Drowning Towers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

DROWNING TOWERS is a sophisticated future history in the tradition of George Orwell’s 1984, but with roots in Olaf Stapleton’s works.

Under the pressures of population and the greenhouse effect, the world economy collapses in the twenty-first century, and nations cannot cope with the resulting problems of distribution. Unable to reorganize institutions radically, these nations are reduced to tiny privileged bureaucracies struggling with minimal resources to sustain gigantic impoverished populations. A thousand years later, as a new ice age advances, a playwright approaches a historian to gather information about that century. The scholar gives him the historical novel he has written; the playwright, and the reader, then begin the story of DROWNING TOWERS.

The scholar’s novel centers on Billy Kovacs, the mysterious boss of one building in the teeming enclave of Melbourne high-rises which house (that is, imprison) the unemployed 90 percent of the population. A system has evolved that rigidly separates the employed rich (sweet) from the unemployed poor (swill). The scholar’s novel shows how both orders attempt to maintain their humanity in the increasing chaos.

These attempts reveal the central thematic point of George Turner’s novel: that humanity, despite failures and deliberate cruelties, continues to seek humane, just, communal solutions even in deep crisis. Though leaders of both groups often appear cruel, as individuals they are revealed as compassionately dedicated to preserving civilization. Disorganization and deprivation do not reduce the community to a war of all against all, but rather highlight the tragic paradox of mainly good people caught in an inherited infernal machine of ecological and economic foolishness.

Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, DROWNING TOWERS is the second of the Australian novelist’s works to appear in the United States. Its strengths are compassionate portraits of complex characters, a sophisticated narrative, a vividly imagined extrapolation from current trends, and a sober yet positive interpretation of human nature in crisis.