Shovel Ready [NOOK Book]

Overview

The futuristic hardboiled noir that Lauren Beukes calls “sharp as a paper-cut” about a garbage man turned kill-for-hire.

Spademan used to be a garbage man.  That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self.

...
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Shovel Ready

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Overview

The futuristic hardboiled noir that Lauren Beukes calls “sharp as a paper-cut” about a garbage man turned kill-for-hire.

Spademan used to be a garbage man.  That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self.

Now he’s a hitman.

In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to “tap in” to a sophisticated virtual reality, and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets.  When his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, he must navigate between these two worldsthe wasteland reality and the slick fantasyto finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he’s not the one who winds up in the ground.  


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

For Spademan, the dirty bomb and the death of his wife changed everything or almost everything. He had been a trash-heaving New York City garbage-man; now he was a professional hit-man. He practices this new form of waste disposal with few qualms until he gets the call to eliminate the teenage daughter of a famous evangelist. His first instinctual worries lead to something far more serious, however, when he realizes the full force of what he's up against. A powerful dystopian novel.

Library Journal
★ 12/01/2013
Former garbageman Spademan is a box cutter-wielding death dealer in a near future New York City decimated by car bombs and dirty bombs. Geiger counters are chic accessories for stylish youth, and jacking in to a thoroughly immersive virtual reality world is all the rage. Spademan thinks his life is simple—do the job, get paid—until his new mark turns out to be a young girl who calls herself Persephone. She's on the run from her very powerful father, and he'll do anything, and take down anyone, to get her back. Persephone's got secrets that could topple an evangelical empire, and she is determined at all costs to save herself. VERDICT First-time author Sternbergh takes a heavy dose of noir and sets it in a dystopian setting. Spademan is an unlikely yet tragic hero, and it takes a talented author to make a reader root for such a damaged and ruthless man. Lean prose is punctuated by moments of shocking violence that only serve to underscore the novel's underlying humanity, and Persephone is a shining, brutal example of the will to survive at all costs. This is a gripping genre mash-up and a stunning debut. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/13; this title was selected for Barnes & Noble's Spring 2014 Discover Great New Writers season.—Ed.]—Kristin Centorcelli, Denton, TX
Publishers Weekly
11/04/2013
A dirty bomb explosion in Times Square leaves New York City half-emptied, save for the rich and the poor, in Sternberg’s first novel, a low-rent Raymond Chandler noir told in the style of very late James Ellroy. A former sanitation worker who calls himself Spademan now makes a living as a hit man. When Spademan agrees to kill 18-year-old Grace Chastity “Persephone” Harrow for an unknown client, he seeks her out among the park-living poor. That Persephone’s father is famed evangelist T.K. Harrow, who is about to hold a revival service in Radio City Music Hall, is just one of the complications that leads Spademan into deep trouble—both virtual and real. Evidently inspired by 1980s cyberpunk and movies like Strange Days, Sternbergh, the New York Times Magazine’s culture editor, adds nothing new to a near-future scenario in which the narrator, despite his insistence on strict moral standards, is little better than the book’s bad guys. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Bogart-cool. . . . Razor-sharp. . . . The page-turning mood of Shovel Ready is addictive, by turns death-metal brutal and darkly hilarious.” —Entertainment Weekly

“[Sternbergh] skillfully blends elements of noir, sci-fi, and speculative fiction, and keeps the action and the dialogue energetic.”—The New Yorker
 
“A searing debut. . . . Stark dialogue and high-volume grit, which Sternbergh enhances with sci-fi and dark humor. . . . [This] shady antihero may have a long life ahead.” —USA Today
 
 “[A] sardonic thriller that serves up lots of barbs. . . . Uniquely engaging. . . . A great read, and its world still manages to hold you in its dirty clutches until the violent, fascinating conclusion.” —io9.com

“Energetic. . . . An enjoyable read.” —The Boston Globe

“The best of two dark, amoral, existentially empty worlds!” —Time
 
“Boy, does this plot drive. It’s one of those books so gripping you read the whole thing in a single go. . . . Swift, [with] expertly timed twists and shocks, very hard to put down.” —The Guardian (UK)

“A lean thriller. . . . Sternbergh knows his way around the style, matching the staccato rhythms of violence to those of language. . . . [If] you want to know if it’s as awesome as it sounds. It is.” Chicago Tribune

“Reads like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road set in New York. . . . [An] agreeably macho dystopia.” Newsweek
 
“Sternbergh’s prose is lean and sparse. . . . Shovel Ready is exciting. It starts fast and the author keeps his foot on the gas. The thrills feel earned.” —The Globe and Mail
 
