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Literature / Under Kill

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Underkill is a 1979 novel by the science fiction writer James White. White is best known for his Sector General series of stories; this is a stand-alone novel, and is much darker.

The setting is a few decades after a world-wide energy crisis called the "Powerdown". Energy supplies are scarce - a major source of electricity is from adults and children "walking the wheels". Food is also strictly rationed, and the rations are often inadequate.


Large numbers of people die every year from violence, terrorism, sickness, starvation and suicide, and at the bottom of society things are particularly harsh. However for many people life is still fairly civilised, and the novel centres on a married couple, Ann and Malcolm, who are lucky enough to be medics in a hospital with a worldwide reputation.

As terrorist outrages escalate, Ann and Malcolm meet up with a police inspector called Reynolds. He is trying to make sense of why the terrorist groups exist and who is encouraging them. Reynolds suspects there is some kind of conspiracy at work - if you look really hard, so many government officials look very alike. Are they human?



  • The Before Times - The hospital has some very sophisticated equipment dating back to pre-Powerdown times, but Reynolds is suspicious.
  • Crapsack World - Sadly, yes. This is a very dark setting compared with nearly all of the author's other works.
  • Hospital Hottie - Professor Donnelly . Too bad he doesn't seem interested in romance.
  • The Last DJ - Reynolds
  • Pet the Dog - There's a lot of this. And it is really necessary for the persons concerned.
  • Post-Peak Oil - The setting for the whole novel.
  • Sadist Teacher - The quietly spoken educator who isn't worried even if a child dies.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist - There are far too many.

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