Friday, 1 January 2010

The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher - Books 78-80, 2009

Titles: The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire by John Christopher
Genre: Sci-fi/Young Adult
Rating: 9.5/10
Plot description: (from Wikipedia)

The Tripods is a series of novels written by Samuel Youd (under the pseudonym "John Christopher") beginning in the late 1960s...

The story of The Tripods is post-apocalyptic. Humanity has been conquered and enslaved by "the tripods", unseen alien entities who travel about in gigantic three-legged walking machines (the unsophisticated humans believe the walking machines themselves to be their living overlords). Human society is largely pastoral, with few habitations larger than villages, and what little industry exists is conducted under the watchful presence of the tripods. Lifestyle is reminiscent of the Middle Ages, but artifacts from previous ages are still used, giving individuals and homes a rather anachronistic appearance.

Humans are controlled from the age of 14 by implants called "caps", which suppress curiosity and creativity and leave the recipient placid and docile, incapable of dissent. The caps cause them to adore the tripods as their saviours. Some people whose minds are crushed under the pressure of the cap's hypnotic power become vagrants who wander the countryside shouting nonsense.

In The White Mountains Will is a 13-year-old boy who will be capped in the next few months. He finds himself having doubts about the whole capping process and meets a "vagrant", who is nothing of the sort but a free man with a false cap, who tells him of a place far south in the white mountains where people live without caps and are fighting the tripods.

Will sets off for these white mountains accompanied by his cousin, Henry, who is also having doubts about the capping process. In France they take up with a third runaway, a tall thin scientifically-minded youth called Jean-Paul, who is immediately nicknamed 'Beanpole'.

The City of Gold and Lead, Will volunteers for a dangerous mission to enter the tripods' city and learn more about the new rulers of earth. Here he discovers that the tripods are mere vehicles for an alien race that are unable to handle earth's atmosphere or gravity and the aliens have plans to permanently change these, killing all human and other life on the planet in the process.

In The Pool of Fire, the free men decide to invade the tripods' cities and destroy the infrastructure that keeps the aliens alive. But once they destroy the common threat to all humanity, it becomes apparent that they must still deal with a bigger crisis - learning to live with one another and work together without a common enemy.

I first read The White Mountains in primary school and loved it but was frustrated to discover it was part of a trilogy and hence I wouldn't find out the answer. In the days of limited pocket money, access to only the school and a local library and no internet/Book Depository it seemed as if I would never find out 'what happened next'. But I kept the book and nearly 30 years later stumbled on The City of Gold and Lead in a local second-hand bookshop. As the virtually unsaleable second book in a trilogy I picked it up for a dollar. I re-read The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead and decided I wanted to finish the series. As is often the case, the Book Depository came to my aid.

When the biggest complaint one has about a series is that the author leaves you wanting more, it is the sign of a very good book. My only real complaint is that the protagonist/narrator Will shows virtually no emotional development over all 3 books and 5-6 years in time. Other characters mature from boys into adults but Will remains as childish, impulsive, self-centred and irresponsible as ever from the age of 14 to 20. This becomes particularly frustrating in the final book, The Pool of Fire.

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