I’ve been slowing down my acquisition of new books recently, mostly for reasons of space. But occasionally a title will prove just too irresistible, as happened last week with Seth Fried’s debut, about a human and his AI partner on an adventure to save the great American city of Metropolis. It was Library Journal‘s “Debut of the Month,” and named one of the best books of the month by The Verge, io9, Amazon Books, Book of the Month Club, Tor.com, and others. Here’s Leah Schnelbach’s take at Tor.com.
The Municipalists, Seth Fried’s debut novel, is a futuristic noir that isn’t quite a noir; a bumpy buddy cop story where the cops are a career bureaucrat and computer program… It’s also deeply, constantly funny, and able to transform from a breezy page-turner into a serious exploration of class and trauma in a few well-turned sentences.
At first it seems like a wacky buddy cop book. The buttoned-down bureaucrat Henry Thompson is a proud member of United States Municipal Survey, traveling around the country to make improvements to city infrastructures… the kidnapping of a beloved teen celebrity [has] left the city reeling, only for people to be knocked truly punch-drunk by a series of terrorist attacks. The attacks and the kidnapping might be related. We’re soon taken all the way into sci-fi territory however when Henry gains a partner — a snarky AI called OWEN who is positively giddy about being sentient…
Seth Fried has been writing fiction and humor for years now, with excellent short work popping up in McSweeney’s, Tin House, One Story, and The New Yorker — his Tin House story “Mendelssohn”, about a Raccoon of Unusual Size, was a particular favorite of mine. His 2011 short story collection, The Great Frustration, was wildly diverse. Now with The Municipalists he proves that he can orchestrate a tight, complicated plot… Fried has also given us an endearing protagonist in Henry Thompson, and an all-time classic drunken AI, and if there’s any justice in the cities in this reality this will be the first book in a Municipalists-verse.
The Municipalists was published by Penguin Books on March 19, 2019. It is 265 pages, priced at $16 in trade paperback and $11.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Matthew Taylor. Read the first ten pages here, and see all our recent New Treasures here.