Tangent Online: The only SF&F short fiction review magazine



  by James M. Palmer

(Originally published in Revolution SF August 6, 2001)

City Come A Walkin' by John Shirley, published by Four Walls Eight Windows ($13.95) December 2000

I was just finishing kindergarten when City Come A Walkin’ came out and prepared the literary landscape for cyberpunk. But I’m glad that Four Walls Eight Windows saw fit to reprint this brilliant work. City Come A Walkin’ is edgy, dark and intense, with none of the glamor given hardware in William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s work. From the rich, evocative prose, to the gritty, future 1980 that Shirley gives us, this book has a lot to savor.

Club owner Stu Cole is in trouble: with the agency that controls the new cashless society, with vigilantes, with the Mob. With him is psychic singer Catz Wailen, his only friend. Together they encounter a strange being: a living embodiment of the city of San Francisco, and he needs their help. When the Mob takes control of the organization that runs the electronic finances of the city, Stu is recruited by City because of his special rapport with it. To save his club, Stu must help the city’s avatar, but at a price he may not be willing to pay.

This book is a treat for cyberpunk afficionados. Not only is City perpetually clad in mirrorshades, the cyberpunk symbol, but Shirley’s 1980s San Francisco is full of futuristic trappings–from gasahol cars to video phones to street kiosks that display news articles electronically. All of this is described in Shirley’s engaging prose, which captures the emotions and intensity of each scene, as in this passage:

He Poured drinks, lubricating the cogs of the Saturday Night Blowoff Machine, and kept a watchful eye over his smoky-dim mirrorball-spangled domain.

Shirley’s description of music is also wonderful, as in this passage:

The band thundered on like a phalanx of armored tanks grinding across a battlefield. The melodies were precise and involved, but amplified and toned with an edge that, to the uninitiated, made them sound like a wall of noise. But like an armored vehicle which at first glance seems a bullish mass of metallic aggression and nothing more, the music, closely examined, was made up of many carefully-honed and securely interlocked parts. A great machine of sound.

This sounds like a description of any type of music, but especially hard rock or heavy metal, that only an afficionado could appreciate.

Another interesting thing about City Come A Walkin’ is its structure. The book is divided into ten chapters, sandwiched in between an intro and outro. The chapter titles–WUN! through TENNN!–go along with an instrumental that Catz’s band does in the first chapter, after their first sighting of City. With each shout of a chapter number, Catz feeds Cole mental images of important events that are going to happen during the course of the narrative. This gives the book an added depth.

What impresses me most about this book is, well, everything. I love the way Shirley can put words and sentences together. I love the plot. I love the dirty, corrupt future Shirley has created. I love the protagonists Stu and Catz, and I both love and hate City, who is at once a champion of near limitless might and an amoral guardian of, ultimately, himself. For it is the city itself that City is protecting. And if someone gets in his way, woe be unto them. If you like your SF a little gritty and hard-edged, or if you’re just tired of the same old flashy cyberpunk, take a walk through Shirley’s San Francisco. He takes an original premise and turns it into an entertaining novel that will keep you turning pages.




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