This fall, Talos Press is putting a new name on the list of authors to watch: Sam McPheeters. His cyber-thriller Exploded View is out in October, and while it isn’t his debut, his first novel, 2012’s The Loom of Ruin, was published by a small press and is tough to get ahold of these day. His sophomore effort seems poised to gain him greater acclaim—something he’s used to as a 27-year veteran of the punk scene with more than 100,000 records sold to his credit.
Talos is certainly getting him off on the right foot with an eye-catching, intriguing cover, designed by Michael Heald from Fully Illustrated, and we’re showing it off to you in full. Keep scrolling past the publisher’s blurb, and then keep reading for an excerpt from the novel, which you can preorder now.
In 2050, seeing is no longer believing.
Here’s the catalog copy too:
Minority Report meets The Shield in this near-future high-tech detective thriller set in Los Angeles.
It’s 2050, and LAPD Detective Terri Pastuzka has drawn the short straw with her first assignment of the new decade. Someone has executed one of the city’s countless immigrants, and no one (besides the usual besieged advocacy groups) seems to much care. Even Terri herself is already looking ahead to her next case before an unexpected development reveals there’s far more to this corpse than meets the eye.
And a lot already meets the eye. In a city immersed in augmented reality, the LAPD have their own superior network of high-tech eyewear—PanOpts, the ultimate panopticon—allowing Terri instant access to files and suspects and literal insertion into the crime scene using security footage captured from every angle the day the murder occurred. What started as a single homicide turns into a string of unsolved murders that tie together in frightening ways, leading Terri down a rabbit hole through Los Angeles’s conflicting realities—augmented and virtual, fantastically rumored and harrowingly true—towards an impossible conclusion.
Exploded View is the story of a city frozen in crisis, haunted by hardship and overwhelmed by refugees, where technology gives everyday citizens the power to digitally reshape news in real time, and where hard video evidence is impotent against the sheer, unrelenting power of belief. After all, when anyone can forge their own version of the truth, what use is any other reality?
Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the novel.
“I said, ‘it’s tough.’”
Done talking, Terri folded her arms and leaned back into the freeway center divider, a shock of cold concrete on her hip jolting her upright again. It was an awkward confirmation that she was actually here; standing in the middle of the interstate, watching several hundred festive cops loiter on a freeway blocked to traffic, the mob made all the merrier by bumper-to-bumper congestion in the opposing lanes. Where westbound was a parking lot, eastbound held a tailgate party.
Every New Year’s Day since she’d joined the department, Uribe Steakhouse opened early for a police-only champagne brunch. But with Jack Uribe still cleaning up smoke damage after a Christmas Eve kitchen fire, someone had had the bright idea to stage this year’s gathering in a corner of Los Angeles State Historic Park. That site had proven so inhospitable—trash, dogs, stray hypos—that when a quarter-mile stretch of the I-10 had been shut down to search for a shell casing, the 300-strong group had simply migrated wholesale to the freeway.
Quickly glancing over both shoulders, she registered that traffic hadn’t budged. She’d been arguing with the driver directly behind her, each having come to rest on either side of the center divider, directly under the boxy arch of the freeway signage scaffold. With her back to him now, Terri was struck by the uncanny feeling that she’d been speaking with an imaginary friend the whole time. Seemingly in response to this thought, a voice behind her said, “Yeah, Terri, it is tough. Tough seeing my tax dollars pay for your bullshit.”
She sighed and turned, looking down on a balding, beet-faced man leaning out of his car, the edge of the divider perfectly level with his open window. He was a type: the powerless bigmouth.
“Uh-huhn,” she said. “You don’t really continue a conversation with a cop by using their first name.”
“Half the goddamn police force is having a freeway party, and you’re lecturing me, Terri?”
She twisted and took in the scene, seeing officers in uniform doing a clean sweep farther down, but closer more officers, some uniformed, some in shorts and jerseys, everyone chatting and laughing, most with their shades perched up on scalps, nearly everybody holding open containers. She had to admit, it didn’t look great. All they needed were a grill and some lawn chairs.
“Our goddamn taxes pay your salary, Terri.”
“First of all, it’s ‘Detective Pastuszka’ . . .”
“We pay your paycheck, and you repay us by shutting down the goddamn freeway. That sound about right, Terri?”
From behind, a voice said, “Who’s your buddy?” She turned again to greet Sergeant Carlos Jaramillo, his ponderous gut supported by a faded t-shirt for Meat Wagon Steakhouse. Perhaps he’d slipped it on as some sort of half-drunk protest against Uribe; most of the guys out here were still boozy from last night. There’d probably be some chest-bumping soon.
