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Another relic from the earliest days of DAW, The City Machine is a neat little allegorical tale, confident of its intent. The story is set on a distant world colonized by humans ages before. Everyone lives in an enormous multi-layered, domed city, built by the titular device, which has since been lost to the ages along with the knowledge and the original language used by the first human colonists. The city itself is run in classic classist fashion, with the haves at the top and the have-nots (literally the Lowers here) at the bottom.

Our protagonist is Ryne, a former Lower descended from the last line of rebels who were the only remaining people capable of reading the old language. No one seems to have much interaction with the mythic and quasi-godlike Uppers, an interesting touch by Trimble that works to the book’s advantage. By keeping the Uppers a mystery, Trimble illustrates that the naive and selfish Middles really have no knowledge about what it is towards which they claim to aspire.

Ryne now lives respectably in the Middle (yes, Trimble does underline his class distinctions in bold strokes here, but the tale’s general unpretentiousness helps save it from maudlin excess), and is one day contacted by a group of Lowers who want his help in retrieving the old texts and reading them. It appears that there is a group of Lowers led by a charismatic fellow named Laszlo who has a line on how to locate the original City Machine and the operational texts. All he needs is a fellow who can read them, after which he plans to lead the Lowers out of the city and build them their own, in which they will be free of oppression and woe. Let us pause to dab our eyes.

Now, it seems that the Coordinator, a nefarious bureaucratic type in the Middle city, knows all about Laszlo’s little plan and is perfectly happy to allow Ryne to go and do Laszlo’s bidding...but all in the nature of an undercover operation, of course. And just in case Ryne suffers an attack of altruism and sides with the huddled masses yearning etc. etc., the Coordinator keeps Ryne’s betrothed under, ahem, close observation in the Middle city while Ryne is away. Run along now!

Okay, that was a glib synopsis and probably makes the novel sound unfairly silly. In fact, it isn’t at all. Basically, I was just making the point that though the basic premise of The City Machine could be the stuff of which melodrama is made, Trimble is a good enough author to avoid the most obvious of pitfalls by structuring and executing his tale as strict escapist action-adventure, rather than as self-important message-mongering. At only 143 pages, it’s short, fast and fun to read, with nifty twists in all the right spots and solid action right up to the end. While perhaps not a paragon of originality, Louis Trimble (1917-1988) was a satisfying writer of light adventures that got the job done. And getting the job done is where The City Machine works most capably.

Addendum: As of 2012, this title is available in Nook and Kindle editions.