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March 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Titles similar to Near Enemy
“The crippled city can’t live without its crutch.” And what a crutch it is! In this equally compelling follow-up to Sternbergh’s stunning debut, Shovel Ready (2014), New York City is still reeling from the aftereffects of a dirty bomb in Times Square. Midtown Manhattan is a ghost town, and the city’s wealthy have found an alternative reality, the limnosphere, accessed through high-tech beds that allow sleepers to enter a dream world of their own choosing, far from the squalor of daily life. Even the limnosphere is not immune from chaos, however, as “bed-hoppers” are able to jump between beds, in effect, and either lurk around the edges of someone else’s fantasy or, worse, disrupt the dream. Fortunately, though, you can’t die in the limnosphere. Until now, apparently. Enter Spademan, the garbageman turned contract killer (weapons are in short supply so his lethal tool of choice is a box cutter) who sets out to fulfill a contract on a bed-hopper named Lesser, who may have unlocked the limnosphere’s last secret—its immortality. Lesser escapes the box cutter, but soon enough, Spademan is after bigger game. Have terrorists acquired the secret to murder in the limn, and are they soon to take away humanity’s last hiding place? Or is the terrorist threat a ruse, covering up the plans of a power-hungry cabal out to rule both external and internal worlds? Spademan and an Egyptian radical, who some believe is the terrorist who cracked the limn, form an unholy alliance to . . . do what? Save the world, or what’s left of it, or write its obituary, once and for all?
The premise of Sternbergh’s postapocalyptic world is so complex, so incredibly detailed, that readers necessarily must spend time struggling to get it straight in their heads. But, somehow, this only adds to the fascination of the novel. We’re drawn deeply into the lives of the characters—both those Spademan attempts to protect and those whom he hopes to kill—while at the same time feverishly trying to do the math on the limnosphere: you can’t die in there, but you can be killed in your fancy bed and, thus, have the plug pulled on your dream? But what if you can die in the limn, or, alternately, what if you can live in the limn after you die in the world? Imagine your befuddlement in the early days of the Internet (How do those files get from here to there?), and then multiply that by infinity. Now you have some sense of what trying to sort out Sternbergh’s world is like.
As intellectually beguiling as the world building in Sternbergh’s fiction is, if it were the books’ main attraction, it’s likely that only techno-geeks would be enthralled. The rest of us need people and action to keep moving forward. Fortunately, Sternbergh gives us both. When dystopian fiction works, it does so because we respond to the way human emotion can live even in a flattened landscape. That’s the case here, with Spademan and his gang of postapocalyptic Holmesian irregulars scratching out lives with a moment of passion, a flash of humor, or an act of generosity in a world driven by survival. And let’s talk action. The fight scenes in Near Enemy, especially those taking place deep in the limn, blend the operatic elegance of Bruce Lee in flight with the comic-book-inspired mayhem of Nick Harkaway in Tigerman (2014). Popular fiction that engages one’s heart, mind, and adrenaline the way the Spademan novels do is something to be savored.
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