A science fiction novel set in a completely built up world where vertical values are prized while all horizontal tendencies are suspect. An illicit underground group is hoping to break through to the elusive outside but special agents are hot on the trail.
The mingled joy and strife of liberation propel Wortsman's harshly elegant dystopian fable, which falters only during a disappointingly convoluted climax. After his father is terminated via an "occupant disposal chute," adolescent Elgin's wayward "horizontal thinking" brands him as a possible troublemaker in a tyrannical society that requires literal and metaphorical "vertical thinking" from its inhabitants. The chance discovery of a forbidden tunnel sends him fleeing, pursued by his mother and an egotistical doctor, into the arms of Outsiders who have been digging below the vertical city. Elgin befriends the scavenger Park and new romantic interest Meadow, but he soon comes to realize that his liberators may be as treacherous as the society they rally against. In Elgin, Wortsman (Ghost Dance in Berlin) has created a sympathetic individualist whose search for freedom rings true. Inevitable betrayal in a world of paranoia and mass complacency suggests that optimism may be the worst deceit of all. Although marred by a rushed, overly obtuse ending, this intellectually provocative novel is worth a read.