Book Review: Farewell Horizontal by K W Jeter
Excellent thought provoking and very well put together science fiction with a little twist, which left me wanting a little more from it.
Ignoring the setting for a moment this is really a story about the rat race and how it affects people. It is set in a strange, slightly unbelievable, environment on the side of a massive building in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, probably on another planet. However none of that really matters, and the point of the story, which is well crafted, is that sometimes you need to stop and think about things rather than just striving for the next payday.
The primary character is a freelancer struggling to make enough income to cover all his costs, and on the point of bankruptcy. He lives on the outside vertical space of the building while he attempts to make enough to get back inside near the top. In the implicit hierarchy of things he sees himself as above those inside because he has his freedom, and he isn’t working as a wage slave. However what he seeks is the ready wealth to live a life of comfort near the top of the building (and by implication being back inside but with his freedom intact).
Avoiding spoilers, he has some apparent luck, and makes a start on realising his dream even though it involves mixing with some unsavoury characters. Just when it looks like it is working out his luck vanishes and he ends up in unfamiliar territory, having to think of things for himself and outside his normal networks. This enforced reflection, facilitated by a couple of new characters that treat him almost like an intelligent child, leads him to some startling revelations, and his resulting actions to try and save his skin have wider consequences.
The book is rather shorter than most I’ve read recently, but still thought provoking and very well put together. The background doesn’t get in the way of the story, but makes it interesting, and the early quibbles I had about the setting were very effectively dealt with in the last part of the story when the main character starts to question the environment. I think it deliberately leaves a lot of mystery and there are several hooks for a follow-on, although I would have liked the story to continue a bit further, the ending it does have is satisfying and consistent with the general thrust of the story.
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