“Loudmouth citizen number 8,001,” she said. “Guy’s mad at us because he has to sit in traffic for ten minutes.”
“Hey buddy, we just shut down eastbound,” Carlos said. “Westbound is all Juggernaut. We got nothing to do with that.”
“Hey buddy, I saw you over at the Kangaroo Room.”
“Oh yeah? How’d I look?”
“Like you, but less of an asshole.”
Carlos licked his lips, locked fingers and stretched his arms with the palms out, then reached up and pulled down the shades resting on his own scalp. From a distance, cop glasses—PanOpts—looked like any other pair of store-bought EyePhones. Seen up close, they were the ultimate expression of authority, a more potent symbol than even a badge or gun.
“Okay. Franklin Herrera of 466 West Broadway in Glendale,” Carlos said with a pleasant little smile. “Age 36, divorced, employed by Totonga Graphics. Uh-oh. Oh no. I’m seeing some unpaid littering citations, Detective Pastuszka. Seeing some missed child support payments.” He was almost definitely making stuff up on the fly, no one being stupid enough to mouth off to cops with an open offense hanging overhead. But sometimes it rattled the lippy.
“Carlos Jaramillo who lives in the Woodbridge Arms complex, 8360 Sunland Boulevard,” the man in the car announced, reading Carlos’ face through his own shades. “I’m seeing some serious CopWatch citizen citations.”
“Nice try, dipshit. My ex-wife lives there now.”
Terri saw a change come, Carlos darkening, preparing to take this harmless sparring to a different level.
“You got something to say about her, dickwhizzle? That woman’s a saint.”
The man in the car swallowed nervously, looking to her and then Carlos with a sudden solemnity, saying, “Are you aware that in Sweden they have citizen policing now?”
“Ayo! Call it!” Carlos raised up and cupped his hands, yelling out to the multitude. “We got a Sweden!” The crowd cheered.
Nearby, a uniformed officer said, “Damn. Eight hours into the new decade.”
Carlos leaned back over the concrete center divider and stuck his entire head into the car, probably stinking up the interior with hooch breath.
“Bad news, Frank Herrera, age 36, working some bullshit job at some place no one cares about. Sweden’s in the opposite fucking direction.”
“Hey man!” The next driver back leaned out his own window. He was young, crazy-eyed.
“Hey man! Hey man! That’s harassment!”
Carlos straightened up, amused again, the man in the first car doing his best to appear righteously vindicated.
“Hear that? Carlos? Terri? The people have spoken.”
“Harassment!” The second man shouted out to the world. “It’s harassment!”
She realized the second guy was drunk, the crowd’s guffaws only spurring him on.
“Harassment!” The second man continued, shrieking now, craning his neck around as if the real cops might show up any minute.
Carlos looked down to his captive audience with a determined smile, tapping the space in front of him. From the way he wriggled his fingers, Terri could tell it was all bullshit, but the guy in the car appeared concerned.
“Hey. Hey. Don’t tag me. I’m within my rights.”
Zack Zendejas emerged from the crowd, offering one broad hand to Carlos, placing the other on her shoulder. His big slab of a face showed no hangover. Zack was a family man; he’d probably fallen asleep by 12:30. In six years as her partner, he’d packed on some weight, Jocular Jock slowly fading into Jowly Jock, probably hitting genuine portliness by retirement time. For now, he could still impersonate the body and bearing of an ex-military man, although he’d only segued into policing, years ago, from a job moving furniture.
“Terri P. Looks like you found some action. You see this shit?” Zack nodded up, at the overhead freeway signage, towards the three huge green rectangles hanging over the stalled westbound lanes. “See it?”
“The bag?” Some miscreant had tossed a ratty old gym bag up onto the sign’s metal catwalk ledge.
On the furthest rectangle, past the arrows directing passengers to Santa Monica and Santa Ana, she saw an extra smudge in white. Seen from this foreshortened angle, it wasn’t clear what she was looking at.
“Is that . . . graffiti?”
“Blast from the past.”
“Wow. Someone actually found the one surface in the city without paint-resistant paint. Quite a feat.”
“More like witchcraft.” He pointed lower, to the looped coils of razor wire, draped like foliage over both sides of the structure. “Seriously. How?”
The yelling behind them intensified, and they turned into the morning sunlight, realizing that both drivers were shouting at each other now, oblivious to Carlos, who had doubled over with laughter. She heard the first man yell, “I don’t need your help! Just shut up!”
