Dydeetown World by F. Paul Wilson (1989)
I had a hard time getting into this one.
"Was back in my office cubicle, whiffing up some tay. Had just let Ignatz loose to start gobbling up the cockroaches and was watching Newsface Six doing this interesting interview with Joey Jose when some graffiti about inhumane treatment of chlor-cows warped into the holochamber. Wondered if they had this much datastream graffiti in the Western Megalops or Chi-Kacy or Tex-Mex. Annoying at times, especially when the datastream was interviewing my favorite comedian."
Give me a break! I know you're trying to portray a future world that is far different than ours, but really? The first few chapters of the book are pretty heavy-handed. Add to that Baen Books' inept packaging and totally unattractive cover, and I was hard-pressed to continue.
But this was F. Paul Wilson, whose later books I have truly enjoyed, so I trudged on to find a fairly entertaining read lurking beyond the opening pages.
Much of Wilson's early work were science fiction stories for Analog and other markets that presented a somewhat libertarian view of the future in his LaNague Federation series. Dydeetown World was the fourth book published in the loosely connected series. It was based on three previously published novelettes: "Dydeetown Girl" (Far Frontiers, Winter 1985), "Wires" (New Destinies, Summer 1988, and "Kids" (New Destinies, Spring 1989).
The scene is a future New York where the best of humanity has left Earth for "Out Where All the Good Folks Go," seeding the various planets with a multitude of civilizations. Earth remains a very restrictive planet desperate to control its burgeoning population with a strict one couple/one child policy. Children outside of this policy are either aborted prenatally or are "aborted" after the fact; those trying to save their extra child abandon their infants to the streets where they become urches -- raised by gangs of fellow urchins to a life of crime and hard survival. When an urch ages out of his or his or her gang, he (or she) is set loose into the city to fend alone. Urches are not recognized as people by the government which refuses to admit their existence. Regular citizens consider then pariahs.
Also considered as pariahs are clones. People who own a clone (and they can only own one) give up their chance to have a child under the government policy. The clones, recreated somehow from DNA from famous people of the far-forgotten past, are used as sex objects for sale to "discriminating" customers. The clones, their owners, and -- by extension -- their customers are all viewed with disgust by the general populace.
In this future dystopia people are virtually illiterate. Urches speak a mumbling, distorted slang. Clones have limited intelligence.
Dreyer is a private eye and not a very good one. A Jean Harlow clone (Jean Harlow-c) wants to hire him to find her boyfriend, a Realperson. The boyfriend, Kyle, was going to take her with him Out where All the Good Folks Go. Harlow-c showed Dreyer an "official" green card given her by Kyle that would allow her off-world. Dreyer knows this is horsepucky and that a clone would never be allowed to travel; he's sure that Kyle was just leading her on. Later when it turns out that Kyle is not Kyle, Dreyer finds Kyle's body (what's left of it -- just a head and extremities connected by nerves). Along the way, Dreyer encounters a treacherous crime queenpin and her per tyrannosaurus...
Another "client" shows up: a man who had given up his second child to the urchingangs and who wants Dreyer to locate his daughter, now about three years old. Dreyer soon discovers that urches are being kidnapped and returned mentally altered. At least two young urches are dead from a 60-story fall. Someone who doesn't want Dreyer to investigate stretches a thin, razor-sharp microwire across his office doorway and nearly decapitates him. Like any tough PI would do, Dreyer holds his head tight against his neck until he can get medical help. WTH?
Despite his initial revulsion against clones and urches, Dreyer finds himself attached to both Jean Harlow-c and to the urches -- especially a young urch known as B.B. (The most common names for urches are B.B. and B. G. -- Baby Boy and Baby Girl.) As he brings both cases to conclusion, Dreyer manages to bring hope to the disadvantaged and to change the course of history.
Okay. So this whole thing sounds like a mess. And in less able hands this would be but, after a confusing (and disappointing) start, Wilson manages to use pulp tropes to move the story swiftly and surely to a satisfactory conclusion.
Just goes to show, you can't judge a book by its cover, or even by its first few chapters.