“Darkly funny.” —New York
 
“Memorably entertaining and garishly funny, Sternbergh’s debut novel is a winner.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer
 
“The best kind of hard boiled noir.” —GQ
 
“Sternbergh comes busting out of the gate with this gritty noir.” —Flavorwire
 
“Thrilling. . . . Like Raymond Chandler on a sleepless cyberpunk jag. . . . Sternbergh adroitly delivers shadowy adventure tropes within a surprisingly breezy read.”—Time Out New York
 
“Gripping. . . . A sharp, thought-provoking thriller. . . . The strongest impact of the book is the constant feeling it gives that the ghosts of 9/11 still haunt New York.” —National Post
 
“Stunning. . . . Mixing dystopian science fiction and urban noir with a Palahniuk swagger, this could well be the first novel everybody is talking about.” —Booklist (starred review)
 
Spademan is an unlikely yet tragic hero, and it takes a talented author to make a reader root for such a damaged and ruthless man. Lean prose is punctuated by moments of shocking violence that only serve to underscore the novel’s underlying humanity. . . . This is a gripping genre mash-up and a stunning debut.” Library Journal (starred review)
 
“Hardboiled as f*** with writing as fierce and sharp as a paper-cut.” —Lauren Beukes, author of The Shining Girls
 
“With prose chiseled to hardboiled perfection and a tale that throbs with the keen ache of noir, Adam Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready reads like William Gibson as directed with inky brilliance by Christopher Nolan. Debut novels as sleek, resonant and accomplished as this are a rare gift.” —Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
 
Shovel Ready tosses you off a precipice and you don’t know where you're going to land. Dark and often funny, with sparse, sharp language. Think Charlie Huston’s dystopian New York meets Richard Stark’s anti-hero— this is good, bitter fun.” —Toby Barlow, author of Sharp Teeth and Babayaga
 
Shovel Ready is an elegant, lean and clever noir. It’s the best sci-fi thriller I’ve read since Snow Crash.” —Roger Hobbs, author of Ghostman
 
“A terrific debut. It has the grimy neon feel of Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan combined with a touch of Philip K. Dick’s gonzo cyberpunk.” —Austin Grossman, author of You and Soon I Will Be Invincible
 
“Compulsive!  Savage future noir that crackles with deadpan wit.” —Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker

Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-05
A postmodern view of a dystopian, bombed-out New York City, as recounted by Spademan, a hired assassin. Spademan is a cynic, as any assassin worth his salt should be, but in this case, even his cynicism is tested when he's called upon to kill the 18-year-old daughter of T. K. Harrow, a famous evangelist. (Spademan kills men and women with ease but has always drawn the line at killing children because "that's a different kind of psycho.") The daughter, whose name is Grace Chastity but who goes by the more appropriate name of Persephone, is an elusive figure whom Spademan needs to track down, and when he finds her, she's five months pregnant. Her story is both horrifying and tragic, for she claims her father, the revered religious figure, is himself the father of her unborn child. Spademan finds his mission changing, for not only does he refuse to kill Chastity/Persephone, but instead decides to track down the well-protected Harrow. Along the way, he meets a raft of unsavory sociopathic types (is there any other kind?), like Simon the Magician, Harrow's head of security, a sadist of the first order. In this bleak, futuristic world, the rich immerse themselves in virtual reality for weeks at a time while the rabble has to contend with the charred remains of Manhattan. Spademan, who used to be a garbage man, discovers that dealing with the human detritus of New York is not that different from his previous profession. Telegraphic in style, this book is tough, sordid and definitely not for every taste.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Adam Sternbergh's taut, laconic, so-grim-you-have-to- laugh-to-stop-from-crying debut novel recalls two previous outstanding first genre novels that, curiously enough, are almost polar opposites.

Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon ramped up cyberpunk bleakness and despair to new heights, in a world where life was cheap and even the heroes had to be ruthless killers. Ernest Cline's Ready Player One also depicted a dystopian future closer to the present, but conversely showcased a set of characters full of untrodden hope and playfulness and even a gonzo zest for living. Sternbergh's tale hews closer to the Morgan model, but there's a little bit of Cline's picnic-in-the-ruins panache, if only in the blackly mocking and self-derisive observations of the narrator, Spademan, a hired killer in a blasted New York City.

The first thing any reader will notice about this story, right from page one, is Spademan's narrative voice: a clipped, elliptical, no-nonsense abstraction and distillation of the typical noir private eye's running monologue. Philip Marlowe texting.

Lots of sentence fragments.

Short paragraphs.

Punchlines and conclusions delayed.

