Another bleak future on a distant planet is the setting for this British import. But having set up the repressive, barren mining planet of Erato, from which all those without jobs by age 15 are summarily deported to something unspeakably worse, Mark uses the science-fiction situation merely as background for a real, flesh-and-blood novel. The story begins with the police observing peculiar Isaac on his crucial fifteenth birthday; Isaac, an orphan, appears to be a goony misfit, but he's soon revealed as a crafty survivor, smart enough to arrange an emergency so that Theodore, for whom Isaac works as a personal servant, will have to keep him on. For a while it's enough just to watch Isaac make his way in this scheming, dehumanized society. But the grand scheme he concocts later on--to import a young woman sculptor from the overcrowded mother planet, so that she and Theodore might marry and owe their good fortune to Isaac--backfires gruesomely when she turns out to be unkempt and dangerously independent. Sculptor Eleanor's principled recalcitrance strikes a chord, though, in silent landscapist Moshe, who's also a temporary import but a Jewish one who has kept in his head the humanist traditions once known on long-defunct Earth. Their forbidden affair in turn sets off uneasy stirrings in Isaac's dormant conscience, so that in the end he gives up Iris hard-earned security to aid--and join--Eleanor in a desperate stab at escape. There's more to the plot--Isaac, for example, is Theodore's half-brother who should be sharing his inheritance--and though the playing out of her theme follows a standard outline, Mark's characters (including several memorable minor ones) are compellingly distinct, and her grim, dead-end village as real as the next one down the pike.