Editor/writer/musician Slattery's chaotic debut takes readers on a headlong trip to the end of the world. Manuel González, a legendary New York City party animal, has disappeared and his apartment has exploded, leaving behind only the memories of his thousands of friends and enemies. His lover, Wendell Apogee, is determined to find out what happened. So are police inspectors Herman Trout and Lenny Salmon, who uncover a web of bizarre characters, from Lucas Henderson, former Lunar Temple cult member, and Arturo "El Flaco" Domínguez," González's worst enemy, to a washed-up '80s pop band the Marsupials. As Wendell tracks González through Darktown, "the place where you find lost things," the prophecies of the apocalyptic Church of Panic begin coming true: aliens threaten to invade Earth, and Wendell must become superhero Captain Spaceman and save the planet. The story itself doesn't make much sense, but Slattery has a grand time showing off the colorful underground culture of cockfights, raves and endless intoxication that keeps things moving in his hallucinatory vision of New York. (Aug.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Spaceman Blues: A Love Songby Brian Francis Slattery
When Manuel Rodrigo de Guzmán González disappears, Wendell Apogee decides to find out where he has gone and why. But in order to figure out what happened to Manuel, Wendell must contend with parties, cockfights, and chases; an underground city whose people live in houses suspended from cavern ceilings; urban weirdos and alien assassins; immigrants, the
When Manuel Rodrigo de Guzmán González disappears, Wendell Apogee decides to find out where he has gone and why. But in order to figure out what happened to Manuel, Wendell must contend with parties, cockfights, and chases; an underground city whose people live in houses suspended from cavern ceilings; urban weirdos and alien assassins; immigrants, the black market, flight, riots, and religious cults.
Painted in browns and grays and sparked by sudden fires, Spaceman Blues is a literary retro-pulp science-fiction-mystery-superhero novel, the debut of a true voice of the future, and a cult classic in the making.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
“Spaceman Blues is a mad ride related by a pulp sensibility filtered through the nonstop freneticism of New York's subcultures, real and imagined.” Booklist
“For Fans Of: the surreal odyssey of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man; Plan 9 from Outer Space.… For all its colorful characters and gonzo thrills, Slattery's debut is first and foremost a moving portrait of Wendell's griefs. A-” Entertainment Weekly
“Slattery's debut is a kaleidoscopic celebration of the immigrant experience.… Pynchon crossed with Steinbeck, painted by Dalí: impossible to summarize, swinging from the surreal to the hyper-real, a brilliantly handled, tumultuous yarn.” Kirkus Reviews
“The book is a marvel: funny, weird, touching, a joy to read not just for its music and its imagination, but for the generous and intelligent view of life that it offers: a view of life that is neither sentimental nor cynical, full of a certain type of hope but never blind to the miseries hope can cause. Spaceman Blues is a cousin and equal of some recent novels that have maintained my faith in the ability of fiction to simultaneously possess meaning, beauty, and vision, but it's a singular book, offering its own riffs on the joys and pains of life and its own rifts across the surface of our shared delusions and commingled dreams.” Matthew Cheney, Las Vegas Weekly and The Mumpsimus
“I could think of two other Toms who came to mind while reading the book: Tom Wolfe and Tom Robbins.” Leonard Lopate (regarding prior comparisons to Thomas Pynchon)
“Slattery's chaotic debut takes readers on a headlong trip to the end of the world.… Slattery has a grand time showing off the colorful underground culture of cockfights, raves and endless intoxication that keeps things moving in his hallucinatory vision of New York.” Publishers Weekly
“The book jacket describes Spaceman Blues as a ‘literary retro-pulp science-fiction-mystery-superhero novel,' and it not only lives up to the hype, but may include a genre or two more besides.… The book weaves a mixture of gritty war elements with hardboiled Hammett-like detective mystery, poetic romance reminiscent of Isabel Allende, and science fiction that brings Stanislaw Lem to mind--into something that seems fresh and compelling.” School Library Journal
“Spaceman Blues is a welcome Band-Aid for those still mourning the loss of Kurt Vonnegut and his uniquely wacky, satirical brand of sci-fi. There's also a touch of Paul Auster's flair for genre blending and New York mythologizing.... A strange and whimsical mash note to the city, Slattery's apocalyptome proves that this newcomer is as thoughtful and irreverent as doomsayers come. [Four stars.]” Time Out New York