For maximum pow.

In short, Sternbergh has crafted a kind of Twitterized Jim Thompson voice, highly fitting for his admitted "psycho" of a hired assassin, Spademan. "Think of me more like a bullet," he coldly claims.

Spademan's back-story is modest and tragic: once a humble sanitation worker, following in his departed father's vocational footsteps ("Died of a heart attack he worked a lifetime to earn"), Spademan lost his beloved wife in the terrorist attack that left his current-day NYC a half-populated, semi-radioactive ghetto. All of this has rendered him an embittered hired killer, with very few moral strictures. A self-portrait he takes pains to make clear, with several gruesome anecdotes.

We open with Spademan being hired to murder a young runaway girl named Persephone. But her real identity is Grace Harrow, daughter of T. K. Harrow, the most famous and wealthy evangelist in the nation. And she holds the key to a disturbing revelation about Harrow's virtual-reality heaven, opening soon for the business of saving souls. It's all in line with the way that the rich and powerful in this future choose to spend their time in the limnosphere, a Matrix-like cyberworld.

Spademan quickly reneges on his contract to kill Persephone, for a good reason according to his code: she's pregnant, and he doesn't kill kids, even embryonic ones. How the killer and potential victim band together, with some other louche helpers, to take down Harrow against nigh-insuperable odds forms the subsequent gory bulk of the novel.

Now, there's very little that's radically new in this novel. The VR angle — seductive simulacrum environment lures people away from meatspace — goes back at least to Keith Laumer's "Cocoon," a seminal story from 1962. The "shattered Manhattan" trope can be found recently in the graphic novel series DMZ by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli. As previously mentioned, the dead-inside killer hails from Jim Thompson, by way of Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Prone Gunman (recently done up excellently by Jacques Tardi as a fine graphic novel, Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot).

And as for Sternbergh's speculative chops — well, let's just say they are not up to the standards of Charles Stross, John Varley, or even J. J. Abrams. Everything is pretty much off-the-shelf usage. One deficit that grates a little is the anachronistic use of cultural touchstones. One of Spademan's pals uses the term "rabbit ears" for TV antennas, a phrase I thought I had heard the last of circa 1975. And Spademan himself makes a big deal of living in Hoboken because it's the birthplace of Sinatra. Now, consider: let's say Spademan is thirty-five years old, and the book takes place in 2025. That would put his date of birth at 1990. Frank Sinatra died in 1998, during Spademan's tenure in third grade, when he would have presumably been imprinting on Rugrats, not some senescent crooner from his grandfather's era.

But I have to give the book its due. The stock parts are chrome-plated, machined smooth, and lubed up fine. The engine is overpowered for the chassis, like some street buggy with an Indy 500 heart. Sternbergh's emotional commitment to his premise and characters is total. Spademan's quips are witty, his metaphors striking, and his nihilism bracingly dry. And the staccato style makes for easy reading.

You'll have a good ride with Shovel Ready.

Familiar.

But fast.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385349000
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 46,954
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Adam Sternbergh is the culture editor of The New York Times Magazine. Formerly an editor-at-large for New York, his writing has been featured in several other publications including GQ, The Times of London, and on the radio program This American Life. He lives in Brooklyn and is at work on a second Spademan novel.
 
www.adamsternbergh.com · @sternbergh
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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Adam Sternbergh, Author of Shovel Ready

Though you've been a writer for years (as the Culture Editor of the New York Times Magazine, and Editor-at-Large of New York Magazine) Shovel Ready is your first foray into fiction. When did you know you wanted to write a novel?

I've always loved fiction and have dabbled in writing it, off and on, since college, working on various secret projects on the side. It just took me a long time—twenty years, actually—to finally figure out what kind of novel I wanted to write. That process started by asking myself: What kind of novel do I most want to read? Weirdly, the answer was a dystopian-near-future-NYC-garbageman-turned-hitman novel.

In Shovel Ready, a dirty bomb decimates Times Square and the city's elites become obsessed with "tapping in." While their bodies atrophy in tricked-out hospital beds, their minds roam a sophisticated virtual reality called "the limnosphere" where anything—or almost anything—is possible. Where did you come up with the idea of "limning," and is it something that might ever happen in our lifetime?

The idea of a virtual reality into which we can escape, partially or wholly, has been floating around for a while now, of course—from William Gibson's Neuromancer and Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash to the Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation. But my own "aha" moment came during a reporting trip a few years back to the University of Illinois, where I entered a room called CUBE—a crude but entirely convincing 3D virtual environment I was actually able to experience firsthand. That made me realize just how close we are to something like the limnosphere. In fact, we seem to be getting ever closer to making something like that a reality—in forms as varied as the online game Second Life to the new Oculus Rift 3D gaming goggles that completely immerse you into a videogame.

