Book Review: Garbage World, Charles Platt (serialized 1966)


(Keith Roberts’ cover for New Worlds SF, October 1966, ed. Michael Moorcock)

2/5 (Bad)

In 1980, 3,000 copies of Charles Platt’s SF novel The Gas (1968)—in which, the “eponymous gas, accidentally released over England, works as an irresistible aphrodisiac […]” and, according to John Clute at SF encyclopedia, contains “sex material” in “transgressively pornographic terms”—were seized by UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions in effect preventing a UK distribution [article].

Platt’s first novel, Garbage World (serialized 1966), feels like The Gas‘s SF juvenile little brother i.e. without the transgressive porn but all the intent to shock a 14 year old boy, although it’s never more than “the warmth of the mud mingled with the warmth of their lovemaking” (95).  So, what is this tidbit of effluvia all about?  First, the silliest part of the novel—the often scatalogical chapter titles: “Garbage Party” (21), “The Hole” ( 57), “The Yellow Rain” (81), “The Defecated Village” (100), “The Great Purgative Plan” (105), etc.

And the rest of the silly novel… Garbage World dolls up a plot rudiment straight from the pulps with a distinct patina of mud and mire.  Nice Oliver Roach and his evil villain colleague “Minister of the Government of the United Asteroid Belt Pleasure Worlds Federation, Zone Two, Commander of the Imperial Survey Craft” (9) Larkin are from the clean astroids.  These men fetishize the clean and bathe compulsively.  They arrive at the astroid of Kopra, which is the astroid belt’s trash heap, to ostensibly avert a catastrophe.  Kopra has grown from a small rock to a giant veritable ball of trash with jungles and yellow rain: “a century’s worth of refuse has accumulated here, and the layer is now more than ten miles thick in places […] This vast layer is only held in place by a three-quarter gee field from an obsolete, malfunctioning generator” (12).  The goal, replace the generator to prevent the astroid from falling apart because…

…an entire society of trash dwellers—who plod across the squalid, mushy, and smelly trashscape—eek out an existence tracking down the trash “blimps” lobbed over from the other astroids.  The new trash in the “blimps” provide food and the status providing “cool” trash fragments that form each man’s horde.  The man with the largest horde rules the town.  Evil clean man Larkin has other plans of course—to streamline the astroid belt’s trash problem.  And, he can’t get over how dirty everyone is: “You seem to see these slimy creatures as human beings, rather than the offensive vermin they really are.  They are not men” (107).

Soon, as Oliver’s last name (dirty insects are the best insects) indicates, his dirty interior takes over and his cleanliness fetish disappears.  As is so often the case, Oliver wants to get the girl.  But, first, he must grapple with the fact that Juliette is covered (literally) with trash.  As they trek across the trashscape looking for trash nomads, fighting giant trash slugs, falling into giant vaginal trash chasms, Oliver has a revelatory trashgasm of belonging and love and well, discovers he has a thing for oozy trash mud:

“He had to admit it.  He could never go back to the clean life, now.  Not anymore.  Never again.  Lying in the mud, in the gentle sun, he picked up a handful of ooze and squeezed it out between his fingers.  He rubbed it over his arms, smooth and warm.  He wiggled his toes in it and felt its gentle touch all over his body” (95).

He proclaims, “I just can’t believe what’s happened to me” (95).  I proclaim, “I just can’t believe I read this far.”

Final Thoughts

What is Platt’s purpose in all of this?  Why did Michael Moorcock serialize Garbage World in the highly influential New Worlds magazine?  Other far superior authors of the day played with and subverted the SF trope of a clean/sterile future.  For example, Brian W. Aldiss in The Dark Light-Years (1964)—another highly problematic novel—posited a sentient alien species which spent their days copulating, laying around, and eating in their own filth.  Humankind is confronted, and bewildered, by these aliens.  And again in “Legends of Smith’s Burst” (1959), Aldiss took a Vance-esque planetary romance story but filled the worldscape with filth and decay, elements the human hero can never come to grips with.

