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I'm trying to identify a Dystopian book which I read in the 80's or 90's. I only have 3 vague memories, but it still haunts me to this day. If anyone can identify the book, I would be over the moon!

Near the beginning, it had 18 years old students crowding around a notice board to receive their scores, which would determine their position as adults. The main protagonist was not included in the scores. It transpired that he had received a perfect score, and so was earmarked for special things. I think this was governing or political position.

Later, there was an episode of fake helicopter plans to test the protagonist. I think he was reading a book in the library, and found paper containing the blueprints of an advanced helicopter. I think that he decided to destroy the plans.

The last thing I remember was the presence of a Bob Dylan ballade. The Ballade of St.Jude or something like that. This was used as a link to past times, and a wish to return to simpler lives.

Thanks in advance, and I hope that's enough information for someone to identify the book - I would love to read it again!

1 Answer 1

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Futuretrack 5 by Robert Westall. It was published in 1983.

The protagonist is Henry Kitson and the scene with the exam results on the noticeboard is:

My eyes ran further and further. Panic gripped my guts. My name wasn’t above the pass line. I checked again. A third time. It was insane… My eye dived gingerly below the pass line. Deeper and deeper, through kids I could’ve eaten for breakfast, three at a time.

My name wasn’t below the pass line either. I went on reading, above, below, above, below. Nothing. A computer hiccup. I’d have somebody’s guts for garters…

Then I saw at the bottom: “Kitson unclassified. Report to Headmaster at nine.”

Then when Kitson reports to the headmaster:

He was also trying to needle me. I studied at leisure his white, newly washed hair. The heavy tweed suit, creamy like oatmeal. The red-veined cheeks, like a healthy, elderly farmer’s. The polished old brogues sticking through the desk, shiny as conkers. I’d never realised how much I’d hated him.

He glanced up suddenly and caught my look; returned it with interest.

“Hundred percent, Kitson. Well, you’ve done it at last.”

The Bob Dylan track is I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine:

“Would you like a game of chess?” asked Laura. I could almost imagine sympathy in her voice. But that was the slippery slope Idris had slid down.

“Not tonight, Laura.” I was too edgy. And she was far too good at chess—usually ended up coaching me so hard she was literally playing against herself.

“What would you like?”

“Play me a Bob Dylan tape. ‘I dreamed I saw St. Augustine.’” Suddenly I was afraid, sick of being a Tech, of the Centre, of the way Techs endlessly pulled each other down. I wanted to be an Est again; at college we’d played that antique tape so much we wore it out.

This was a lucky Google. I search for "perfect score" "science fiction" site:goodreads.com/book/show/ and Futuretrack 5 just happened to catch my eye.

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    I agree it matches the description - I don't recall any mention of helicopters beyond the psycopters, helicopters equipped with 'radar' that detected strong emotions.
    – Peter
    Commented Jul 7 at 19:38
  • I didn't spot the question first off, but this was my guess from the first two parts of the question. I didn't remember the Bob Dylan song detail though - but then again I was about 13 when I read it so I probably wouldn't have clocked that. It was a bit of a NSFW book for a school library (sexual content, graphic violence) so I never knew whether it had just snuck past the adults, or whether our librarian (who was far more switched-on than everyone gave her credit for) had made a definite choice.
    – Graham
    Commented Jul 8 at 12:47
  • ... There wasn't anything about helicopter plans though. What there was, was a way to melt the "brain" of the AI which ran Britain. And in the end, that Chekhov's Gun does get fired, except not exactly with the consequences that Kitson or anyone else predicted.
    – Graham
    Commented Jul 8 at 12:51

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