Over the course of the past month I've been reading John Christopher's Tripod Trilogy. Well, now, improperly named Tripod Trilogy because in the 80s, he produced a prequel, When the Tripods Came, which I'm about 2/3 through.
I remember reading The White Mountains (book 1) as a kid, though I don't remember if I'd ever actually read the whole thing: I do recall some of The City of Gold and Lead (book 2) but that may be from the snatches of the BBC miniseries that somehow would occasionally appear on PBS.
As with most things of my youth, I prefer the original covers. Both the The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire I had to read 35th anniversary editions and they just didn't have the same feel as their original late 60s "Fantastic Planet"-esque covers.
Thankfully we still had a copy of the original White Mountains.
Will lives in the small village of Wherton in England. Though Wikipedia says life is very much like the Middle Ages, I never really get that feeling. It seems much more like some sort of country manor life - possibly a la Jane Austen. The most technologically advanced piece of machinery owned in the village is a watch, owned by Will's father.
Will is 13, and his "Capping Day" is looming on the horizon. On "Capping Day" a Tripod will come to the village and all the 13 year olds will be taken up into the belly of this strange machine, later to be returned, their heads shaved and a metal cap interwoven into the flesh of the skull. Sometimes these caps cause their humans to go crazy, and these men and women (more often men because this is a very male-centered story) are called Vagrants.
Soon, after a "Capping Day" in which Will sees his best friend and cousin Jack taken up and returned capped (think Stepford Wives), a vagrant calling himself Ozymandias comes into Wherton and he and Will begin to get to know each other. Soon it becomes clear that Ozy is not a Vagrant, but a free man who travels the country looking for young men who are questioning the purpose of the capping.
Thus, begins Will's and Henry's (another cousin) journey to the White Mountains where free men live and work to overthrow the Tripods. They leave England and make it to France where they meet Beanpole (Jean-Paul), travel through an obliterated Paris, live for a time in a castle and eventually make it (with some very harrowing escapes) to the safety of the mountains.
The City of Gold and Lead focuses on the attempt of the free men of the White Mountains to infiltrate one of the cities of the Tripods. To this end, the young men train for an Olympics given in Germany. The winners of said games will be taken to a nearby city of the Tripods as their award. On this journey Henry is left behind, and Will, Beanpole and Fritz make it to the Olympics. Beanpole loses, while both Will and Fritz make it.
Soon after they and other winners are taken up into Tripods and taken to the City of Gold and Lead, a domed city of pyramids and poisonous air. The human inhabitants - all teenage boys - wear basically a loincloth and a protective helmet so that they can breath. Also the gravity inside the city is many times stronger than outside, for the Masters - huge, gross aliens who've been in control of the Earth for many hundreds of years - come from a planet with greater center of gravity. Many of the humans crumple to floor when they first get there. The human boys are then divied out to Their Masters.
Will is lucky in that his Master is kinder than most - eventually the Master will consider Will to be a pet, a faithful friend, his dog. However, Fritz's Master beats him on a whim.
(Can this get any gayer?)
Eventually Will and Fritz pass information back and forth, information which Will writes down in the margins of a book his Master allows him to take into his quarters. Also the Master in what appears to be a guilty mood talks to Will, his "friend" about the upcoming plans for the planet and for mankind. It seems that within 4 years, another ship of Masters will arrive, carrying a generator that will pump the atmosphere full of the Masters' air, killing all living things.
This, too, Will records in his book. But one night when the Master sends Will on an errand - in an attempt to go into Will's quarters and lavish him with a surprise - the Master finds this book and confronts Will about it on his return. In the rush of the moment, Will strikes his Master in a soft spot between mouth and nose, killing it.
It is now up to Will with Fritz's help, to escape the city.
The Pool of Fire picks up where we left off. At the end of The City of Gold and Lead, Will makes it out through the river that runs through the City and he is found by Beanpole who had been staking out the joint for quite a while. Will and Beanpole stay for a bit longer, hoping that Fritz will show. When he does not, they head back for The White Mountains, to find that their comrades have moved on to another hideout. Guards however find the two boys and take them to their new sanctuary.
Will recounts what he learned and over the Masters' plans. The free men are now sent into overdrive. Some, including Will, are sent out to recruit those who do not wish to be capped. While, others including Beanpole are sent to a secret military and scientific lab in an effort to capture a Tripod and a Master.
Will they succeed? Can they stop the destruction of all life on Earth except for the vile Masters?
Got a couple of days...yeah, go check out the books and find out!