Literature / Futuretrack Five
(or 5) is a Young Adult Science Fiction
novel by English Author Robert Westall
, first published in 1983. Set in a near-future Britain sometime after 1998
, the book follows the life of Henry Kitson from the day he managed to screw-up his future as an Established Person by doing too
well at his final exam. Kitson initially ends up as a Tech; the people who run almost everything that keeps the world working from behind the scenes, but decides to rebel and sample the life of the Unmentionables; the disenfranchised non-Ests kept in the crumbling remains of big cities, separated from the Enclaves of the Ests by razor-wire fences and ever-watchful paramilitary police.
There he comes into contact with the Futuretracks: six professional paths for the Unnems to follow. There's the Singers on Futuretrack One, the Fighters of Futuretrack Two, the Pinball Players of Three, the thieves and pickpockets on Four, the whores on Six. And then there's the Racers on Futuretrack Five. There, he meets the beautiful Keri Roberts and develops a relationship, promising to show her the world beyond the Wire and outside of the city.
But Kitson soon finds that there's something, or someone, at work behind the whole set-up; forming and directing society for their own ends. But who are they and what are those ends? Who is the mysterious Scott-Astbury? And just what did he do that was so wrong in the Scottish Highlands?
Contains Examples of:
- Achievement Test of Destiny: The story opens with Kitson and his friends getting the results of their E-Levels, determining whether they make the grade to become Ests.
- Alternate History: The Troubles in Northern Ireland are long over; not through a peace process, but via the IRA all having been hunted down by psycho-radar and eliminated.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: How Kitson and Keri gain access to the Cambridge Centre. Justified somewhat in that he did actually work there and knows both his way around and the people he encounters; this knowledge also allows him to teach Keri to look and act like she belongs. He even tells everyone to look out for intruders dressed as Paramils to add to the confusion.
- Black Helicopter: Paramils fly around in these, equipped with psychic radar to spot dissidents and external carrying pods to stuff prisoners for transport to the lobo-farm.
- Boarding School: Kitson's school is one of these, and although it plays very little part in the novel (we meet the protagonist on Parent's Day, when the results of the E-levels are given out and it's his last day at school), its nature as a classic boarding school is alluded to - there's prefects, fags, school captains, sports are taken very seriously and the syllabus has plenty of things that are basically useless but kept on Out Of Tradition.
- Chekhov's Gun: When Kitson first enters Idris' office, the First Tape, the record of the first data he ever gave Laura is hung on the wall in a glass display case. Idris later reveals that it's actually the last tape, a datatape he keeps to destroy Laura so that they can never get rid of him.
- Clipboard of Authority: Techs carry one of these all the time. It's bullet and blaster proof, acts as a personal computer, can print out forms, open doors and has a razor sharp edge for self-defence.
- Kit builds Keri a fake one for their attempt to sneak into the Cambridge Centre.
- Computer Equals Tapedrive: Not quite the reel-to-reel, obviously spinning tape drives of the pre-701s computers, but datatapes is the term applied to portable computer data.
- Deal with the Devil: The Glaswegian gangster, Blocky, is very heavily implied to have done just this; having come to the point of suicide and then being mysteriously inspired to paint a weird and loathsome painting after seeing a demonic face appear in the mirror.
- Dystopia: Maybe not from the perspective of an Est, but from outside and that of an Unnem the world of Futuretrack Five, where people who dissent or simply display too much negative emotion are carted away by the dreaded Paramils to the lobo-farm to have a forcible pre-fontral lobotomy and be re-trained as household servants for morbid Ests to point at at dinner parties; is definitely not one most would want to live in. The Unnems are suppressed and segregated and deliberately herded into the Futuretracks which are purposely designed to keep their numbers down, and the even the Ests have their population controlled via the E-levels, which weeds out excess Est children who fail it as Unnems; stripped of their Est status.
- Energy Weapon: Paramils all have blasters: exactly what they fire and how they work is never covered. They leave a distinct smell of ozone after being fired, so potentially they're a form of Lightning Gun.
- Famed In-Story: Keri is one of longest-lived Racers on Futuretrack Five and reigning National Champion. Kitson, through his Tech knowledge of how machines work and how to exploit them, gains in-Verse fame as the National Pinball Champion; albeit under a fake name.
- Fantastic Caste System: Ests are the upperclass, Techs the middle-class artisans who keep everything working, and the workers have been replaced by robots; leaving them to become the Unnems and be herded onto the six Futuretracks to keep them busy and their numbers down.
- Faux Yay: When trying to infiltrate the Tech Centre, Keri pretends she's a Dronfield Dragon to distract Tech attention from her.
- Future Slang: Ests, Unnems, Futuretracks, Paramils, the lobo-farm. The latter even becomes an insult; "Lob off, lobo."
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him: Had Scott-Astbury not died when he did, Kitson would have taken revenge on him by having him reclassified as an Unnem. When he discovers Scott-Astbury is already dead, it takes him some time to realise that they both had a narrow escape.
- Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Most people's attitudes towards the Paramils, who're exclusively Asian (mostly Indian). Routinely referred to derisively as "Buddha" and "Gunga Din."
- Kill the Poor: It's what Scott-Astbury was really up to—deliberately trying to wipe out the working class and replace them with a selectively bred version who would be more respectful to their "rightful masters".
- Labcoat of Science and Medicine: The standard uniform of every Technician, the caste who keep society's machines and computers, and thus society functioning is the classic white labcoat, buttoned in different ways to differentiate between grades of Tech.
