Review: The City of Gold and Lead, by John Christopher

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Reliving my earliest reading memories, I have now finished the second book in John Christopher’s Tripods Trilogy.  It continues from where the last one finished, with our hero Will, Henry and Beanpole (don’t know why he’s the only one who gets a nickname) having completed their perilous journey to the White Mountains and joining the resistance there.  Life is hard, but they are free.  Ultimately, they need a plan to free humanity from their three-legged masters, but there’s just one problem – no one really knows anything about the tripods.  They stomp around the countryside and occasionally come to settlements to take people to be capped, but otherwise the resistance are clueless about what the tripods actually are or where they came from.

To find out, they need to infiltrate a tripod city.  To do that, Will and a couple of others enter a tournament, after which the winners of the games are taken to the city to be slaves.  Sounds like a perfect plan, but there is one teeny little caveat – no one has ever returned.

Suffice to say though Will does make it inside and so the bulk of the story is him posing a slave and trying to learn as much as he can about the Tripods, or Masters, for they are indeed a race from another world.  They seem to like gold a lot in their architecture, and the lead in the title refers to the heavy gravity they somehow make in their city.  They are an interesting race.  The author obviously put a lot of thought into how their society is organised and their customs and the games they play, although we see them all through Will’s eyes who struggles to understand everything that he sees.  What they do to females that enter the city though… they claim to be preserving ‘beauty’ but I’m not sure if it’s their standard of such or human standards that they want to preserve in a sort of museum to how life on Earth once was (and we’ll learn soon that they must have watched a lot of TV and movies themselves).  That was the only question I had.

We do also learn how the conquest of Earth happened.  It wasn’t just a military invasion – the masters arrived in a single ship sent out to find habitable worlds (Earth just barely qualified), and decided it was too risky to just attack.  Instead, they used our favourite TV shows against us, basically highjacking the signals to hypnotise people and lure them away to be capped.  By the time anyone figured out what was going on, most of humanity was already under their control.  There’s probably some kind of metaphor in there somewhere.

So yes, this middle book in the trilogy is mainly getting to know the masters and… well, I was going to say how alien they are, but following in the footsteps of HG Wells, their attitude to humans is probably not much different to that of European colonists toward native peoples.  Even the kindest among them still look down on and regard humans as animals.  And it turns they’re just waiting for delivery of some equipment from their homeworld so they can transform the whole Earht’s atmosphere into one more suitable for them (and will also kill everything that already lives here).

In this book we learn some of the history and the alien’s plans.  In the next book of course we’ll see if there’s anything anyone can actually do about it.  It doesn’t really stand as a story on it’s own. but I believe it was written back-to-back with the third and final installment.

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