Sunday, December 7, 2008


KW Jeter, the sf writer known, according to Wikipedia, for his "literary writing style, dark themes and paranoid, unsympathetic characters" was new to me up until just a few years when my friend Pat lent me a copy of one of Jeter's Bladerunner sequels. It was totally weird and quite cool.  I had noticed, however, that his was a name that I was seeing on a lot of franchise tie-in books (Star Trek, Star Wars). That, combined with having read the Bladerunner book led me to think that he is a writer who works primarily in these shared universes and  I was missing the fact that he has a whole body of other original work, that he was pals with Philip Dick, that he is credited with coining the term "steampunk," and also, perhaps, with writing the first cyberpunk novel (Dr. Adder, written in the 1970s though not published until the mid-80s). So I've been trying to get caught up.  Today I finished reading his 1989 novel Farewell Horizontal.

The setting of this tale is a place called Cylinder, which is apparently a really, really tall and extremely huge cylindrical building which is, for this book's characters, the entire known world. A good deal of it is actually unknown to them as well: the building's entire "eveningside," its central core, the extent of it beneath the cloud barrier. Inside the building, a lot of people live in what is considered the "horizontal" world--you know, standing on floors, with ceilings overhead, and so on, like all sane people do in the real world. Other people, however, have chosen to go vertical, living on the exterior of Cylinder, clinging to it with pithons, riding motorcycles fitted with grappling wheels up and down cables attached to the side of the building.  I am highly acrophobic, and the whole premise of this freaked me out enough that I had to try not to think too hard about it as I was reading. (It's worse than in Dan Simmons' Ilium where he has characters traveling from the surface of the Earth to an orbital ring in space while sitting in a chair that simply rockets them up there. Oh hell no!). This is a fairly slim volume, and Jeter presents this bizarre world without bothering with any backstory, history or explanation of how all this came to be. One just has to accept it as the way things are, while crawling up and down the outside of a building so tall that its base is lost beneath the cloud cover. I enjoyed the story and its mysteries...even though I personally would never considering saying "Farewell Horizontal."  (The image of Jeter, from Wikipedia, is from 1989, same year as Farewell Horizontal.)

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