain is "thick and viscous, a sickly yellow-brown color. Particles of dirt float inside the amber liquid. It trickles slowly over his skin like foul-smelling syrup." (81-82) The gravity is only 0.75 earth standard and the sheer amount of rubbish which lays in a 10-mile deep strata is impressive. Yet still, the humans adapt and live off the land, scavenge for food scrapes, amass sentimental hordes of junk, brew moonshine, and generally get on with gettin' on. It's wholly admirable, in a rather hygienically decadent way.
Much like the forgetful prose found (or not found) in The City Dwellers, the drive behind the plot is non-existent. It sadly plods along amidst a great setting with semi-likable characters but it never gains much steam; I'd hardly call is exciting like the synopsis mentions. Even the so-called climax of the plot is more of a mild ascent to a temperate plateau followed by a lethargic waving of pyrotechnic sparklers.
If there's one more Platt book to keep an eye out for, it'll be his 1991 John W. Campbell award nominated book The Silicon Man... but everything else by Charles Platt seems to be as mediocre as the two novels I've read. Little hope for anything spectacular to come out of Platt, but if my 120+ book collection ever becomes in need of replenishment, I may look his way once again.