Once more into the abyss where Mr. Christopher functions best. . . . In a future England, the city-dwellers--Conurbans--exult in their plasticized proximity, the County gentry (and their servants) in their anachronistic seclusion, and each disdains the other as alien: for orphaned thirteen-year-old Conurb Rob crossing the Barrier is simply an act of self-preservation, a way to escape the brutalizing State boarding school. His assertiveness notwithstanding, he is equally a pawn when--befriended by young Mike Gilford--he becomes the patrician family's "distant cousin from Nepal"; Pygmalion-like, he adjusts to County customs, to the no-less-prescribed if more genteel existence. But Rob's coming, his very being, has made a difference to Mike, drawing him to the covert revolutionaries at school: people are content, agitator Pembroke admits, but "Being discontented is part of being free. And we aren't free." While Mike embraces the argument and the cause, Rob rejects both--until exposure to one of the all-controlling Guardians and disclosure that complacent, ineffectual Mr. Gifford has been "conditioned" (as Mike is threatened with being) sends him back across the Barrier to join the conspiracy. Orwell of course was there first, and this is not the compelling construct of The White Mountains; neither are the characters as critical to the action (circumstances shape them rather than vice versa) or as interesting. But the dichotomy is drawn with finesse and the issues emerge of their own momentum--of their own free will, you might say, which is very much to the point.