Wincing from the glare, they turned back towards downtown, taking in the skyline’s clustered skyscrapers.
“Is this what you thought the fifties would look like?” she asked.
“Ugh. This is the decade I turn fifty.”
She realized she would too.
“So. Day One.” He sounded sympathetic.
“Day One? Oh, right. No more overtime Day One.”
For the last 16 months, overlapping city and state budgets had poured modest surplus cash back into law enforcement, politicians at all levels desperate to get a handle on crime rates. It’d been a golden age of fractional overtime, with plenty of extra cash for motivated cops. Terri had made one of the most diligent devotees of the extra workload.
“You’re certainly taking this better than I’d expected.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she murmured, hypnotized by the gleaming skyscrapers, realizing this was the one truly good time of day to view them, sun hitting dead on and making the buildings appear important and powerful.
Carlos Jaramillo joined them, motioning back towards the arguing drivers. “The fuckin’ downfall of civilization. Get a good look.”
Zack turned back, squinting. “Creeping chaos.”
“You want to talk about that? Last week, me and Luis Mahoney were going to that barbeque thing? We’re off duty, off PanOpt, Honest Injun not looking for any kind of trouble. We come around a corner in this nice neighborhood by Verdugo, we see two nudists going at it on their lawn. I mean, full on, triple-X action, not a stitch of clothing to be seen. Behind them? Draped across the front porch? They’d made this big banner that said ‘Just Try And Stop Us.’”
Zack lit up. He loved tales of broad daylight debauchery. “Sophisticates.”
“Yeah, well. That’s the way of the world. Forget those,” he pointed towards the skyscrapers. “The whole city is turning into one big ghetto garbage dump. Trash people on all sides. Look at this crap.” He was getting himself worked up again, pointing to the flat stucco apartment complexes overlooking the eastbound lanes. “These ugly-ass shitboxes, full of tacky, ignorant people. You live in a trash can, how can you be anything but trash?”
Zack met Terri’s eye, grinning, enjoying this. “Yeah Carlos? How trashy are they?”
“Trash bag hose monster motherfuckers.” Carlos licked his lips, laughing tentatively when he saw how hard Zack laughed.
“You just pointed at Terri’s apartment.”
“Oh shit. Hey, ah . . .”
“No, hey.” She glanced over at her building. “I’m certainly not fond of the place.”
A whoosh came, each of them rotating to watch the westbound traffic shocked back into action, cars zipping off as if the road itself had suddenly yanked them into the distance.
“Not much of a New Year’s celebration,” Carlos said.
“Pretty appropriate for a year without overtime,” Terri said.
Zack gave another amused side glance, this time directed at her. “I thought you didn’t care about that.”
A shout came from the crowd.
She pulled down her own shades, the moment of transformation like the instant between holding and wearing a piece of clothing. PanOpt, the network, materialized through PanOpts, the hardware. The world blossomed with captions. Rounded byline boxes sprouted over every head, speech balloons in an endless comic strip. In her margins, a welter of informative keywords, links, transcript and audio options flourished. These glasses peered back at the eye, gauging nuances—focus, depth of field, iris contraction—and rendering their images faster than human perception. It was a new trick aping an old trick: two lenses fooled the eyes into seeing information in stereo, two eyes fooled the brain into seeing depth. Captions appeared as solid as the people they floated over.
A small clock floating in her lower left field of vision told her it was 9:51. She had the whole day ahead of her, the new year and the new decade after that. A lieutenant addressed the troops, sounding as if he stood next to her, offering a condensed version of the underwhelming speech cops got every New Year’s Day. Maintain. Persevere. Overcome.
At least this new year had provided one cinematic moment that would’ve been impossible inside a crowded steakhouse. It’d been an impressive sight, everyone putting on their PanOpts at once. Although she’d caught the slight self-delusion to the scene. Cops wanted to see themselves as an army, when really they were something far more dangerous: an organism.
Five minutes later, her requested car crept onto the outer shoulder as if trying to sneak out of a party, parking more or less equidistant with her own apartment block. Five minutes after that, she was cruising slow through her domain, Central Bureau, Central Division, four and a half square miles enclosing Little Tokyo, South Park, Historic Core, Olvera Street, the train station, and the Jewelry and Fashion Districts.