Platt attempts to chart similarly subversive waters.  At the core Garbage World is a SF juvenile: morally upright man encounters and wins woman and saves the planet.  But, here the world worth saving is a ball of trash, and everyone on the planet is covered with trash, and governs the entire social structure of the society—like Aldiss’ aliens in The Dark Light-Years, Kopra’s inhabitants revel in their environment.  Consciously or unconsciously, Platt conveys the entire work in the vocabulary of a SF juvenile.  The language is simple, clunky, and superficial.  An intriguing exercise, but ultimately, Garbage World is about as engaging as finding a fecal remnant left by my cat which just missed the litterbox.  Darn cat.

For more reviews consult the INDEX


(Feref’s cover for the 1968 edition)


(Jeff Jones’ cover for the 1973 edition)


(Victor Linford’s cover for the 1977 Dutch edition)


(Doug Beekman’s cover for a 1970s edition)

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 7.49.56 AM

(Uncredited cover for the 1967 edition)

66 thoughts on “Book Review: Garbage World, Charles Platt (serialized 1966)

    • I like SF that prods and provokes if there is something of substance — at least Aldiss’ SF which often explores similar ideas about filth and decay dabbles a bit philosophically and are well crafted… This is a SF juvenile with scatalogical jokes — and little else.

    • I have grouped all of my around 250 reviews by rating [here].

      As with everyone who asks for these types of lists be aware of the type of SF I generally prefer — 60s/70s (some 50s) and definitely more experimental/literary etc. Some people track down a 5/5 novel and tell me — well, “that was terrible. It didn’t have much of a plot and was more interested in philosophy.” Yeah, sounds like my type of SF novel!

      And perhaps Platt’s juvenile on a trash planet with lots of silly poop and sex jokes is your cup of tea — I guess you would know.

    • It also depends on how much SF you’ve read — if you know about Platt than I’m guessing you’ve probably read a lot of the classics already. Keep in mind that my ratings list is only of the novels I’ve reviewed in the history of my site — so there are many more novels that I enjoy….

      • I actually don’t read that much Sci Fi but have been looking for some good places to start. The reason I’ve heard of Platt is probably because of the book art as I do posts on book cover art at my blog. I guess i’d be interested in soft Sci fi (i think I heard that term used) more along the lines of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Borrows. I guess they have more fantasy elements to the stories.

        • I’ve read both Verne and Burroughs. I enjoy Verne but dislike Burroughs — I understand their appeal and historical importance but little to none of the SF I read really relates stylistically/conceptually/ideologically (in part because they are writing decades and decades and decades earlier) to those authors… If you want more pulp adventure recommendations consult MPorcius over at his book blog. He dabbles more than I do.

          Jack Vance perhaps….

            • i write fiction in the horror genre and have stories published in a dozen books and magazines, but I never crossed over into sci-fi. So i would want to do a lot of reading before I attempted any stories. The closest I have come was a 50’s sci-fi movie style story with giant monsters battling in a midwest town and a Kaiju story upcoming in another anthology. 🙂

            • Well, I recommend working through the Hugo awards for the 50s/70s/80s etc to get and idea of what was popular at various times. And work through the Nebula awards for the more radical authors (some overlap)…. You then know the major authors and be in a position to delve into their lesser known works.

  1. “feels like The Gas‘s SF juvenile little brother i.e. without the transgressive porn but all the intent to shock a 14 year old boy,”

    “He proclaims, “I just can’t believe what’s happened to me” (95). I proclaim, “I just can’t believe I read this far.””

    Hahaha! Laughing and clapping and a little bit curious to read it. I wonder what Moorcock saw in it.

  2. Wow, that sounds awful. I mean I’m still curious enough to read it—the core idea sounds kinda interesting… maybe I’ll look into it for the next time I want to write a rant.

    The magazine cover I find strangely appealing, though I’d probably try to buy that last Berkeley cover… should be easier to find in the States.

  3. Wow, that … I … I guess I can imagine the wry, amusing book that could be written from the premise. I mean, “newcomer plunges in, saves the world and gets the girl” subverted by being on a repugnant planet? For that matter, getting out of the early-20th-century technophile overcoming-of-nature mindset and discovering the joys of being down in the mud? That would still be a slightly dangerous vision, if I may say so, at least submitted to Analog. Anyway I can imagine a version of this that worked.

