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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

The City Dwellers

The City Dwellers - Charles. Platt The other day, I thought of this novel, which I read when I was about 14. At least, I'm pretty sure I read the whole thing, because it's most unlike me to skip pages, but all I can recall is the sex bits; I remember thinking that they were rather disappointing. There was one scene where they try to do it outdoors, on a river bank, and he doesn't like it. Then there's another one where they do it indoors, and she doesn't like it. The second passage was the more interesting of the two; it takes place in a ghastly future-world entertainment complex, and the idea is to give people the thrill of making love in the open air without actually having to go outside at all. There's a large, dimly lighted hall, the ceiling of which is painted midnight blue and covered in fake stars, and it's pockmarked with foam-rubber padded hollows covered in slimy, fake polystyrene grass. The guy and the girl are in one of these hollows, and they can hear other couples doing their thing all around them. It's not hard to understand why the girl felt utterly revolted.

I'm wondering what I would think of it if I were to re-read it now. Maybe I would see a lot of insightful commentary about how our society has warped our perceptions of sex, and how men and women want different things from sex, and how men are more prone to accept the artificial view of sex that the porn business wants to sell them, and all that kind of thing. Or maybe I'd still think it was a pretty boring novel with a couple of memorably nasty sex scenes. Since it appears that no one else on GR has even read it, I'm inclined to believe that the second hypothesis is more likely.

Well... I saw that AbeBooks had Mr Platt's masterpiece for a mere $1.00, and my curiosity got the better of me. It should be in the mail, and I'll post an update in due course!


I finished it on the plane, and I was rather embarrassed to see how little of it I'd remembered. The first sex scene occurs early in the book, and I guess I just read the rest of it looking for more sex and not really bothering much about the story. In my defense, I was 14.

It's dedicated to J.G. Ballard, and it's obvious that the author has a great admiration for him. Unfortunately, Ballard's style is difficult to imitate. Perhaps you need to have survived a Japanese POW camp to be able to pull it off successfully, and, at any rate, Platt doesn't. The basic scenario is similar to the one in The Children of Men. Women have stopped having children, though here you're given more of a clue as to why that may be; it's strongly implied that men have somehow become weak and insufficient. You get the impression that Platt was also a D.H. Lawrence fan, and there are a couple of rugged D.H. Lawrence-style types who get to show two lucky women what they've been missing.

It isn't really a very sexy book, although I see from the author's Wikipedia entry that he wrote genuine erotic novels as well. As a 51 year old, I'm disappointed with the flat characterization. You never get to find out very much about the people. I would in particular have liked to see more of Cathy, the girl in the two scenes I remembered from my first reading. Now, she seemed like an interesting person. I found myself wondering if she was based on one of the author's ex-girlfriends; I speculated that she left him, and he wrote the novel partly to explore his feelings of loss, rejection and insufficiency, and partly to show her that he was deeper than she'd thought. If so, I don't think she was impressed. I can see her leafing through it, and feeling even more certain that she'd made the right decision. Sorry, Charles.