Sewer, Gas, and Electric

Rating: +

Matt Ruff

First off, I am required to give this book a '+', not just because I liked it, but because I laughed out loud at it, re-affirming that even though I didn't find Straight Man funny, I am NOT a humorless shrew. Woo hoo!

This book is one of those whose plot follows multiple different people or groups of people, some of who interact with each other and some of who never meet, though, as is usual, all of the pieces that you see in the book ultimately come together in one huge scene that ties the entire book up. The book takes place in New York City (mostly) about 30 years in the future, though it's not really plausible that the world will be this way that soon. While there are many minor plot lines, there are a couple of major characters/groups moving through the book. There is a woman who works in the sewers killing off the vicious mutant animals that live down there now that the city has grown so much and the sewers have become so out of control. The mutant shark that she is hunting also makes repeated appearances throughout the book. Another character is a major industrial tycoon who is obsessed with building ever taller skyscrapers and is currently building the first mile-high one. He also own the company which builds "electronic servants" - robots with AI in them so that they act as servants. Then, there is the ecoterrorists who go around in their submarine saving endangered species and attacking the ships of companies that do nasty things to the environment. Most of these people end up knowing each other somehow...

From this basis, the plot basically follows these characters around as they get pulled into various adventures. The ecoterrorist pirates are being hunted down by everyone from the government to resentful companies to psychotic war veterans. The woman from the sewers ends up trying to solve an entirely different mystery with the help of a holographic Ayn Rand in a hurricane lamp that the woman carries with her everywhere and talks to. The Rand character is used not-so-subtlety to insert some social commentary into the book, except that the debates between Rand and the sewer woman end up being quite hilarious since the sewer woman doesn't accept any of Rand's premises and the holographic Rand cannot conceive of the world having become what it is.

I think that I'm probably not capturing how hilarious this book was, but I found it very funny in a ridiculous sort of way. It was fast-paced with lots of plot and just enough character development to keep me involved. The overall theme of the book seemed to be an exploration of what can be done in a future where technology and expansion has run away from us (rather than our having been able to control its path of development) to regain control. What do ethics and social responsibility look like in that type of world? Does survival of the fittest take over, and if it does, what if the fittest creatures for the world that has been created is a mutant man-eating shark that thrives in sewer waste? Fortunately, this book is really funny, because those are really depressing questions and the answer seems to be that you just have to do the best you can with the world you've been born into, and that you need to sometimes be pragmatic rather than sticking to your ideals.


Review written August 1999.


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