    • It is amusing but incredibly stupid. It STILL is a juvenile regardless of the situation/environment. It still is poorly plotted and rather unexciting despite the attempt to subvert the “clean” vs. “dirty” paradigm.

      But yes, the novel winds up being anti-intellectual etc. I do enjoy the idea of making due with what you have — but, the novel reinforces the “us” vs. “them,” we can NEVER return to the rest of the society because we like dirt, divide. Which is ridiculous… The rest of society perhaps can learn something from the Kopra inhabitants rather than simply reinforce the divides which already existed despite Oliver’s move to live with them.

  4. “He proclaims, “I just can’t believe what’s happened to me” (95). I proclaim, “I just can’t believe I read this far.””

    I must admit, I laughed out loud at this as well.

  5. This book was translated to Swedish in 1969, and I have it waiting in the bookshelf to be read at some point. However, given your review I think it will have to wait a loooong time for its turn. At the moment I read Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas – couldn’t resist buying that one after you praising it in an earlier blog post. It is a brilliant book.

    For a peek on the Swedish cover you can surf in here:

  6. Have you read Platt’s Dream Makers? It is a very good collection of interviews with well known science fiction writers circa 1979-80.

      • The interview with James Tipree Jr must be in the second book. I only have the first. Almost all the writers he interviews are male in this volume. The Philip K. Dick interview is one of the best in the collection. The one with Alfred Bester is also very interesting. Bester was never a full time SF writer like the rest of the subjects.Some Interviews are only okay. He could not really get much information out Sam Delaney. Delaney was more interested in discussing literary theory than anything else. He spent a few days with Barry Maltzberg and the stories pretty entertaining. The Ballard interview was pretty good. The weakest entry was Damon Knight and his wife. He did not interview them but let them writer a conversation. Thomas Disch,Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock,all New Wave writers were interviewed but he did not get as much out of them as one would think. Asimov was nothing new but there is one good and insightful incident that he recalls from his interview. E.C. Tubb was interviewed but I never read any work of his.

        One interview that is odd is the Van Vogt one. Interestingly it is the chapter right before Philip K. Dick. You have wonder if it was intentional since he was such a huge influence on Dick. Maybe it is because they both lived in California. He makes Van Vogt sound like a crackpot with illogical ideas. He doesn’t call him “ditzy” you get the impression he wants to. But in fairness Van Vogt believed in things Dianetics which are scientifically questionable.

        • Van Vogt as you obviously know,was the seminal influence on Dick.He came to his stuff through the magazines,so his future course as an sf writer was already charted,but I would have thought he would have been reading sf outside of the magazines,such as Wells I suppose,and also Olaf Stapleton,whose themes were closer to his own,than those of Van Vogt,so the influence seems to be obvious.Both sources would seem to have inspired him in tandem.

          Dick and Van Vogt would later become poles apart as writers,and Dick was as equally inspired by modern literature as generic sf,that doesn’t include the two British writers I mentioned.However,it’s strange perhaps that you mentioned Van Vogt as having “illogical ideas” and was “scientifically questionable”,as it’s something he seems to have equally in common with Dick.I would not say though that Dick was just simply plain crazy,but the same reasoning should in fairness be said of Van Vogt it seems..

      • Richard,these are all very good points. Let me tackle the last part first. If you are speaking about his “visions” in 1974,Dick was agonistic about that.He was never certain it is was real. It just speculated endlessly on what it could haven been assuming it ‘was real;. It is sort of a shame he did use this time to write more novels instead. On the other hand the same themes in his vision are covered in his earlier pre 1974 books.

        The illogical things regarding Van Vogt were types fake science like Dianetics,or the Bates eye improvement,etc. Dick never subscribed to any group of thought. Though he was influenced many sources. Carl Jung was probably his main intellectual influence.

        Platt give a more respectable view of Dick,making him out has a misunderstood mysitc who was kind and even wise. Van Vogt he treats as a crackpot pot who Platt actually says is out of touch with reality a number of times. Not insane,but someone who believes things that are not true. At he was enough of a gentleman not say it to his face. .

