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The Municipalists
Cover of The Municipalists
The Municipalists
A Novel
Borrow
A novel about an unlikely pair of lonely outsiders—one human, one AI—on an adventure to save the great American city of Metropolis written by "one of the most exciting new voices in fiction" (Charles Yu)
*Named one of the best books of the month by Library Journal ("Debut of the Month"), The Verge, io9, Amazon Books, Book of the Month Club, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, NYLON, and Tor.com*

In Metropolis, the gleaming city of tomorrow, the dream of the great American city has been achieved. But all that is about to change, unless a neurotic, rule-following bureaucrat and an irreverent, freewheeling artificial intelligence can save the city from a mysterious terrorist plot that threatens its very existence.
Henry Thompson has dedicated his life to improving America's infrastructure as a proud employee of the United States Municipal Survey. So when the agency comes under attack, he dutifully accepts his unexpected mission to visit Metropolis looking for answers. But his plans to investigate quietly, quickly, and carefully are interrupted by his new partner: a day-drinking know-it-all named OWEN, who also turns out to be the projected embodiment of the agency's supercomputer. Soon, Henry and OWEN are fighting to save not only their own lives and those of the city's millions of inhabitants, but also the soul of Metropolis. The Municipalists is a thrilling, funny, and touching adventure story, a tour-de-force of imagination that trenchantly explores our relationships to the cities around us and the technologies guiding us into the future.
"A new and irreverent take on both real-world politics and sci-fi history."-The Wall Street Journal
A novel about an unlikely pair of lonely outsiders—one human, one AI—on an adventure to save the great American city of Metropolis written by "one of the most exciting new voices in fiction" (Charles Yu)
*Named one of the best books of the month by Library Journal ("Debut of the Month"), The Verge, io9, Amazon Books, Book of the Month Club, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, NYLON, and Tor.com*

In Metropolis, the gleaming city of tomorrow, the dream of the great American city has been achieved. But all that is about to change, unless a neurotic, rule-following bureaucrat and an irreverent, freewheeling artificial intelligence can save the city from a mysterious terrorist plot that threatens its very existence.
Henry Thompson has dedicated his life to improving America's infrastructure as a proud employee of the United States Municipal Survey. So when the agency comes under attack, he dutifully accepts his unexpected mission to visit Metropolis looking for answers. But his plans to investigate quietly, quickly, and carefully are interrupted by his new partner: a day-drinking know-it-all named OWEN, who also turns out to be the projected embodiment of the agency's supercomputer. Soon, Henry and OWEN are fighting to save not only their own lives and those of the city's millions of inhabitants, but also the soul of Metropolis. The Municipalists is a thrilling, funny, and touching adventure story, a tour-de-force of imagination that trenchantly explores our relationships to the cities around us and the technologies guiding us into the future.
"A new and irreverent take on both real-world politics and sci-fi history."-The Wall Street Journal
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    1

    In Suitland, Maryland, just outside DC, there is a large gray building that is home to the United States Municipal Survey. The main building boasts over 2 million square feet of assignable space. It houses research laboratories and data centers where our technicians utilize fleets of aerial drones to monitor most US cities in real time. In our Traffic department, serious men and women use VR rigs to investigate congested roadways, while down the hall the folks in Weather are busy running hurricane-force winds over manhole covers to determine at what point they get sucked up and turn lethal, cast-iron Frisbees whistling with a thud into the reinforced glass. Nearby there's also the compound containing our supercomputer, OWEN, which ingests data from over two hundred satellites. Our headquarters is by all accounts an impressive facility, though my small office on the fifth floor is a bit more modest in scope.

    There's just enough room for a desk, two chairs, and a narrow bookshelf of binders. I find it cozy, but the lack of space can occasionally exacerbate an awkward situation. Like when Agent Marcuzzi stomped in that morning, taking a seat across from me without a word.

    I had asked him to stop by for a friendly meeting, but his attitude was so immediately hostile that at 7:00 a.m. I was already forced to wonder what sort of day it would be. He hunched forward in his seat, causing the shoulders of his blazer to bunch. His hands were folded in his lap and he was knocking his thumbs together like he was waiting for a bus he didn't want to get on.

    He glanced at the model locomotive on my desk and I hoped for a moment he might smile. Next to my nameplate, I had placed a 1:64 scale model of an eight-axle C8 Manley & Wrexler. I had a reputation at the agency for being somewhat joyless and so I'd brought the model from home to liven up my workspace. It was from a series of collectibles called Trains of Yore, which depicted classic locomotives in scrupulous detail. They were generally marketed toward the elderly, but I was thirty-two and owned over two dozen of them. I liked the look of that handsome little locomotive on my desk and the C8 never had an accident while in use. So there was also an inspirational element. Yet when Marcuzzi saw it, he grimaced.

    "I'm sure you know why I asked you to come."

    "No," Marcuzzi said. "I have no idea."

    This surprised me.

    "Fort Collins," I continued. "You reported 4.73 percent added efficiencies."

    He nodded.

    "The group's goal," I said, "was 5 percent per target municipality."

