Excerpt: STEEPLE by Jon Wallace (Gollancz)

WallaceJ-2-SteepleUKThe second excerpt of the week (after Al Robertson’s Crashing Heaven). Published in the UK yesterday by Gollancz, Steeple is the sequel to Jon Wallace‘s well-received Barricade. Here’s the synopsis:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep meets The Raid in this high action SF thriller.

Another high action SF dystopia perfect for fans of Richard Morgan and Alfred Bester alike. The follow-up to the acclaimed Barricade this another short, sharp and kinetic SF thriller

Kenstibec is a Ficial – a genetically engineered artificial life form; tough, skilled, hard to kill. Or at least he was. He’s lost the nanotech that constantly repaired him. Life just got real. Just like it is for the few remaining humans in this blighted world – the Reals; locked in a fight over a ruined world with the Ficials they created to make Utopia.

And now Kenstibec must take a trip to the pinnicle of our failed civilisation. The Steeple is a one thousand storey tower that looms over the wreckage of London. It is worshipped, feared and haunted by attack droids and cannibals. And the location of a secret that just might save Kenstibec’s life.

The only way is up.

Before we get to the excerpt, here’s a comment from Jon about the selection:

“I like this scene because I think it illustrates the British flavour of Steeple, as Fatty and Kenstibec discuss their situation over a pint in the local post-apocalyptic pub, complete with tankards, darts and pipe smokers. I also like it because it sets up the burgeoning friendship between refined artificial life form and impulsive, course human that runs throughout Steeple and Barricade, providing much of the humour and heart of the piece, in what is an often brutal and grotesque world.”

And now, the extract…

CRAWL

With the palace party in full swing, we found the Bear near de serted. Only a group of regulars were seated at the bar, one sucking a clay pipe, another drinking from his wooden leg. A few others tossed darts at a board.

Fatty hammered on the top until the proprietor stumbled out the back, blinking reproach and licking his teeth. Fatty ordered two tankards of a beer called Fall Down, paying with the local currency.

We took a table in the corner. I gaped at the ale, twisting the tankard in my fingers, until Fatty piped up.

‘Drink it, then.’

‘I don’t drink.’

Fatty pointed out a quotation.

‘A man is never happy in the present unless he is drunk.’

‘I’m not a man.’

‘No, that’s true. Still, you must be freezing. It’ll warm you up.’

‘I’m fine.’

Fatty shook his head.

‘Wandering around in a T-shirt and overalls? You’re not indestructible any more, remember? You’ll freeze to death dressed like that. Honestly, sometimes I think you’re trying to top yourself.’

He belched and slapped his belly. ‘I guess I would too, if I had been one of your kind. It must be humbling, farting and sweating like the rest of us.’

I thought about burying the tankard in his face. Oblivious, Fatty shuffled closer.

‘But listen. Don’t you ever think about getting a little more . . . involved?’

‘With what?’

‘You know. I mean, you’re never going back to a Barricade. Maybe you should think about settling down.’

Settling down. The phrase had a peaceful ring to it.

‘How do I do that?’

Fatty tugged on his ear.

‘Well, now that nano junk is out of your bloodstream you could . . . Let me see, how would your lot put it? You could mate.’

The thought made me drink. Fatty shook his head.

‘Not interested then?’

I looked at his seeping bad eye, at his bloated, blue-tinged flesh.

‘I don’t know how you can bear to touch each other.’

I tipped the rest of the beer down my throat. I had to admit, it stilled my shivers. Fatty spat a blue mess.

‘Well you should reconsider. Your fucking boy band skin is still fairly intact, and that draws attention. People talk about you. And the more they talk, the hotter things get for us.’

I wondered why we were on this subject. I was too Ficial for romance, and Fatty knew it. He finished his drink, pushed the tankard away and stared into nothing.

Then I remembered: a Real would often enquire about an other’s welfare in order to introduce a discussion about its own. They couldn’t help but play these games.

‘So,’ I asked. ‘What about you? Are you mating at the moment?’

Fatty frowned at the turn of phrase, then sagged, emitting a pained sigh.

‘Marie. I think I’m in love with her.’

I considered.

‘You think that a lot though, don’t you?’

Fatty narrowed his good eye.

‘And what do you mean by that?’

‘Just an observation.’

He raised his nose and sniffed.

‘Marie is different. One of Clive’s daughters. I think about her all the time.’

I sipped my beer.

‘So why not propose, or whatever it is you do?’

‘You wouldn’t understand.’

Typical Real reaction. ‘Then don’t drag me here and bother me with it.’

He examined his nails, as if the answer to his worries lay buried in the scum beneath.

‘It’s OK for you, pal. You’re still in decent condition. Sure, you’ve lost a lot of weight, but at least your face is in one piece. Still got those fucking gloss-finish teeth.’

He dabbed at his bad eye with a handkerchief. I was beginning to understand.

‘The Blue Frog doesn’t help your cause, I take it?’

‘No, it fucking doesn’t. She’s young and relatively healthy. She’ll want the same from a partner. But look at me.’ He dropped his face into his hands. ‘It’s so unfair.’

The Blue Frog disease certainly made him a special kind of ugly. Even on medication he was bloated and blue as a rotting seal. I pressed my tankard to his and paused, ready to tip. He glimpsed the action and nodded. I poured out half, trying to think of some advice.

‘From what I have observed, males often demonstrate their suitability for mating through dance. Why don’t you take her to one of those maypole events out Bexley way?’

Fatty shook his head.

‘No good. Clive’ll have my guts for garters if I tried the old dinner and dance routine with his daughter.’

He raised his hand to the bar, twisted a fi nger for another round.

***

For more, be sure to check out the author’s website and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads. Not to mention, you know, buy and read the novels…

Also on CR: Guest Post on ‘Writing Real Women’

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