Double Illusion: by Philip E High

No-one worried about a prole. They were the outcasts of the new feudalism, the nightmare of the politician, the barrier to economic recovery, the burden of the privileged classes. It had not come to pogroms or mass extermination yet...
Phillip E High's Double Illusion is rather a political novel; it starts out as a familiar dystopian nightmare in which free markets have commodified everything to the point where 'hypnads' are used to alter perception and reality as a selling point; the dystopia is then abolished in favour of an overweening utopia, in which a central computer known as "Mother" governs a nanny state. The transition is due to a group of seemingly well-meaning leaders keen to substitute some sort of liberal order for chaos. It goes wrong because Mother is sabotaged; it is wired to self-destruct if it tends towards illiberal acts, ostensibly a safeguard - hence it cannot impose a solution on every human problem and is therefore subject to the whims of every human. It evolves ingenious workarounds to this, which become so illogical as to appear ideological - it will try every solution except the one that works because the one that works may be illiberal. Citizens are protected from harm, but the mechanisms and systems which may cause them harm remain in place.

Having established this rather tortuous backdrop, High proceeds to hand the story over to men of action; crime syndicates declare war on Mother and invade major cities; citizens rebel and are protected from the consequences of their rebellion. In the midst of this, a group of 'oracles' train one of their number to infiltrate Mother's central computer and remove the self-destruct mechanism - the hope is that this will free Mother from ideological constraints and find a compromise.

It's possible to see Double Illusion as a commentary on the post-war settlement, on the much older conflict between capital and labour, and on the need for an honest broker; High's sympathies are clear - mixed economy. The original dystopia and Mother's failed utopia are the double illusion of the title - they are the extremes tried and found not to work. The book is a part polemic dressed up as sf action and it is as wired to educate as it is to entertain. Mindful of the work of Mack Reynolds, it reads like a 142 page plan, and not a tractor in sight.

I'm lucky enough to own a signed Dobson first edition of Double Illusion, which I purchased in FutureShock in Glasgow; the printing history notes that it was originally published in the US a couple of years before, under the title The Mad Metropolis and probably as one half of an Ace double. High's signature is written in a perplexed biro font.

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