    "I know what the goal was."

    "Then you know that 4.73 percent is unacceptable."

    Marcuzzi let his mouth hang open, as if he couldn't believe what he'd just heard.

    "Thompson, are you joking?"

    "About this? Of course not."

    "That's insane," he said. "That-that's well within the margin. Those numbers are just to give you a general sense of-God damn it, I achieved my goal."

    "Peter," I said. "On the projects I run, numbers are numbers. I asked you here so we could talk this through and get your efficiencies up."

    "A third of a percentage point? What do you want me to do? Head out to the wind farms and blow?"

    "So you agree," I said, "that making up the difference wouldn't be hard to do."

    I had been trying to insert some humor into the conversation, but Marcuzzi must have read my smile the wrong way.

    "Honestly, Henry. Go fuck yourself."

    He almost knocked over his chair as he left the room.

    If I were less accustomed to this sort of friction with my colleagues, then a display of that sort would have been a minor scandal. But as it was I simply...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 29, 2018
    Fried’s lackluster debut explores the relationship between users and technology in an urban thriller constrained by its narrow scope. After a terrorist cyberattack on the United States Municipal Survey (USMS) headquarters in Suitland, Md., investigator Henry Thompson, an introverted longtime employee of the organization, travels to the megacity of Metropolis, where he searches for the USMS employees behind the supposed inside job. Accompanying him is a hologram AI named OWEN, who creates limitless illusions and has a strange thirst for liquor. Murderous thugs pursue Henry, who shares their violent inclinations and easily accepts that he may have to murder and torture for his job. With OWEN as his primary confidant and weapon, Henry follows clue after clue to put a stop to the rogue faction. The relationship between Henry and OWEN is simple and repetitive, and with a small and male-dominated cast, the story is empty and quiet. The breadcrumb-trail plot and stiff protagonists undermine both the serious thriller concepts and the contrasting elements of the bizarre. Agent: Stacia Decker, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner.

  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2019
    A bureaucratic bean counter and a snarky artificial intelligence team up to find a terrorist working to destroy America's largest near-future city.Fried (The Great Frustration, 2011) offers a very weird debut novel that somehow manages to transport Conrad's Heart of Darkness to a futuristic mega-city with a minimum of social satire but grand sociological observations about cities on the scale of Geoff Manaugh's A Burglar's Guide to the City (2016). Our Everyman hero is Henry Thompson, an efficiency expert with a murky government entity and, as one nemesis notes, "the biggest milquetoast bean sorter in the history of the United States Municipal Survey." After a number of the agency's facilities are bombed and its artificial intelligence platform is infected with a virus, Henry's boss, Theodore Garrett, sends him to the futuristic city of Metropolis to hunt down the suspect. Henry's partner in this venture is the aforementioned AI, OWEN, a hard-drinking, newly sentient personality who manifests as a hologram but turns into a bulldog and faints at the sight of blood. These two unlikely partners are chasing Terrence Kirklin, their agency's station chief in Metropolis, who has clearly gone rogue. Kirklin has disappeared with Sarah Laury, an 18-year-old Olympic gold medalist, playwright, genius, and, oh yeah, the daughter of the mayor of Metropolis. Fried can't quite decide what he wants to play here--it's too buddy-cop comic to be a hardcore thriller and too tongue-in-cheek about technology to be a serious social satire, but it's still a fun read. The narrative is packed with irrelevant but fun-to-read set pieces including a gunfight in a museum, a couple of car chases, and a few deadlocks that are usually solved by OWEN's deus-ex-machina abilities. Kirklin and Laury are mostly ciphers, and not very interesting ones at that, but the banter between the drab Henry and the supercilious OWEN is worth the price of admission.A fun, relatively harmless comic thriller about the nature of cities, the threats of technology, and how to blow stuff up good.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2019

    In near-future Suitland, agent Henry Thompson of the United States Municipal Survey (USMS) performs efficiently despite the oppressive mutation of labor and everyday life. Shadowed by HQ in Metropolis (a city roughly the size of Rhode Island), amid the daily churn of meetings covering infrastructure tweaks, 3-D projections of subway tunnels, and arguments over Rust Belt carbon emissions, Henry seems to thrive. When his middle-aged station chief vanishes with the mayor's 18-year-old daughter, the only thing worse might be a cyber attack on OWEN, the company AI/supercomputer. Eerily handsome, OWEN's blue-eyed avatar and his wisecracking ways prove recoverable from the virus that, among other things, triggers a self-destruct code in employee cell phones. Public outrage over the USMS drone fleet crashing into Metropolis's buildings demands action: Henry and OWEN are covertly tasked with sussing out a major terrorist plot. Public institutions are attacked, and the two reluctantly confront conspiratorial players (and Esperanto) driven by a surprising nemesis. VERDICT Fried's debut explores issues likely to affect everyone--and pokes predatory capitalism with a sharp stick, attracting readers of darkly absurd science fiction à la Philip K. Dick, Charlie Jane Anders, and Warren Ellis.--William Grabowski, McMechen, WV

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A Novel
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