fool on the hill

A quick and dirty guide to the Matt Ruff oeuvre, or, what to read after you’ve read Lovecraft Country

I’ve gotten a number of requests from readers who’ve finished Lovecraft Country and want to know which of my novels they should try next. Because my books are so different from one another, this is always a tough question to answer, so I thought it might be useful to post a quick rundown of the options. If you see something here that looks interesting, you can click through to the main page for that novel and learn more about it:

The Mirage — An alternate history novel that came out of the same TV pitch session that produced Lovecraft Country. The story is set in a reality where the U.S. and the Middle East have traded places. The United Arab States is the world’s last superpower, and the “11/9 attacks” involve Christian fundamentalists flying planes into towers in downtown Baghdad. It’s not just the geopolitical situation that’s turned on its head; so is the sense of who matters. The novel’s protagonists—a trio of Arab Homeland Security agents—and the principal villains—the gangster Saddam Hussein, and a corrupt senator named Osama bin Laden—are all Arab Muslims. The Americans in the story are mostly nameless third-worlders, with the exception of a few high-profile terrorists like Donald Rumsfeld.

If you’re looking for another mix of history, genre tropes, and moral/social commentary with a similar tone and style to Lovecraft Country, this is probably your best bet.

88 NamesMy most recent novel is a near-future cyberthriller/twisted romantic comedy. The protagonist, John Chu, is a paid guide to online role-playing games who suspects his latest client may be North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The first two-thirds of the novel are set entirely in virtual reality, and most of the characters Chu interacts with, including his coworkers and his ex-girlfriend, are people he’s never met in the flesh, so he’s constantly forced to question how well he really knows them.

This book also came out of the aforementioned TV pitch session, and as such it forms a loose trilogy with The Mirage and Lovecraft Country, but despite the North Korea angle it’s much lighter in tone. If you’re up for a fun masquerade with video games and cybersex, this could be your ticket.

Bad MonkeysMurder suspect Jane Charlotte claims to belong to a mysterious organization that fights evil. Her division, the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons—Bad Monkeys for short—is an execution squad, though the man she’s accused of killing wasn’t on the official target list. The jailhouse psychiatrist assigned to Jane’s case gets her to tell the story of her career in Bad Monkeys: how she was recruited, what she did for the organization, and how it all went wrong.

I call this my Philip K. Dick novel. It’s a short, fast-moving mind-bender. Jane is the ultimate unreliable narrator: Catch her in an apparent lie or contradiction and she just throws another twist into the story, ratcheting up the weirdness while continuing to insist that it’s all true. If you like paranoid thrillers, you’ll probably like Bad Monkeys.

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls The story of a relationship between two people who both have multiple personalities. Andy Gage manages his unusual condition by means of an imaginary house in his head where his various “souls” all live together in relative harmony. He meets Penny Driver, an undiagnosed multiple who still struggles with periods of lost time; when some of Penny’s more self-aware souls ask Andy for help, they end up destabilizing his house and force him to confront personal demons from the past.

This was my first fully mature novel, and I still think it’s one of my best. If you liked the family and interpersonal drama from Lovecraft Country but weren’t so sure about the supernatural aspects of the story, this might be a good pick for you. Despite the wild premise, it’s a fairly grounded narrative with no overt fantasy elements.

Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works TrilogyA science-fiction satire of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, written in the 1990s and set in the distant future year of 2023.

Rather than try to summarize the plot of this novel, I will direct you to the description of how I came to write it. If you find this origin story intriguing, then Sewer, Gas & Electric may be your cup of tea; if you are puzzled or appalled, you should probably read something else.

Fool on the HillA comic fantasy set on the Cornell University campus circa 1987. The cast of characters includes a retired Greek god, a lovesick writer-in-residence, a dog and cat in search of heaven, a group of modern-day knights, a race of magical sprites at war with an army of sword-wielding rats, and a giant wood-and-canvas dragon that comes to life in the novel’s climax.