- Logic Bomb: Idris Jones keeps one of these to hand as a sort of job and life insurance. He built the supercomputer, Laura, in secret and no one else knows exactly how she works. But, just in case they decide that someone else can operate her or they know enough to get rid of him, he keeps a datatape with works of fiction, philosophy and religion contained in it to feed to Laura. He anticipates that she would burn out trying to reconcile the concept of ethics with the amount of harm her daily duties require her to inflict: "Can you imagine a Buddhist computer running the lobo-farm?"
- Master Computer: Futuretrack Five's Britain is maintained and monitored by a supercomputer named Laura; named after the dead ex-girlfriend of her creator, the Tech Idris, the Chief Analyst.
- Military School: At least in name, the school Kitson attends is a Naval Academy: but there's hardly any human-crewed ships anymore and certainly none that would require the knowledge of sails, rigging and moving disassembled field-guns that the school teaches. Mostly, they continue with these useless activities purely out of a sense of tradition.
- Naughty Birdwatching: The Ests claim they come to the Fens to watch the birds at the RSPB sanctuary. They're really listening and watching to what the population are up to.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Scott-Astbury is well-known to all the Techs as the fat, balding buffoon who's Honorary Unpaid Secretary of the Fenlands Cultural Survey. An anthropologist with an enthusiasm for Christmas mummering and May Day morris dancing, he's the butt of Tech humour on a routine basis. Hardly the mastermind of a government conspiracy.
- Old-Fashioned Copper: The British Police, as distinct from the much more efficient, sinister and wholly Asian Paramils, are portrayed at the corrupt end of this trope. More 'human' and fallible than the highly disciplined and dutiful Paramils and preferred targets for Kitson and Keri to deceive as they make their way out of London.
- People Farms: It's part of what Scott-Astbury was up to: turning the Scottish Highlands and the Suffolk Fens into places to breed simpler, respectful artisans who would do what their Est masters told them to.
- Point Defenseless: At one point, Kitson finds himself being attacked by an automated set of turret defences protecting a nature reserve. Fortunately for him they haven't been properly maintained and take three seconds to lock onto him, so as long as he zigzags every three seconds he can avoid the bullets, reach the control centre and shut it down.
- Population Control: The Futuretracks are designed to help thin out the Unnem populace: most are geared towards a life in which either regular contact with direct violence kills followers, or significant (and artificially increased)risk kills them.
- Est families are only meant to have two children. They routinely ignore the rule; hence the E-levels to weed out Est children and send those who fail to become Unnems.
- Scott-Astbury's plan actually involves drugging the Unnem's food and water supply to deliberately depress them and lower their fertility.
- Psycho Lesbian: Parodied in form of Dronfield Germ Warfare Research Centre. It's staffed entirely by female Techs all of whom are perceived by the male Techs of the Cambridge Centre to be predatory and scary lesbians.
- Psychic Radar: Oddly, Futuretrack Five's psycho-radar is not powered by a telepath. It's wholly mechanical, but it still works by detecting the presence of thoughts. Paramils are generally scanning for extremes of rage or despair, and particularly home in on the suicidal.
- Sensor Suspense: Paramils are equipped with psycho-radar, which allows them to detect extremes of emotion from a distance and home in on it. All psycho-radar gives out transmissions that raise a tell-tale pinging sound just on the edge of hearing and headache-like sensation.
- Spy Catsuit: Keri's motorcycle leathers. Frequently a zipper away from becoming Absolute Cleavage and regularly employed as a means to distract male policemen. So often used, during her career as a Racer, that's it gets referred to in-Verse as the Keri Roberts Victory Stretch And Yawn.
- Status Quo Is God: At the end of the book Kitson breaks into the Cambridge Tech Centre, loads Idris' truth bomb into Laura and is locked in a Mexican Standoff with the Paramils when Laura finishes processing the logic bomb and demands that only Kitson or Idris (who's dead) be allowed to give her input. Kit finds himself trapped in exactly the same situation as Idris; wanting to make things better but having to keep the situation exactly the same; promising himself he'll find a way to change it later.
- Take That!: The Ests are, in general, a parody of English upper-class Tories. This is made more explicit during a later conversation between two Cultural Survey Inspectors who make comments about wiping out the Unnems to keep them from ruining the country, just like the miners did in the 70s and 80s with their strikes.
- Taking the Bullet: Kitson's Bluefish form a literal human shield around him during a Pinball championship match and at least one takes a bullet meant for him during this.
- Technology Marches On: Mostly averted. The novel's near-future setting doesn't have an awful lot of high-tech gadgetry (beyond psycho-radar, the Paramil blasters, the Laura AI and the level to which robots have taken over transportation) to be overtaken. The most significant would be the datatapes used to feed information into some computers and the size of the bugging devices.
- Title Drop: Futuretrack Five, natch. Five does turn out to be significant; since it's how Kitson meets Keri and when he first really connects the Futuretracks with a kind of population control - Racer bikes are deliberately designed to be not very good; not so useless they'll kill anyone and everyone who rides them, but just bad enough that most Racers will wind up dead - sometimes before they even get beyond the practice track at the bike shop.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: Futuretrack Five doesn't give itself a firm date until a few pages from the end: when we're told that it's September 30th 2012; 30 years into the Future from when it was published.
- Urban Segregation: Divided, literally, by the Wire into the Unnem Zones, the Est Enclaves and the open countryside.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Justified during the ending's Mexican Standoff. The Paramils can't shoot Kitson - he's standing too close to Laura and their energy weapons discharge would wreck the supercomputer as well as him.