I have been looking for a novel I read about 25 years ago, but I have had no luck. Here is a general synopsis.

  • Space Sci Fi
  • A man is framed for a murder he did not commit.
  • He is sent to a prison planet where rank is denoted by the kind/color ring that each prisoner wears.
    • Shortly after he arrives he is attacked and kills the inmate who attacks him.
  • He is informed by the other prisoners that he has now been granted the rank, position, and possessions of the man he killed.
    • Unfortunately that didn't amount to much.
  • He works his way up through the ranks and eventually escapes the planet to seek revenge on the man who framed him.

I can say for certain that the title is not "Prison Planet". That is an entirely different novel.

  • This sounds vaguely reminiscent of Piers Anthony's Chthon, one of the classic "SF prison planet" works, but that one, to my recollection, did not have color rings. It did have colored gems that could be found (but, iirc, were not worn), with at least some meaning ascribed to the colors. There was a definite social hierarchy among the prisoners. – Robert Columbia Apr 16 at 14:24
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    Just to be clear, are you ruling out all novels titled Prison Planet? There are at least 3 novels by that title, and two of them are old enough for you to have read 25 years ago. – user14111 Apr 17 at 1:52

This is likely The Status Civilization by Robert Sheckley (Wikipedia link) On first arriving our hero learns of his initial status in a lecture delivered to the whole group (emphasis added):

"The first thing you new men should understand," the Quaestor said, "is just exactly what you are. That's very important. And I'll tell you what you are. You're peons. You're the lowest of the low. You're statusless. There's nothing lower except mutants, and they aren't really human. Any questions?"

The Quaestor waited. When there were no questions, he said, "I've defined what you are. From that, we'll proceed to a basic understanding of what everybody else on Omega is. First of all, everybody is more important than you; but some are more important than others. Next above you in rank is the Resident, who hardly counts for more than any of you, and then there's the Free Citizen. He wears a gray finger ring of status, and his clothes are black. He isn't important either, but he's much more important than you. With luck, some of you may become Free Citizens.

Our hero fails to take some of the advice given in that lecture, wanders abroad, gets into heap of trouble, seeks desperately for shelter and finds only the gift of handgun, gets lucky with it and kills one of his three pursuers. The other two suddenly stop their attack, put away their weapons and begin treating him with a (limited) degree of basic respect:

"All that remains for you to do," the first man said, "is to go to the Registration Office and collect your inheritance."

"My what?"

"Your inheritance," the Hadji said patiently. "You're entitled to the entire estate of your victim. In Draken's case, I'm sorry to say, it doesn't amount to very much."

Other notable features of the society on the prison planet include drug abuse being mandatory and gladiator-like events as punishment for people who break the mores of the place (which includes our hero).

There is also a romantic sub-plot.

Eventual escape takes our hero back to Earth where he assume the role of a pollster in order to learn how the Earth works and begins seeking out both what really happened to him, and the leaders of the justice system on whom he hopes to take revenge.

There is a surprise conclusion featuring the chief of the planetary secret police and involving who accused him in the first place.

The story is available for free from Project Gutenberg, and there is a Librivox recording as well.

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    This answer was my first thought on reading the question, it’s a classic... – Alith Apr 16 at 15:57
  • I do rather like the story, but I think it suffers a bit compared to more modern works. – dmckee Apr 16 at 17:54

Could it have been Piers Anthony's Chthon, one of the classic "SF prison planet" works? It does not match your description exactly, but is reminiscent. Chthon, to my recollection, does not have color rings. It does have colored gems that can be found (but, iirc, are not worn), with at least some meaning ascribed to the colors.

There is a definite social hierarchy among the prisoners, and the protagonist eventually does

escape and go on a quest to figure out more about what had happened to him.

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