This was my first published novel, and I think it holds up pretty well, especially as a time capsule of the era and the place in which it was written. If you’re a Cornell alumnus, a nostalgic adult of a certain age, a current college student who doesn’t mind dated cultural references, or a Matt Ruff fan curious about how I got my start, this could be for you.

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Virtual Memories

This week I am a guest of Gil Roth on the Virtual Memories Show podcast. Gil’s been trying to get me on the show for a long while now—we live on opposite coasts, and he only does in-person interviews—so I really wanted to bring my A-game. And because I’ve been doing a lot of podcasts lately, I was a bit worried about repeating myself. Gil told me not to fret: He prides himself on asking unusual questions and getting his subjects away from their standard riffs. So while we do spend some time talking about Lovecraft Country, the conversation is wide-ranging:

Had I known there would be subject tags, I’d have tried to work in a reference to ferrets. But there’s always next time.

You can listen to the podcast here, or download it from iTunes here. Thanks, Gil!

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Corrected ebook of Fool on the Hill now online (finally!)

It’s taken a while, but a new version of the Fool on the Hill ebook, free of the many typos that plagued the original edition, is now online. If you’ve previously purchased the ebook, you should be able to update or redownload it without charge, though the exact mechanism will vary depending on whether you bought it for iBooks, Kindle, or some other platform.

A quick way to confirm that you’ve got the new edition is to look at the List of Major Characters at the beginning of the novel. Preacher should be identified as the “Bohemian Minister of Ministry”—the uncorrected text said “Bohemian Ministry of Ministry.”

The new print edition is now in stores as well. Just look for the yellow cover.

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Reading in Salem, Oregon this Friday evening

I’ll be reading and signing books at The Book Bin in downtown Salem, Oregon this Friday, starting at 7 PM. I’m told the bookstore also has a cat that shares a birthday with H.P. Lovecraft, so really, how could you not come by?

In other news:

* I had fun at Comicon last Friday. It’s been a long time since I’ve been around cosplayers, and it was interesting to see what costumes are popular now. No surprise, Star Wars is big (especially Rey), and I must have seen half a dozen Captain Americas and a slew of Ghostbusters with proton backpacks. Star Trek, on the other hand, seems to be in a slump: I didn’t spot a single Vulcan.

* I’ve belatedly discovered a Twitter account called Black Metal Cats, which is exactly what it sounds like.

* I just got word that the new edition of Fool on the Hill is back from the printers. This means that the corrected ebook should be available very soon, too; I’ll post a notice as soon as I’ve got confirmation.

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Proofreading Fool on the Hill, 28 years later

cover illustration by Dietrich Ebert

This spring, Grove Press will be publishing a new edition of Fool on the Hill, with a new design, layout, and cover art.

The redesign meant that the book had to go through copy editing and proofreading again, which meant that I had to reread it. In the past, revisiting Fool has always been a bit weird for me. Since it is a first novel, and one I wrote more than half a lifetime ago, I’ve generally compared it to looking at my old high school yearbook: there’s a pleasant sense of nostalgia undercut by a tendency to wince at my younger self’s lifestyle choices (that hair? really?).

This time was different, though. Maybe it’s turning 50, but I found I was able to appreciate the book entirely on its own terms for the first time in decades. I really liked it.

There were a lot of little bits of business that I’d completely forgotten. For example, I was amused to realize that one of the talking dogs in the novel—Bucklette, the evil Republican Collie—was almost certainly inspired by Ann Coulter, who was a student at Cornell at the same time I was. (We only met once that I can recall, but she was already infamous as a co-founder of the liberal-baiting Cornell Review. Some things haven’t changed.)

About the copy editing: I mentioned this in a previous post, but just to reassure longtime fans, there have been no alterations to the original text, beyond the correction of some very old spelling and punctuation errors. I even rejected a number of suggested grammar fixes, on the grounds that 22-year-old me knew when he wanted to use an unorthodox verb tense. But Gnossos Pappadopoulis’s name is finally spelled correctly.

The new edition should be available sometime in May, and an updated version of the ebook, free of the OCR errors that plagued the original, should come online at around the same time. I’ll post again when I have a more exact date.

