Book review

Futuretrack 5 by Robert Westall (1983)

Here's an unpleasant peek into an uncomfortable future.

Perhaps what makes this a particularly unattractive future is that it bears quite a strong resemblance to the world that we all live in today. Henry Kitson lives in a meritocracy - that is, if he does well at school, he will live a comfortable and unquestioning life as a middle class 'Est'. (Establishment). If he flops at school, he will be banished from respectability for all time, dragged out to a place 'beyond the Wire', where he will have to survive as best he can. That happens to Henry Kitson's best friend, Roger.

It's lawless, out beyond the Wire. That is where the 'Unnems' live. (Unemployed). As you will discover, the Unnems don't live in a meritocracy. They are never given an opportunity to work their way up out of their Zone, into something better. They live a hard and short life occupying their time in squalid, mind-numbing entertainment domes.

Henry Kitson is a very bright boy. He does so well in his final exams that he finds himself elevated from mere Establishment. He becomes a 'Tech'. He is one of a comparatively small group of technicians who maintain the whole computer-based society. That isn't a very enviable position either.

It is inevitable, I think, that a Tech will learn more about how his society works than he really wants to know. Kitson earns his promotion to Assistant to the Chief Analyst, which means he learns how to control the country's main computer, known as Laura. Not that the country had originally intended to have a main computer:

In the thirty years since Idris built her, from stolen parts, in a locked loo of this very toilet, Laura had gathered all knowledge to herself. Before Laura, there'd been many computers: police, military, public-health. By electronic stealth, Idris had burgled them all. Even the sewage computer, on principle. The Ests found out after a year, when Idris started correcting other people's programmes. By then, it was too late. The Ests demanded Laura be revealed and dismantled. Idris retaliated by sending the Treasury computer berserk. It stampeded the money-markets and in one day Britain lost a thousand million Eurocredits. The Ests surrendered ...

He panics. When Kitson really begins to comprehend how much power he can wield, through Laura, he does a very sensible thing. He makes a spur of the moment decision to slip through the Wire on a temporary pass and see what life is really like for the Unnems. And then he begins to ask some very big questions like, Why aren't any children being born to the Unnems? and What exactly is the purpose of the community living in the Fenlands, who don't seem to belong to any category?

Of course, the real point about a story like this is, once Kitson has discovered some of the truths about his society, he must decide what he is going to do about it. If you want to know how things turn out for Henry Kitson, you will have to read the book. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

Robert Westall is a wonderful author who has written many books for young readers on many different themes. He has written about the Second World War:

Actually, Futuretrack 5 reminds me of a rather frightening science fiction book which Robert Westall wrote:

  • Urn Burial

He has also written a very powerful short book about the Gulf War, and mental illness:

  • Gulf

If you fancy a ghost story, you could have a look at this one by Robert Westall:

  • Yaxley's Cat

And Robert Westall has written other books too. Highly recommended author!

If you enjoy books set in the future, you might like to look at this one by Lois Lowry:

And Rachel Anderson has written an excruciating account of the future:

Also Robert Swindells has written a similar view of the future:

  • Daz 4 Zoe

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Futuretrack 5 features in these lists: