Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: City Come A Walkin'

Book Review: 'City Come A Walkin'' by John Shirley
2 / 5 Stars

‘City Come A Walkin’’ (204 pp) was published by Dell in July 1980. The cover art is by Catherine Huerta.

The novel is set in the near future; i.e., 1991.

Stu Cole is the middle-aged owner of Club Anesthesia, a rock club located in a down-and-out San Francisco neighborhood. The main attraction at the Club Anesthesia is punk rock chick Catz Wailen, backed by her band 'The Catz Report'. Stu is content with his life as a moderately successful club owner, but he looks to Catz to provide him with hipster credibility.

One Saturday night at the Club Anesthesia, Stu witnesses something disturbing: a strange man has entered the club….a man who is not really a man, but in fact, the City of San Francisco, taking human form. City has come to Stu with a mission: Stu is to be City’s agent in a revolt against the forces of corporate control and right-wing oppression, forces that are massing to suck the soul from the city and turn it into a sterile wasteland of conformity.

With bewildering speed, Stu finds himself trading gunfire and car chases with thugs from San Fran's organized crime families……gangs of homicidal fascist vigilantes…..and the increasingly angry metropolitan police force. The odds against Stu succeeding in his mission to deter the corporate cabals seem overwhelming. But Stu has the aid of City, and City can take control of cars, send water pipes erupting from the streets, open closed doors, and direct electricity through the city’s conduits and circuits.

As the confrontation between City, Stu, and the corporations comes to a violent climax, it’s anyone’s guess who will be left to pick up the pieces……

Back in 1980, when ‘City Come A Walkin’’ was published, the genre of Urban Fantasy really didn’t exist, and the idea that entire series of novels based on the genre – like The Dresden Files – would emerge as bestsellers would have seemed highly unlikely. So with 'City', John Shirley certainly deserves credit as a founder, or co-founder, of Urban Fantasy.

Of all the first-generation cyberpunk authors, Shirley was the one who most associated with the ‘punk’ component of the label, and ‘City’ is heavily flavored with praise of punk rock and rebellion....... too much so, in fact. The book’s rather thin plot often gets abandoned while Shirley expounds, in bursts of New Wave-inspired figurative prose, on the saving grace of rock and roll and Oppositional Culture. Here’s one example:

The tape was a compendium of various artists, popular and obscure, old and new. The music was a sentient presence that brought new living resonance to the walls. The beat, the tireless eternal beat. Just then a late Eighties tune by The Odds, ‘Sex-Changed Bitch’ –

Doesn’t matter if it makes you sick
it’s all the same, to her tricks
I met her in a leather bar
she took me home to show me her scars

Shirley's enthusiasm for overloading his narrative with these exuberant prose paeans drains momentum from ‘City’, and keeps it from being as entertaining as it could have been. 

My recommendation ? Readers are recommended to skip ‘City Come A Walkin’’ and go straight to Shirley’s ‘A Song Called Youth’ cyberpunk trilogy.

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