        • Yes that’s right,as I say,he wasn’t really crazy.He was sanguine enough to realise that what was “happening” to him was of doubtful truth,but he was in a very bad state of mind then,but one perhaps that needed the “revelations” it seems.In “Valis”,it’s Fat,who might be called the “darker” side of Dick,who believes the origin of the visions,not the rational Dick himself.Throughout his life,this “split” in his persona,was one with which “they” had to battle to become joined,and reflected the disparate nature of his work,that also makes his style unmistakable.

          It’s true,that much of his 1960s stuff,predated what happened to him later.As you know,he had experienced strange visions then,and the one he had in 1964,became the source for “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”.The point is though,that to the fullness of my knowledge,he believed it happened.Whatever you might think of this,at least the experience was personal,unlike the cultist beliefs of Van Vogt.Who knows what to think.

          My thoughts on Dick are predicated upon the vast body of his work I’ve read,whereas of Van Vogt stuff,I’ve only read one collection of later short stories and his “Black Destroyer” in an anthology.I’ll reserve judgement then.

      • It is interesting that you mention the double motif. You just reminded me of Confessions of a Crap Artist. He split himself into two characters in that book also. It is interesting more than 20 years before the publication of Valis he was doing this. Jack Isodore was crazier self in the earlier book. Maybe this is because he had a twin sister who died when he was infant but he liked doubles. There is also a twin of sorts in Dr Bloodmoney. Have you read Radio Free Albemuth? That was his first draft of Valis. In some ways I liked it better.

        • I think you’re right about “Confessions of a Crap Artist”,but Isodore isn’t aware of his craziness or has a mirror opposite to remind him of it.”Valis is similair in theme to “A Scanner Darkly”,where a man is split into two halves because of his ambiguous life,and no longer knows his own identity,but is strangely aware of being two personas.

          I can well understand the relationship to his twin sister though.I think the conflict between Dick and Fat,is the struggle for “him” to find his feminine half.The character of St.Sophia in “Valis”,the feminine form of God,whose voice he actually claimed to have heard,I think he associated with his dead twin.It was salvific for him.She also appears as the character Zina in “The Divine Invasion”.

          Yes,the twins theme,much disguised,did not infrequently find itself within his fictionalised reality.It also came to mean something more spiritual within a dualistic context.

          “Radio Free Albemuth” seems more controlled and of greater clarity than “Valis”,but seems an anodyne book compared to his previous stuff,and is a lesser book compared to them I think.I can see why it needed a rewrite,but “Valis” was an entirely different novel,of a literary intensity that was damaging I think.

          The sf magazines that Van Vogt wrote in,were an important influence on him,but can’t help thinking that he would have wanted to write it within the wider world of literature,such as Olaf Stapleton,whose books were published the same time as the “odious” magazines.I think he would have wanted to have wrote books that were something of both,and of course he did within the sf genre.He went through an hiatus though,when he only read literary classics,and this is what really influenced and shaped his later stuff.

      • Richard,his mainstream literary influences were Kafka,James Joyce,who are among the “modernist” writers. He mentioned Proust once also. As for his science fiction influences the only name after Van Vogt that he mentioned often was Ray Bradbury. It is said his early works tried to divide these two interests into two careers. One mainstream,which never sold,and science fiction was the other. Sometime around Eye in the Sky and Time out of Joint he merged these influences. I see it starting in Eye but most people say Time,where it was far more obvious. You can also the merger in the next few books of the early 60s.

        • Yes,I’m well aware of Dick’s literary influences,particularly Kafka it seems.The looming shadow of his novels,”The Castle”,in “The Man in the High Castle”,and “The Trial” in “Time Out of Joint” and “A Maze of Death”,can be particularly felt I think.Another one was Borges of those I’ve read,whose “Fumes the Meritorius”,I’ve cited elsewhere as bearing a sharp similarity to his early novel,”The World Jones Made”,although his presence is obviously luminous elsewhere in his work.

          Of his sf influences,do you know John Sladek was supposed to be a significant one upon him? I suppose there could be said to be similarities in their stuff,but it seems strange,as Sladek came later than him,and would have thought it would be the other way around.I’ve heard of life imatating art,but never an author imitating his own style!

