Read this book in the 90s.

Future society where the rich and poor live separately. Poor live in hundred-storey towers with no working lifts. Community leaders organise able-bodied people to carry groceries up the stairs for the elderly or disabled.

Smart rich kids are called extras and get a special education. They do not know that some smart poor kids are educated as extras too.

Protagonists are a widow and her son. They were rich and now must learn how to be poor. Mother goes out with tower community leader, called Billy, not his real name. Nickname, short for Billy Goat. His real name is Estaven. Not sure if I spelled that right.

Mother goes to grocery store. Must go in one way route. If you miss an item, that is it for that week, cannot go back.

A group of young new extras go on a training course, learning how to live in poor tower block. They plan a week's worth of meals and order food, then discover that the fridge does not work. Their adult trainers take all the beds in the flat.

At one point, someone is wounded while water to flats is off. Washes the wound with cold tea or water from a kettle.

Robots scavenge paper from the rich side of town. Poor people turn it into cardboard cupboards or wardrobes. Character thinks cardboard cupboards will only last six months but then they can always make another one.

I remember some more. Billy says that once he got every lift in his tower block repaired and working, sadly all the parts and materials are so old that they had all broken down within a week.


2 Answers 2


Is this Drowning Towers (1987), alternately titled The Sea and Summer, by George Turner...?

Front cover of "Drowning Towers" (1987) by George Turner.

According to this review, global warming and rising sea levels have caused economic and ecological disaster. Australian society has been divided into two classes: the 'Sweet,' who enjoy a relatively comfortably, middle-class lifestyle, and the 'Swill,' who are housed in overcrowded, 70-storey buildings; the Towers of the book's title.

The Conway family -- which includes Alison and her two sons, Teddy and Francis -- are members of the Sweet, but are forced to relocate to a slum district adjoining the Towers, where they're forced into a partnership with Billy Kovacs, the boss of Tower 23.

We are introduced to the Conway family: Dad (his first name is never disclosed); Mum Alison; older son Teddy; and younger son Francis.

Global Warming has brought with it a rise in the sea levels and economic and ecological disaster. Australian society has been divided into two classes, the Haves (referred to as the 'Sweet') and the Have-Nots (the 'Swill'). The Sweet enjoy lives much like those of the middle class in the late 20th century, while the Swill are housed in 70-storey buildings - the Towers of the book's title - that make Chicago's infamous Cabrini-Green public housing projects look like paradise. The precarious socioeconomic structure of this dystopian Melbourne is governed by a secretive cabal of Sweet bureaucrats.

While the Conways have the good fortune to live as Sweet, fate is unkind, and soon they are forced to leave their comfortable existence among the Sweet and relocate to the Fringe, a slum district adjoining the Towers. There, they are forced into a partnership with one Billy Kovacs, the conniving, ruthless 'Boss' of Tower Twenty-three.

This review notes that Francis and Teddy's father committed suicide after losing his job.

It is here in the Fringe where Francis and his brother Teddy are downcast with their mother after their father losses his job and commits suicide, a selfish and cowardly act which imprints negativity onto the boys’ idea of a fatherly figure.

And this review notes that Billy Kovacs' first name is short for billy-goat.

Billy Kovacs – not given first person voice, Billy for billy-goat, Swill Royalty, a Tower Boss with many thousand subjects, many girlfriends and a wife in the tower who rears his many children, is capable of maniacally evil brutality in pursuit of his ends but is the “Tower boss without a heart who gets sick for a week after tanning some brat’s arse and comes home to weep over it.” (p 376)


A lot of the information matches with The Sea and Summer, a novel by George Turner, published in 1987 (and released as The Drowning Towers in the USA).

The dystopia is set in a near future Melbourne. Rising sea levels have devastated the world, and society has become divided into two, the underclass called the "Swill", and the privileged "Sweet". The novel deals with the Conway family, a mother and her two children, Teddy and Francis, who used to life in the Sweet. When the father dies, however, their circumstances change as they are sent down to the Swill.

What follows is a desperate quest for survival, Francis to keep his privileged place as long as he possibly can, and Teddy struggling to survive with scraps in a massive overcrowded tower apartment.

(taken from a Goodreads review.)

The mother indeed starts going out with the community leader, or protection racket enforcer, named Billy Kovacs. As the question says, "Billy" is not his real name. Francis discovers that:

His proper name is Istvan — Stephen. The other is for Billygoat.

One route out of the Swill is via education. The academically gifted children are indeed called "Extras":

Billy couldn’t help me when I asked how the Extras lived; the intellectual life was beyond his imagining but he had an opinion to offer when I wondered what the State wanted with them: ‘The superbrats? Insurance. So they’ll know who not to kill off. Heaven’s an exclusive place.’

Paper is indeed a valuable resource for scavengers.

"You can make a lot from paper, even some kinds of furniture."

How long would a paper cupboard last? Did it matter, while you could swipe the makings of a new one?

The novel is available for free loan from the Internet Archive.

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