From the cover, one might think that City of Fever is another entry in a never-ending line of post-apocalyptic-zombie stories that I try my best to avoid. But something made me take a closer look when I spotted it at a MoCCA Festival. Part of it was creator Kalman Spigel's sales pitch, that this was a "hard science fiction" story in the tradition of Isaac Asimov and William Gibson. I've never read any Gibson, but I'm a huge Asimov fan from way back, so my curiosity was piqued. When I noticed that a major character's name was only two letters different from mine, I was amused enough to buy the book.
City of Fever is a hardboiled detective story masquerading as science fiction. "Hard science fiction," in this context, means that there's nothing that's too far outside the boundaries of current technology. There's no time travel, teleportation, faster-than-light spacecraft, aliens, or psionics; but there's plenty of cybernetics, AI, and genetic engineering. I detected no Asimov influence at all. Asimov's writing was heavy on technical details, and his heroes were usually armchair detectives rather than men of action. Spigel's story is quite the opposite.
The setting is Wave City, colloquially known as the Big Rot. A thinly-veiled analogue of New Orleans, it's hot, humid, and one of the few habitable regions on the moon of Gehenna, a distant world reached by Earth colonists an unspecified number of decades ago. Wave City is controlled by an uneasy troika: corrupt mayor Robert "The Shrimp" Bulette, religious leader "Big Daddy Été," and Fraise, an artificial intelligence who controls the city's news and entertainment media.
One of these three is planning a crime that will drastically alter the balance of power in the Big Rot, but he needs a fall guy. That's where the hero comes in. The story's protagonist and narrator is Rast, a cyborg private eye with a mysterious past. His partner, Jazmin, is an AI who resides in Rast's software, and appears as a woman only he can see and hear. When Rast learns that he's been set up, he and Jazmin have to decide whether to go into hiding or strike back. It's not hard to guess which option they choose.
The art is exceptionally slick and professional for an independent publication. The coloring enhances it nicely, mostly dark without getting muddy, turning bright and electric where the plot requires it.
In the 1950s, DC Comics published a feature called Star Hawkins in the science fiction anthology title, Strange Adventures. It was a tongue-in-cheek series about a tough, semi-competent private detective, and his robot secretary Ilda, who was pretty much the brains of the operation. Rast and Jazmin seemed very much like an edgier version of Star Hawkins and Ilda, upgraded for the 21st century.
City of Fever is only 52 pages long (not including the forward). It was published as a thin hardcover book, which I thought was an odd decision, but that's just me. I found it a very entertaining read. Violent action abounds, but there's little gore and no explicit language. It's available from Mad Ink Press.
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