          “Time Out of Joint” as I’ve said before,was very much the fiction he wanted to write,combining both his sf and mainstream ambitions,and what his later books would probably have been like.Unfortunately,it attracted little critical attention,and he changed direction again.Yes,a much more brazen approach was attempted in the early 1960s starting with “The Man in the High Castle”,but his next books he wrote were too maverick for publishers it seems,and was met hostilely.Of these,the excellent “Dr Bloodmoney”,was published by Ace,and was a much gentler novel than “We Can Build You” and Martian Time-Slip”,but still with a definite mainstream flavouring,but none of the next novels they published,were like it.

          I will have to read “Confessions of a Crap Artist” again.Does this mean then that Jack too had a more sanguine side,and isn’t really insane at all? In fact,all of the characters in COACA,are insane really in a non-clinical way,but his “insanity” seems to allow him a clearer outside view of their condition.

          “Now Wait for Last Year” was an excellent novel,but perhaps the ending wasn’t the best he could have came up with.However,much of his acerbic but humourous stuff,ends in despairing circumstances.What’s usually noteworthy,is whether the characters have the courage to survive in perplexing and uncomfortable circumstances.It is typical I think of the strange angst that made his style unmistakable.

          I don’t think Dick’s characters develope an extra personality,but they do separate clinically from each other in the cases mentioned above.They are complex characters,who are often morally ambiguous.

      • Actually Richard,Jack Isodore is aware of his problems by the final chapter of the book. It is not a great ending but not one of Dick’s worst. Ever read Now Wait for Last Year? The ending just did not work for me. It was not believable nor was it pleasing. Some people like that book but it ended with the hero went back to a hopeless situation.

        Went off on a tangent there. By the way Scanner Darkly is a excellent example of the dual identity theme. Did you know that was inspired by the split brain research of Roger Sperry at Cal Tec?. Of course split brain patients never developed a extra personality . That is fiction.

      • Richard,I totaly agree with you on that. Forgot about We can Build You being written at that time. But that High Castle,Martain,and Bloodmoney all have a mainstream flavor that the books from Stigmata onward would lack. It was not really until Flow my Tears that he did something that felt more mainstream.

        I am sort of disappointed in Bloodmoney. It is often considered one of his best but there are too many characters coming and go and the book sort of meanders. And few of the characters are that interesting. The most interesting ones are Eddie Keller and her brother who lives inside her. After reading this I wondered if Harlan Ellison named the tv character in his Star Trek script Edie Keller. Never seen anyone mention this before. Does anyone know of a connection?

        Speaking of connection there is one more involving Blloodmoney. Do not if you or the other posters read comic books but the character of Hoppy is similar to a character in Frank Miller’s Ronin.

        • Yes,the Ace paperbacks that followed the writing of those four,didn’t have that scrict,mainstream feeling,but I’m not sure if this can be said for some of his later 1960s novels.”The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” was a brilliant novel not written for Ace,which had a quirky,comic yet elegant style of prose different to the earlier novels you cited,and was very mainstream in it’s themes and concerns.Later still,”Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was composed in a crystalline prose that ranked it among his best written books I think,while “Galactic Pot-Healer” was written with a simple,light-hearted but beautiful artistry,that like DADOES,contains very poignant themes.

          “Flow my Tears,the Policeman Said” was a necessary change in direction for Dick,but seemed flawed in structure despite it’s obvious mainstream character.I thought it was faulted compared to the earlier novels I mentioned above,perhaps because it was too intense and self conscious in it’s composition in trying to achieve mainstream “modernism”.His next novel,”A Scanner Darkly”,which came the closest at the time to mainstream greatness,was reminisent of his earlier work in tone,meaning it was dished out in a fast and quirky manner,but was a more simply written and concise novel than FMTTPS I think.He is remarkable for the diversity of tone between different books,but are still recognisably his.

          “Dr Bloodmoney” is one of his best books,that has a very sanguine,earthy feeling of a contemporary world that is unique among his varied output,but perhaps does as you say,meander.Probably he was being over ambitious in trying to write a novel about various and different characters to fulfill a literary ideal,not because it lacked brilliance of thought.At 300 pages though,it is his longest novel,and is sustained very well without rambling and lost of interest.You can’t say that of a lot of books of that length.

