Sunday, August 25, 2013
Matt Wallace's THE FAILED CITIES
The Failed Cities really concerns what was a single city bifurcated by a river -- which made it all the easier to let half of it go to crap when circumstances made its leadership give up on the poorer side of the river, withdrawing the police rather than utilities support after a rigged vote and thus letting the cheap side fall into lawlessness, a shanty town with seven story apartment buildings. The rich side, meanwhile, has its own problems, hosting, for instance, a giant crap crater that was originally a building site for what was going to be the most luxurious arcology build in the history of ever, until the financing fell through. Oops.
Within this world, eight point of view characters are living their lives: a street preacher (member of a sect of these, who have more or less taken on the role of the police in a wholly informal way), a pulp fiction writer (who makes ends meet by fighting in an arena and getting beaten to a pulp), a hot-rodder (who has a side business in acting as a one-man underground railroad for abused sex workers), a pair of brother and sister assassins (one of whom has had weird bone grafting surgery so all of her joints are essentially deadly edged weapons and the other of whom is Just. Huge.), a freelance moderator/negotiator (who got his start by talking his way out of a bar fight he kind of started), a Ukrainian immigrant escaping his family's legacy of heroism (who winds up backing into a heroic role as the Detective Who Will Catch The Serial Killer and immediately regretting it) and a black widow femme fatale (who sees through everyone else's schemes and plots to turn all those schemes on their heads). Each takes a turn at forwarding the overall narrative as their stories are intercut and overlap with one another to portray a world of lawlessness, struggle and occasional hope.
And yes, I'm going to mention the Godbody standard here, for The Failed Cities comes closest to meeting it of any book I've read, closer even than The Book of Skulls did. Which is to say that each character voice is distinct and believable, including those of the women, and I'm fairly certain a person familiar with the book could guess who was speaking from a randomly chosen passage read a loud, within a paragraph or two, if not a sentence or two. That takes talent.
So, top notch world building, top notch characterization, an interesting and intricate plot -- does this book have any flaws? Perhaps only the spidery typography, the font so thin it looks faint and was thus a little hard to read for these middle-aged eyes. But the contents thus displayed were so good -- and the hardcover containing them so gorgeous -- that I soldiered on with it. And hey, it's not like this was my first time visiting the Failed Cities; I listened to the podcast back in the day, which is why I knew I had to have this luxe edition. Go listen to the free original podcast version and see if it doesn't make you want one, too.