Oddly, the central crisis of the Central Bureau wasn’t her problem. The commercial skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles, having been abandoned and then repopulated with refugees a generation ago, existed in a perpetual legal fog. The city claimed they were a federal issue, the federal government repeatedly bounced the problem back down, housing cops addressed violent crime and fire marshals staged periodic, unwinnable raids. Immigration had placed the issue in an endless holding pattern. There was nowhere else to put anybody. The situation only became her division’s problem the moment a tower dweller died. Which was still a lot of people, maybe half of the 691 total murders last year, with no reason to think they wouldn’t top 700 in the year now before her.
The Holy Grail of LAPD intelligence would be a comprehensive, real time layer showing every single living person in every single skyscraper. They’d tried just that a decade earlier, seeding buildings with mapping drones. The program had been technically legal, skyscrapers being squatted commercial space, but logistically impossible. There were too many warrens, too many changing faces, too many increasingly sophisticated drone detectors. The opacity of the downtown towers galled all cops. At night, it was the darkened skyline of a conquered city.
It remained strange to her that these mighty structures, engines of revenue, could have been felled by mere math. But it was just that simple. Once the price of online real estate dropped below the price of commercial real estate, there’d been no going back. Online offices dispensed with commutes, insurance, utilities. Their square feet were actually cubic feet, open to any workers in the world. There was no incentive for any businesses to maintain a physical office. And with 50 million square feet of commercial skyscraper space in downtown, there was no governmental body that could attempt the tax incentives to lure companies back.
Aimless, she had the car continue up Stadium Way, just outside her Bureau, directing it to pull over at a shady lane in the park. Terri knew that a new case would absorb her civilian life sooner or later, although she’d hoped for some overlap before New Year’s, a more graceful transition into this new decade and its blocks of enforced idleness. She wanted as much work as possible because she didn’t have anything else to replace working as much as possible.
From her desktop—the invisible plain that appeared to hover just inches from her face—she opened the folder perpetually suspended in her lower right field of vision. A series of documents fluttered into the air before her. With one careful flick of the wrist, she fanned each page out in space, making the assortment of papers appear suspended in the ether. Tapping a spot in the margin, she oriented these pages with the car seats, so that, for all practical purposes, these documents were physically in the vehicle with her, as real as she was.
None of the pages held any promise, the most recent case having gone cold before Christmas. A pensioner had been found face down, stabbed by someone he’d let in to his shabby little single room occupancy in a block of low-income housing fashioned out of converted warehouse space in the Horn, itself a weird little micro-neighborhood fashioned out of the thin wedge where Baker met Spring, at the northern tip of the Bureau. It’d been one of the worst cases of postmortem lividity she’d ever seen. The body had slid halfway off the bed and come to rest on its forehead, pooled blood basically putting the guy in blackface, every responding officer having to suppress giggles as the buddies of the deceased sobbed in the hallway outside.
Straightforward non-refugee domestic homicides were a rarity in Central, there being so few legal residences left in downtown. The other cases were more typical: a seemingly random refugee murder-suicide outside the Main Library; a social worker who’d stabbed one of his clients; the renegade heir to a pallet company fortune; a withered bag lady who’d turned out to be a long-ago corporate attorney. Terri took in the neatly arrayed stacks of information and sighed.
Somewhere in the cases before her, she’d probably committed Overseer Oversight. This was the persistent misconception that somebody must have already made the obvious observation, or that the system itself would have connected the dots long before any person could have made any obvious observations. Although PanOpt had a top-notch backstop program, offering all sorts of after-the-fact analysis and perspective and research, it offered almost nothing in the way of intuitive analysis. Overseer Oversight was all the more irritating because so many other networks and systems within Los Angeles watched and listened for inputs and gestures, knowing when to pay attention, when to act, when to disregard. So why couldn’t the police do this?
Seven hours later, an empty stomach finally pulled her out of her forensics maps. She’d missed dusk, and now a flawless symmetrical half moon sat over a stand of trees to her left, so perfectly centered it might as well have been an advertisement. Her stomach grumbled again.
She pulled up a web box—a seemingly physical cubby that appeared to hover above her lap—using the Overlay to call up the Internet, the two networks competing but connected. Terri was grateful that she could access both systems through her PanOpts, the cop’s extra network being a private system. Viewing the world ad free was a colossal perk of the job. In the box now, she looked up supermarkets still open on New Year’s Day, finding the physical representation of one up in Burbank, already picturing all the forlorn shoppers on a Saturday night.
So, no more overtime. So what? How bad could these weekend nights get without work? What, was she going to have a breakdown, start sobbing? She glanced up and saw something glitter under a nearby street light, unsure if it was a moth or part of the ecosystem of drones, one more roaming eye among millions.