          Yes,the twins though are probably the best characters in the book,and would probably have been better being more focused on them.It’s definetly one of the best examples on his theme based on the angst at the lost of his twin sister that plagued him throughout his life.It was done in a poignant but modest way without self conscious posturing.

          Don’t know about “Ronin”,but do you know of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” issue from 1976,titled “Planet of the Absurd”,written by Steve Gerber? It’s about a planet inhabited by the mentally ill who form a society that is almost exactly like Earth,and has shades I think,of “Clans of the Alphane Moon”.

      • I read all of the books you mentioned. Bloodmoney is longest SF novel but many of his earlier mainstream works were supposed to 400 or 500 pages long. Only mainstream ones I read Confessions and Timothy Archer which was the last book he had published in his lifetime. It is very good. Pot Healer is decent but nothing more. Must check out that story. Steve Gerber is one of my all time favorite comic book writers. Did not Roger Stern take over his Guardians run but they cancelled it? Arnold Drake Created them but he only the their first appearance in Marvel Super Heroes 18,was it? it was Gerber who brought them back
        in the Thing team up title Marvel Two in One. Gerber wrote the first 8 or 9 issues of that and they appeared in the middle of the run. Gerber was really ahead of his time and his stuff on Defenders is great. Much better than the overrated Claremont X-Men stuff. Have you read those?

        • You should read his other early mainstream books then,they are very good,particularly “Puttering About in a Small Land” I think,an outstanding novel that’s less funny but equal to “Confessions of a Crap Artist”.I haven’t read “Voices from the Streets” and “Gather Yourself Together” yet,which I think are the longer ones you mentioned,but yes,”The Transmigration of Timothy Archer” is excellent.They are among the greatest literary works of the twentieth century,that easyly stand head and shoulders over acclaimed novels like “Catcher in the Rye”.

          Don’t agree with you about “Galactic Pot-Healer”.Yes,it is of almost abstract simplicity and doesn’t appear obviously profound,but is subtle and brilliantly comedic.Still,it doesn’t matter,what you think and like,is up to you.

          Steve Gerber was one of my favourite comic book writers and writers imperium.He possessed an unusual genius,that displayed a brillance for characterisation,dialogue,state-of-the-art idioms and an eye for the depravity of modern society in unsettling and bizarre situations that combined emotion,terror and black humour that was often terrifying but mesmorising.

          “Guardians of the Galaxy” would have started in the states in the latter part of 1975,and had a complete run where I live in England,during 1976,but was cancelled here the following year,until the final issue,when as I remember,it had changed authorship.I don’t know the issue number,but yes,they first appeared in “Marvel Super Heroes”,and it was a solo appearence,also drawn by Gene Colan.I read the 1975 reprint.

          Gerber’s work on the “The Defenders” was excellent,with adequate art by Sal Buscema,even the ones inked in the scratchy style of Vince Collecta.Yes,they were superior to the second series of “The X-Men” by Clairmont.It first appeared in Marvel’s line of quarterly giant sized comics,in 1975,which I never had,and they discontinued them the same year.That meant it was put out bi-monthly.I don’t know what the longer magazine issues were like,but considering the quality of the regular sized ones,I think perhaps they would have allowed time for development rather than being produced for a fast schedule.Their longevity and the spinoffs they spawned,can be attributed I think as much to commerciality as quality.Also,Clairmont is hardly like Steve Gerber.

  7. Forgot to mention the Harlan Ellison interview. The two later had a falling out neither will talk out. Here however his interview is favorable. It also is filled Platt’s psychological opinions of the writers personalities. That is one of the things that makes it interesting even though you may not agree with his observations.

  8. Platt has always been spectacularly inept, even by the standards of science-fiction publishing, and his work has mostly vanished and rightly so. He failed upwards; the last time I checked, he worked for WIRED magazine.

    Charles Platt’s greater claim to fame, is stating forcefully in a printed review that David Drake, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War in the armor, would not write what he writes (which he describes as ‘queasy voyeurism’) if he had ever seen war up close. Drake has since memorialized him more than adequately.

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