The Last Underclass
Dean Warren
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Buy *The Last Underclass* online The Last Underclass

Dean Warren
400 pages
February 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

Dean Warren's sci-fi tale The Last Underclass revisits themes and speculations seen in modern genre classics by such acclaimed authors as Orson Scott Card, Matthew Woodring Stover and Kim Stanley Robinson (maybe Warren should consider throwing his middle name or his mother's maiden name or something in there...). Just how far the ever-widening chasm between the haves and have-nots will grow; the prospect of off-planet colonization (and who will get to go); potential longevity treatments granting near-eternal life (to those who can afford it); the thorny issue of an exploding human population, especially among the poorer peoples and subcultures -- The Last Underclass tackles issues that will be social and political powder kegs in the foreseeable future.

Reluctant hero John "Quiet" Griffin is just another Welfie-ghetto kid, with a potential that he's channeled into the Web-learning courses his mother insists upon. But his mother is gravely ill, and a life on the dole is ill-equipped to pay for medical treatments.  Desperate to save her, he cobbles together a plan to thieve an expensive bauble from the mansion of the "Starman," Lord Rionglu, the man who helms the corporation that holds the secret to intergalactic travel. Instead, he finds himself rescuing the Starman and his two daughters from would-be kidnappers. The grateful CEO plucks the erstwhile criminal from obscurity, sponsoring Quiet's admission into military academy and paying for his mother's medical expenses.

On leave after a year at the Academy, Quiet meets with Lady Anne, the headstrong but beautiful younger daughter of the Starman. An aging military officer and rich dowager make an attempt to have the two snatched; when Quiet foils the plot, the rumors of switching -- rich old Achievers having their personalities transplanted into younger, haler bodies -- are proven true. So it is that Quiet is thrust into the spotlight as the unwilling spokesman for the downtrodden Welfie class -- the ghettoized "useless" poor whose population the Achiever-run world council seek to limit with fertility depressants in their food and water.

When Quiet and a genetically "improved" biologist find an habitable planet dubbed "New Eden" in another galaxy, oppressive Achiever greed and hubris in denying Welfies every benefit of new technology and discovery leads the world to the brink of a class war. Quiet, who has learned a devastating secret about his own past, becomes the lynchpin in the effort to save humanity from itself.

The Last Underclass is the kind of book that redeems the whole self-publishing print-on-demand trend. Well-written and thoughtful, it's almost free of the typographical and grammatical errors that typically pepper a book from outfits like Xlibris, iUniverse, or 1stBooks. Cutting a "bastard" here or there may have improved the flow of the prose, and the story's conclusion is a bit too deus-ex-machina-happy-ending, but overall Warren deserves at least a cursory look from the big-boy genre publishers. With another sf/f novel, Man Over Mind, under his belt, Warren looks to be on a roll. It will be interesting to watch him develop as an author.

© 2002 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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