Let's talk a bit about antiheroes. Yours, Spademan, is a garbage man-cum-hit man who turns a bon mot like Phillip Marlowe and kills with a box cutter. Did you ever worry that readers wouldn't like him?

I definitely hoped readers would warm up to him as the book rolls along—he may be a pitiless hitman, but he's a charming pitiless hitman. Plus, in many ways the book is all about how far Spademan has strayed from his humanity and what it takes to even begin to restore it. The antihero has a great tradition in American literature—from Sam Spade to Bud White in the James Ellroy novels to, yes, I'll say it, Wolverine—so there's a long history of people identifying with, and even rooting for, damaged characters who struggle with which moral lines they should, or shouldn't, cross.

Early reviews of Shovel Ready have name-checked such authors as Chuck Palahniuk, Don Winslow, Christopher Nolan, Warren Ellis, and Phillip K. Dick. Who are your heroes?

I'm definitely most well-versed in the world of hardboiled lit—writers like Ellroy, Chandler, Hammett, James Cain, and Donald Westlake's "Parker" novels, written as Richard Stark. I also love writers I think of as hardboiled, even if they don't write specifically about crime: From Joan Didion to Robert Stone to Kem Nunn to Cormac McCarthy to Graham Greene. As far as movies go, I think both Christopher Nolan, Alfonso Cuaron, and Rian Johnson are taking genre films to a new level of artistry—without sacrificing an ounce of what makes them so thrilling to begin with. That's a goal I definitely strive to emulate.

Shovel Ready is part mystery, part sci-fi, part noir, part dystopian thriller. That's a lot of things at once. When you tell people about the book, how do you describe it?

I usually say it's about a garbage man-turned-hit man in a near-future dystopian New York. If any of those things grab you, then we're definitely in business. One early reader described it to me as like a Parker novel, if Parker lived in the world of "Children of Men." That sounded about right too—and made me giddy, naturally.

What's next for Spademan?

I'm working on a second Spademan novel, which will be a true sequel to Shovel Ready, picking up the story about a year after Shovel Ready ends. Once you've read Shovel Ready, you'll know there are lots of situations and circumstances that are still to come to fruition, both miraculous and menacing—all of which will be tackled in book two.

Earlier this year, Shovel Ready was optioned for film. What can you tell us about this exciting news?

Warner Bros. stepped in very quickly to option the film rights, which was hugely gratifying for me—it's always nice, early in the process, to get that kind of vote of confidence. And from what I know, the project is proceeding very well—not least of which because Denzel Washington is now attached to star in the film. A two-time Oscar winner who also stars in great action films? You can't really ask for better than that.

Who have you discovered lately?

I really loved Megan Abbott's recent book Dare Me, which takes all the pleasures of classic noir and transposes them into a modern-day locker room full of viciously ambitious cheerleaders. Kelly Braffet's Save Yourself is also a great read: thoroughly unsettling while also being entirely thrilling. Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls is getting all kinds of love, and rightly so. (And without trying at all, I just named three great female thriller writers—which is very satisfying in itself.) Thanks to a recommendation from Don Winslow—whose book Savages I really loved—I started reading Ken Bruen, an Irish crime writer whose books expertly straddle the line between crackling prose and heartbreaking poetry. I've had to pace myself so I don't rip through all his novels too quickly—I always want to know there's one more out there for me to read.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2014

    Believe this is one of the worst books I have ever tried to read

    Believe this is one of the worst books I have ever tried to read. I never start a book and not finish it but I did this one.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2014

    Shovel ready

    Hard to follow. Plot too simplistic. Characters underdeveloped.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2014

    Dear Amber

    Theres this guy i like and we r best friends i want to ask him out but dont want to mess up our friendship i just dont know what to do please help~unsure

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2014

    AMBER 맗 TO ALL

    Go to res four please and thank you!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2014

    good story from a stream of consciousness point of view, simplis

    good story from a stream of consciousness point of view, simplistic but overall a decent   book fun easy summer read

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2014

    Dark subject, but very good read.

    Dark subject, but very good read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2014

    Pitch black noir that packs a punch.

    Pitch black noir that packs a punch.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2014

    This book is written with incredible stylistic precision - like

    This book is written with incredible stylistic precision - like a genre novel and a poem had a love child. The story is addictive, the characters are compelling and moving, the language is thrilling. I can't wait to see what Mr. Sternbergh (and Spademan) do next.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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