The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Andy Rusch, a New York City detective, is summoned from his apartment—shared with aged pragmatist Sol Kahn—to provide security for a protest march by outraged “Eldsters,” whose ability to survive on their reduced government stipends has reached the breaking point. The march deteriorates into violent chaos when a nearby appliance store is overrun by desperate mobs and riot control police are called in. With this opening, Harry Harrison introduces the true central character of his story: the imploding remains of twentieth century Western civilization, an edifice collapsing under its own weight of numbers, greed, and uncontrolled consumption of the planet’s resources.

One of the victims of this pervasive decline is Billy Chung, a son of Taiwanese immigrants who have all been consigned to a claustrophobic existence in Shiptown, a collection of mothballed military transports anchored off Manhattan in the Hudson River. Desperate for food, money, and security, young Billy graduates from petty thievery to manslaughter when a wealthy black marketer discovers the adolescent rifling through his luxurious and heavily fortified apartment. Billy flees empty-handed, fearing pursuit by the law.

The New York City police force is so overburdened that ordinarily a single murder without strong leads would simply be filed as an unsolved and unsolvable crime. Billy’s victim, Big Mike O’Brien, was a kingpin of the New York underworld. The ruler of that underworld, Mr. Briggs, fears that O’Brien’s death was the opening move in a gambit being orchestrated by a rival crime syndicate. In order to determine whether this is true, Briggs pulls strings in the police department to ensure that a detective is assigned...

(The entire section is 706 words.)