Vintage Treasures: The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy

Vintage Treasures: The City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy

The City, Not Long After (Bantam Spectra, February 1990). Cover by Mark Harrison

Bantam Spectra was, without a doubt, the imprint where the action was at the end of the last century. Founded by Lou Aronica in 1985, it published some of the very best science fiction and fantasy of the 80s and 90s, including David Brin’s The Postman (1985) and The Uplift War (1987), William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country (1989), Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992), Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars (1993 – 96), and a little book titled A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (and its sequels). The imprint was eventually retired in 2009, but not until it had published hundreds of fine books and launched a great many careers.

Pat Murphy published two memorable books with Bantam Spectra, both in 1990, the Philip K. Dick Award-winning collection Points of Departure and the Mythopoeic and Arthur C. Clarke Award-nominated novel The City, Not Long After, a postapocalyptic tale of a depopulated San Francisco.

[Click the images for bantam-weight versions.]

Points of Departure (Bantam Spectra, July 1990). Cover by Mark Harrison

The City, Not Long After, which features the city of San Francisco as an enigmatic character, is as much magic realism as SF. Here’s an excerpt from the Publishers Weekly review from 1989.

In the wake of a devastating worldwide plague, the handful of artists who have transformed the city with mirror mazes, self-propelled clockwork creatures and a coat of blue paint on the Golden Gate Bridge find that the city itself collaborates in unpredictable ways, from rains of flowers — or frogs — to the appearance of angels. When megalomaniac General Miles threatens the city, newcomer Jax works with painter Danny-boy, mechanical genius The Machine and others on a pacifist version of guerrilla warfare.

The novel has been out of print since 2009, but still finds an audience. Two of the best reviews I’ve found are contemporary notices at Goodreads, where Eli calls it “a different sort of post-apocalyptic world… full of hope, full of color and magic,” and Althea Ann says:

After a plague spread (accidentally?) by peace-activist Buddhists, only a few survivors live amongst ruins. San Francisco has become a haven of artists, but a military cult based in Sacramento is set on forcefully establishing a new American empire. Pacifism faces down a philosophy of violent force… but primarily, this is the story of the orphaned Danny-boy and the wild girl Jax… and of the city itself, suffused with dreams and nightmares… it’s a lovely book.

The City, Not Long After was published by Bantam Spectra in February 1990. It is 269 pages, priced at $4.50 in paperback. The cover is by Mark Harrison.

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Eugene R.

Lou Aronica really did establish a heckuva track record at Bantam, as good as John Campbell or Terry Carr with his Ace Specials in the 1960s-1990s. And Pat Murphy was certainly one of his best choices. I loved her Nebula winner, The Falling Woman, and I miss her fiction as she took an Asimovian turn into science non-fiction, doing some wonderful work with San Francisco’s Exploratorium.

Chris Willrich

I enjoyed her long-running science column in F&SF, co-authored with Paul Doherty.

I also liked her 1999 novel THERE AND BACK AGAIN, which takes the plot of THE HOBBIT and turns it into an imaginatively worked out space opera. (The not-Hobbits are asteroid-dwellers, for example.) I know there were sequels but I never caught up with them, unfortunately.

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