Forgotten Books

A recent mind meld piece over at SFSignal.com reminded me I'd wanted to write some time about books I admire that are largely but unfairly forgotten.

Top of the list is probably Farewell Horizontal, by K.W. Jeter. In more recent years, Jeter is more known for writing Star Wars novelisations, as well as a series of 'sequels' to the movie version of Bladerunner. Before that, he was a contemporary and - I believe - friend of Philip K. Dick, and one of the most cutting-edge, experimental, even daring science fiction writers around. That level of experimentation, alas, didn't pay the bills. In those pre-Lucas days, he wrote a novel called Dr Adder, which scorched my eyeballs so badly a couple of decades ago I haven't since been able to bring myself to read it again because it was so shocking. It was a bit like watching Darren Aronofsky's film version of Hubert Selby's Requiem For A Dream; I really admired the artistry and the intensity of it as a piece of work, but it's so desperately grim and horrible that I don't think I could ever bring myself to watch it again (I recall a while back The Onion published a list of 'great films you don't want to see again' and Requiem was top of the pile). Dr Adder is like that; not for the squeamish.

The novel I want to talk about, however, is much more straightforward than that. Farewell Horizontal is a fairly straightforward but highly original sf adventure. It centres around a graffiti ('grafix') artist who lives in a segment of a tower miles in circumference, high above the clouds. His people have been living there so long nobody even knows what's beneath the perpetual layer of clouds. One assumes it's a Clarkean bridge to orbit, but it's never stated. Unlike most of his people, our hero decides to find a new life on the outside of the bridge - the sides of which he travels on board a motorbike, adapted so thousands of tiny lashes shoot out of the wheels, effectively glueing the bike to the wall of the tower as he drives it up down and around. He becomes involved with the warring gangs and outcasts who populate the outside. It's a novel I've returned to several times, for the sheer visceral pleasure of some of the finest worldbuilding I've yet encountered.

I heard a rumour it was meant to be the first of a trilogy, but presumably FH didn't sell enough for those to be written or published. That's a hell of a shame. You might be interested to know he also wrote what's widely regarded as the granddaddy of all steampunk books, and very certainly (to my mind) the best of the lot - Infernal Devices. Infernal Devices deserves a write-up some time too, if i ever get around to it (probably once I'm back in Scotland and I get a chance to re-read it again).


John D. said...

I love that cover art. I remember buying the book just because of it, before I had even heard of Jeter. Now, if I only I could find the time to actually *read* it... :)

Thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

Mike says:
Ah, but for true, glittering, deadon cyberpunk, you cant beat The Glass Hammer. Man, the sense of loss and despair in that book - you could bottle it.

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

Do you know, I've never actually read The Glass Hammer. I think I was briefly put off him by Morlock Nights; everyone else I know who really rates Jeter agrees with me that Nights is pretty rough.

Anonymous said...

'Dr Adder'? Hilarious book, but I'd have to agree with Mike about The Glass Hammer. It edges both 'Dr Adder' and 'Farewell Horizontal'. 'In The Land of The Dead' is probably the best of his horror novels. It's got a lovely, desolate Steinbeck vibe going on.
I used to work in a comicshop and can remember praising him to a customer who had just bought one of his Star Trek novelisations. The custormer was frothing at the mouth when he came back in the following week. Judging by this, Jeter's existentialist socialism might not have been a perfect fit for the touchy-feely fascism of the S.T. universe.

Nyrath the nearly wise said...

You are not going to believe this but...
I saw this book about 20 years ago, and thought it had an interesting cover. But I did not purchase it.

Yesterday I suddenly remembered the cover, but no the author or the title. I thought that I should look it up.

I stumble over your blog, and gee, what do I see but the book in question!

I just ordered it from Alibris. Thanks!