A Hostage for Hinterland
Ballantine Books 
Synopsis: A thousand years after the last Limited Nuclear War [Number 13, I think], two cultures divide North America between them. The Structures are highly limited in area but stretch many kilometers into the air, held up by antigravity devices, whose cooling is dependent on helium imported from the Hinterlands. The Hinterlands are occupied by numerous tribes, both hostile to technology and dependent on it, especially the high tech which is primarily only available from the Structures. Every five years, both sides hammer out trade agreements and as the book opens, the current set of negotiations are about to begin.
There are numerous complications: The Structures are run by an oligarchy whose leader is currently letting power slip from his grasp. He has two children: a male, Sidney, who leads a bunch of spoiled thugs who terrorise the population of the city and Regina, whose sexual favours Sidney assigns to whoever is his favorite follower at the time. Sidney expects to replace his father when his father dies and while one faction is backing him, another, the Bureau of Tribal Affairs, opposes him, although not directly.
Mycal Bono1 is the lead negotiator for the Hinterlands. His leader, Tack has given him strict instructions on what Bono is to demand. The Hinterlands believe they have developed a method of damping nuclear reactions and they hope to use it to negate the arsenal of missiles the Structure folk have aimed at the Hinterlands. The problem is, the components are beyond the Hinterland’s ability to make so they must get them from the Structures. To distract from the material demands, Bono is ordered to ask for the Unifier’s son Sidney as a hostage to Hinterland.
Of course, things go wrong. Bono has a hard time adapting to the city, whose antigravity technology kills its inhabitants prematurely. He is seduced by Regina, who very much wants to escape her brother, and asks for her as the hostage instead. Tack [who during the previous negotiations had an affair with Regina] is outraged and removes Bono as negotiator, ordering his arrest.
Sidney’s lackies and a BTA agent named French start a vendetta which ends when French’s boss, Proctor, kidnaps all of Sidney’s followers, the Flames, to terrorise them through faked castrations and when French, thinking the Flames have murdered his wife, Miri, kidnaps Sidney and accidentally drives him insane. French flees the city, leading a group of city dwellers who believe that a Cult prophecy that the city will fall is about to come true.
Bono and Regina end up arrested and prisoners of Tack. Regina turns out to have been programmed by the Cult [sort of a low-budget Bene Gesseret] to seduce Bona and to then seduce Tack as soon as they meet. She and Tack proceed to have mad sex for days, which only ends when they learn the city is falling. The Hinterlands have cut off
helium to the city, the alarms which should have gone out didn’t and the antigravity units are failing.
Palace revolutions in the city are cut short by its ongoing destruction [spread out over at least hours]. Many people escape. Far more do not. Tack is killed by an airstrike and the nuclear retaliation by the cities goes ahead, the Hinterland not having the necessary anti-nuclear devices. Hundreds of millions of people die.
After the fall, Bono and Regina meet French and Miri [who survived after all] and begin to rebuild in the ruins of the lost cultures.
Some aspects of the book date it in a non-negative way in the sense that you can tell when it was written. For example, the Tribes of Hinterland have names like Ecofreak or Peacenik, although the tribes have drifted as far away from the implication the names might have had in the 1970s as Vandal has from its origins. The characters are reasonable. The various plots are as well developed as they could be in only 248 pages. The major aspect I had problems with was the blithe attitude of the Cult towards the huge death toll it contributes to: they may have the gift of prophecy but they seem unpleasantly blasé about killing most of the people in North America to fulfil the perceived need to kill of the last remnants of western Christian civilization. After all, the folks at the top may all be Borgias and Medicis, but the common folk seem pleasant enough, scarcely deserving of the fate they get.
The science is somewhat daft, the radiation from LNW XIII remarkably persistent and mutagenic but the book has a pleasant energy and the author doesn’t present any of the sides as perfect [or in the Hinterland case, as sticking anywhere near its ideals]. One might deduce the author thinks nuclear power is evil stuff [And from a later book, The Karma Affair] but technology is clearly necessary to the various peoples’ well being, even if they don’t realise it. No pastoral future awaits these folks: no doubt some hybrid of Structure and Hinterland cultures will follow.
The various mutant humans appear to be screwed, though: everyone hates them.
Darnay wrote this book, The Karma Affair [Same universe, about an attempt to handle radwaste by binding the souls of the watchers to seek out the radwaste facilities to guard them], The Purgatory Zone , The Siege of Faltara and The Splendid Freedom . As far as I know, he started getting published in 1974 and stopped after 1981. I have no idea why, but he is still alive, so death was not the reason.
Next Book: The Shattered Stars by Richard McEnroe
1: Who always made me think of Sonny when I read this in the 1970s. Bet younger folks would think of the other Bono now.