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The Municipalists

Penguin. Mar. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9780143133735. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780525505587. SF
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OrangeReviewStarIn 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.

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