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2023: last word

Thirty-three years ago, I began writing what would become my second published novel, Sewer, Gas & Electric, a science-fiction satire of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged set in 2023.

At the time, 2023 seemed ridiculously far in the future—but not so far that I couldn’t reasonably expect to live to see it. Indeed, that was part of the fun, imagining Older Me comparing SG&E’s fictional future with the future that actually came to pass. And while one of the many things Younger Me failed to anticipate was the invention of blogging, if he had known about it, Younger Me would absolutely have said, “Yes—when the milestone year finally arrives, Older Me will reread the novel and write a comprehensive blog post about it!”

…and, well, I really did mean to do that, but as happens more and more frequently these days, time got away from me.

So before 2023 becomes history, let me at least mark the milestone by giving a shout-out to Younger Me way back there in 1990. You were right, man: It was an altogether different year.

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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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What is probably my least-filmable novel gets a mention in Variety

It’s in this profile of Alyssa Finley, the producer of the videogame Bioshock. Because I am a bit slow sometimes, my reaction when Lisa showed me the article went something like this: “Wow, that’s cool, I liked Bioshock… But I wonder what made her decide to read Sewer, Gas… [lengthy pause while aging synapses struggle to grasp the obvious] … Oh, right, she’s the producer of Bioshock, which satirizes Atlas Shrugged… DUH!”

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Custom cover art from Hamburg

An artist named Britta Kussin who attended one of my appearances in Germany last February gave me a gift, a set of custom covers for my first three novels. When I saw how cool they were, I asked if she’d send me scans that I could post on the blog.

Here they are:

I really like this style, and of course there’s something neat about seeing (almost) all of your books illustrated by the same hand.

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The color code of the day is #FAEE04

As part of the master plan to sell copies of Bad Monkeys to every cool person in America, HarperCollins has set up a Myspace page. I got the password a couple days ago and am starting to familiarize myself with the interface. Most of it’s pretty straightforward, but if I want to spiff up the look of the profile page—and I do—I’m going to have to learn to hand-code CSS, which should make for an interesting project.

And speaking of books with large amounts of yellow on their covers, I just got word that the German paperback of Sewer, Gas & Electric is entering its 7th printing. If any of you should run into David Hasselhoff today, please tell him I said hi.

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Sewer, Gas & Cyrillic

A little over a year ago, a Moscow publishing house named Eksmo bought the Russian translation rights to Sewer, Gas & Electric. Now, thanks to LJer rasteehead, here’s a look at the cover:

Obviously the art’s been repurposed from elsewhere, but I think they did a nice job of matching the mood of the story, and even the details aren’t as off as might first appear. You could definitely find buildings like that in lower Manhattan (complete with flames), and while there’s no specific mention of graffitied monorails in Sewer, the concept of monorails fits the general Retro Future aesthetic of the novel.

Also, there’s just something very cool about seeing my name in Cyrillic.

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