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Fool on the Hill is back in stock

After the last printing of Fool on the Hill sold out, a series of technical problems—ball lightning, pandas, etc.—disrupted what is usually a seamless reorder process and led to the book being unavailable for the past several months. The kinks in the supply chain have finally been worked out, so the book is once again available online and from your local indie bookstore.

Also, if you haven’t seen it yet, last week The Economist blog posted a nice profile of me and my novels, here. Seer and protector of small children, c’est moi.

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Fool on the Hill now available on Kobo and iTunes

I announced last month that my first novel, Fool on the Hill, was finally available as an ebook. It showed up initially on Kindle and Nook, and has since appeared on Kobo. This weekend Lisa noticed it was available on Apple’s iTunes store—so if, like us, you prefer the native iPad reader, your wait is over.

Also this month, my current publisher, HarperCollins, renegotiated its ebook contracts with retailers, which means they can now discount the ebook editions of The Mirage, Bad Monkeys, and Set This House in Order. There’s already been a mini-price war as a result—as of this writing, The Mirage is available for just $9.99 on Kindle and iTunes, and Bad Monkeys and Set This House are both around $8.

In other news:

* I’m still hard at work on Book #6, hence the light blogging. I’m somewhat more active on Twitter (as @bymattruff), though I suspect a lot of my tweets over the next few weeks will take the form of cheap jokes about the election, so, fair warning.

* Lisa and I saw The Cabin in the Woods and loved it. Lisa was leery at first, because she’s not a slasher-movie fan, but Cabin is not a typical slasher movie—it’s Joss Whedon channeling the Aaron Sorkin version of The Evil Dead. Worth a look if you missed it in the theater.

* Last night I started watching (alone) La Casa Muda, a more typical horror film about a father and daughter who take a job cleaning up a house in some remote region of Uruguay where they still use scythes to cut grass. The film’s gimmick is that it’s done in one continuous tracking shot, which sounds very Hitchcockian but in practice means that the pacing is slow, and I’ve already taken to livening it up with Cabin in the Woods references, like, “I see Dad just got a whiff of the Let’s Be Stupid gas.”

* Season one of Homeland, now out on DVD, is awesome. It really deserves its own post. When I have time.

* Standing cat stands for you. (via @anamariecox)

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Last night at Third Place

Lisa and I had an epic journey out to Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park yesterday. Fortunately we’d decided to leave a little early, so when the taxi dispatcher told us there were no cabs available, we had time to race downtown and catch the 522 commuter bus. Moments after we boarded, the skies opened up in a torrential downpour that lasted until just before we reached the bookstore (the bus driver was hugging the curb the whole way, so I think we drowned several pedestrians en route).

Despite the weather we had a nice turnout for the reading. The audience included a fellow Cornellian who had a first edition of Fool on the Hill that I’d signed for him back in 1988. Twenty-four years later, I signed it again, and now that we’ve established the tradition I look forward to seeing him or his heirs at book signings in 2036, 2060, and 2084 (I think we’ll have cake for that one).

In the more immediate future, I’ll be reading at Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island tomorrow afternoon at 3 PM. (For a full schedule of upcoming events, click here.)

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Two months and counting

Sixty-two days till publication. Sorry to be so quiet lately, but I’ve been in that inevitable low-energy lull that comes between the high of last-round copyediting and the high of actually seeing the book out in the world. On the plus side, I finally understand the appeal of Twitter.

Some news:

* If you haven’t seen it yet, the Mirage book tour schedule is here. For now, it’s strictly a West Coast tour, but I’m hoping the novel will do well enough to justify adding more dates east of the Rockies.

* I’ve added an Odds & Ends tab to the site navigation bar. It links to an updated version of the “Unpublished works and ephemera” page from my old website.

* I’ve converted my personal Facebook page to a fan page. If you were feeling shy about sending me a friend request, now you can just “like” me.

* Those of you who’ve been asking when/if Fool on the Hill will be available as an ebook, it’s in the works. I’ll post more once I have details.

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