Book Review: Farewell Horizontal by K. W. Jeter

The style of Jeter reminded me of Philip K Dick all through the book, not particularly his writing style, but the situation of the world and the characters in it. The part of the world we see is based around a huge cylindrical building, most of the action takes place on the surface of the cylinder. On the Vertical.

The story follows the exploits of Ny Axxter - a freelance graffex artist. A graffex invents symbols and icons for display on the armour of the many warrior groups vying for territory on the surface of the cylinder. To fill in time before he can make a break into this scene Axxter does photographic work to sell to the building-wide (and therefore world-wide, as that seems to be all that's left of the building) information network, it sells anything it thinks is worth showing to the rest of the world as entertainment.

There is life on the rest of the world, at least close to the cylinder. Above the cloudlayer, where the people are on the building (I know this makes it a very large place, and that it's difficult to survive that high up, but it's all speculative after all) there are angels. They are mostly human, but are ultra-light and have a huge sack of helium (or hydrogen) between their shoulder-blades, which lets them drift around in the air. Axxter befriends one of them after helping her when she was in an accident.

Axxter has given up life 'on the horizontal', and survives secured to the building by a smart device with pitons that latch into the building. The building is all that's left after 'the War', and the angels are thought to be the results of an experiment that went on before the war. Though Axxter has given up the Horizontal, he does try to visit an old girlfriend there, by using a system of virtual reality hardwired into his system, this and the way he contacts the network by poking his finger into a receiver socket give the book something of a cyberpunk feel. This is deceptive as the main thrust of the book is not cyberpunkish, but just the extrapolation of an odd culture in an odd place. This is another way it is like Dick's work.

During the story we get to follow Axxter not only to the other side of the building (where it actually gets dark!) but even into the inside of the building, where the dreaded 'Dead Centers' roam.

Although the book does not get over some of it's larger discrepancies (such as how did the cylinder they are all in/on come into existance? - even one of the characters asks this.) nor what has happened to the rest of the world, but it does give good characterisation of Axxter and his fight for survival in a world ruled by corrupt economics (and an agent that takes 10%, anything to do with real life??) and the strange situation of living in a Vertical world if you want personal freedom.

This is not for people who like straight hard-core SF, with everything explained and compartmentalised. But if you like your SF with a surreal touch (such as a motorbike that works vertically, this is explained) then this is worth a look.

Title: Farewell Horizontal
Author: K W Jeter
Publisher: Grafton
ISBN: 0-586-20809-7
Published Date: 1990
Pages: 253

Buy the book from Amazon UK or USA

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Involution Ocean by Bruce Sterling
The Artificial Kid by Bruce Sterling
Hardwired by Walter Jon Williamson

Review by Paul Silver, May 1993