"The Youth Monopoly" is a 1968 science-fiction novel, written by Ellen Wobig (her only published book), and published as part of an Ace Double, with the other side being "The Pictures of Pavanne". The book totals 114 pages.
Sometime in the 2300s, the United States is a network of feudal states run by warlords. One man, Ronald Dorashi, is on the run from a local warlord, when he is saved by a mysterious man named Ormand Bey. Bey takes Dorashi to his compound, a large estate called Trysis, and takes him on as a protege. Trysis holds the secret to eternal youth, and the various warlords of the future pay heavily to come to Trysis and have some time taken off their clock. Not only do they pay in money, but these powerful people must literally crawl to earn the favor of Bey and his company, who reveal that they are over 800 years old. Most of the remainder of the book (and this is a short book) are taken up by stories of the external powers trying to infiltrate Trysis to find its secrets. Dorashi, who is not a very interesting character, rebels once against Bey and is punished. The structures of Trysis, which is run somewhat like a cult, is described in some detail, as well as the interaction between Bey, his other immortals, and Dorashi. In the last chapter or two of the book, Dorashi, and the reader, learns the truth: Bey and company are not actually humans who discovered a formula for immortality back in the 1400s, but are actually space aliens, this was all a commercial venture, and Dorashi was selected to be a member of their group so they would have a normal human to imitate. It is a very abrupt revelation that seems to contradict most of what we read before.
A science-fiction book needs an exciting plot, and interesting characters, but along with that, it needs a concept, an idea of how technology and society could interact. And this book actually has two very important concepts:
- What happens when a small number of people control something that is vital to life? What would happen if the secret to immortality was controlled by a very small group of people? How much economic and political power would they wield? (This was, after all, the concept behind one of the great science-fiction novels, "Dune" written a few years previously, and also of the works of Cordwainer Smith, published a few years before that.)
- Are self-guided communities an escape from traditional, abusive power structures, or will they have the same problems? Since this book was published just as different groups with cult-like tendencies were becoming more common, it is a good science-fiction question, and a very topical question as well. Since this book was published a year before the Manson family murders, in some way it was prescient.
So in one way, this book does what a good science-fiction book should do: it brings up an interesting concept about how technology can interact with social change. But in important ways it fails: the characters are hastily sketched and uninteresting, the plot doesn't really resolve itself, and the book ends with a tacked-on finale where we learn it was actually aliens all along. But many of these failures can be attributed to the editorial necessity of the Ace Double format, it could be that the mysterious Ellen Wobig (who, for all we know, could be Phillip K Dick or Ursula Leguin), had a story that explained these things in better detail, but that her story suffered from the editing inherent in Ace Doubles. Many science-fiction stories reach for interesting ideas, much fewer achieve them.