I rarely read contemporary novels set in London, or any city society; usually plucking a science-fiction or even science-fact paperback off the airport or rail-station book-stand. But, leafing through Tom Campbell's novel The Planner, initially captured by a memorable, striking snake-like shape on its cover, I was immediately caught-up in the author's most alien (to me), exotic and strange society, set in a London landscape that I find is entirely familiar.
It was an alien abduction - not by little green men from Mars, but by what my fading and failing aged generation used to call Yuppies - young upwardly-mobile professionals. These now not-so-young creatures, brilliantly portrayed and observed in all their haunts and habits, incidentally consume limitless amounts of sex, alcohol, drugs and partners, while holding down good jobs and playing out complex relationships.
They commune in central London, north and south of the twisting-shape that I had immediately recognised - the snake-like tidal River Thames flowing under Tower Bridge, by the City of London to the north, and by Southwark to the south; being the iconic focus of every map of that famous built landscape. In an earlier age, before these fascinating yuppies were conceived, I worked with Southwark developers of wharves and Technology Parks, and latterly on sea-level-rise at Tower Bridge. Tom Campbell's laconic hero, James, is a London Borough of Southwark Planner. Here we met, despite the age gap.
We, my grey-power, post-war 1950's baby boomers and I, did not have "carnal knowledge", or drugs, could not afford alcohol, and married our childhood sweethearts for seventy-years of faithful conjugal bliss. The book's characters, who, like modern "customers", only need first names, break all our rules, without even knowing there once were rules. They casually indulge in Sinful Acts that would make the banned and scandalous Lady Chatterley blush and would once have condemned and damned us all to Eternity in Hellfire, after a short Earthly life punished and plagued by incurable STDs: (if you have ask - you are not a yuppie alien).
But our heroic James navigates this intriguing moral, urban and civil landscape with relative ease. He mingles with powerful developers and financiers, attends tedious planning-meetings, debates with academics, falls in and out of love, snorts cocaine and parties through the night; and effortlessly embraces the e-revolution; determined all the while to do his bit to transform The London Plan.
I have learned much about the next generation, and enjoyed the book's mastery of its subject and language; that I would have missed had I automatically picked up another sci-fi book displaying alien suns, moons and planets, urging me to "Boldly Go". It sometimes pays to be thoroughly Earthed and explore the alien but accessible world of top topical authors. Its a good read.