“Early reviews of Spaceman Blues threw around the names of Pynchon, Doctorow, and Dick as stylistic touchstones. But Slattery should really be considered alongside NYC homeboys like Lethem and Shteyngart, the former for his loving tweaks of vintage pulp, the latter for his sharp immigrant comedy.… He's written a breezy, funny, formally playful book that, as apocalyptic novels go, is a helluva cheerier beach read than Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and so visual it cries out for a film treatment.” Will Hermes, The Village Voice
“A few here might remember me mentioning a promise to review what I thought was one of the most original novels of the year. Well, here it is.… The end of the world was never so fun.” Ain't It Cool News
“What a breathless, mad tornado of words! When it shakes itself awake the earth trembles and the helpless reader is dragged gladly into its light. I haven't had this much fun with a book in years.” Harlan Ellison®
“With prose that effortlessly glides from one surrealist scene to another, Brian Slattery proves to be not only a visionary of the absurd, but also a genuinely talented postmodern voice.” Michael Hearst of the band One Ring Zero (As Smart As We Are)
“It happens only very rarely--you read a book by a new author, and all you can say is ‘wow.' That was the case with Spaceman Blues: ‘Wow.' To say anything more would mean the inevitable descent into cheap clichés--‘hooked by the first paragraph,' ‘dizzying,' ‘a visionary roller-coaster ride,' ‘reminiscent, if anything, of Thomas Pynchon in its scope, its explosive imagination, the swirling, jazzy flow of the prose.' So much can and should be said about Mr. Slattery's debut--but I think I'll just stick with a simple ‘wow'--or if you prefer a visual summation, try an exclamation point on fire.” Jim Knipfel, author of Slackjaw
“Brian Slattery's Spaceman Blues is brilliant. It's got the edgy paranoia and secret reality plotting of the best of Phil Dick, wrapped inside a contemporary stylistic sensibility that stands proudly against Miéville or Doctorow, with a heavy leavening of Nueva York emigre culture to give the work a distinctly American voice--the brawling, postmillennial, multicultural America of twenty-first century New York. This is the transmogrification of Phillip Roth's New York by way of The Matrix and a double handful of wild-ass street drugs into something all too recognizable.” Jay Lake, author of Mainspring
“An extraordinary story that hovers between, beneath, above, but never in a familiar territory. But it hovers on thin margins--so much is recognizable, and yet… The thick reality of the informal economy as science fiction is one image that comes to mind. The specificity of this unsettlement becomes a way of seeing what you can otherwise not see.” Saskia Sassen, author of Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages
“Spaceman Blues is a strange new creature: apocalyptic SF with the stylistic pyrotechnics of a beat poet on speed. There is nothing else out there like it, a vaulting, twisted song of decadent and desperate parties, grief and superheroes, sex and memory, and almost incidentally, the end of the world. This book leaves a glowing handprint on the mind which will not soon fade.” Catherynne M. Valente, author of The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden
“Spaceman Blues is a brave, kinetic novel--a heady, original mixture of the surreal and the postmodern. It never stops moving and it never lets up. A spectacular new voice.” Jeff VanderMeer, World Fantasy Award-winning author of City of Saints and Madmen
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A Love Song
By Brian Francis Slattery, Liz Gorinsky
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2007 Brian Francis Slattery
All rights reserved.
In Which a Man Disappears, and Several Parties Are Held
* The Last Hurrah
It is his last day, and by six in the morning he is already drinking, drinking and shot up, eyes frantic, limbs flailing like he's ready to explode. At seven he is on the wasted docks across from Manhattan starting fights with the winos and the mechanics; by eight thirty he's up in Washington Heights playing dominoes on a fire hydrant some kids are getting ready to crack open with a sledgehammer because it's so damn hot and the Hudson's so dirty and the ocean is too far away. By noon he's been thrown out of thirteen bars. He gets hit by a bus, gets drunk again with some boys in Spanish Harlem bobbing to bachata out of a static-ridden radio. The afternoon he spends smoking sweet tobacco and watching old movies in Arabic with the Egyptians in Astoria. He kisses Daoud's hand in Egypt Café, whispers something in his ear; then he rides the G back into Brooklyn, hops trains to Brighton Beach, where it's getting dark and the families are getting ready to go home. The men on the boardwalk totter with vodka, chase women, and eat boiled eggs, and he goes from club to club to tell the Russian Mafia he's leaving, he won't bother them anymore. By dark he is face-up on the pier at Coney Island, watching the first suns flare in the sky, the first stars of summer, out for that rare time when the humidity breaks and all is quiet, like the city is taking a breath, swelling the land under it, diverting water in the river and the bay to places farther out, deeper places; then it exhales, and all that was displaced returns, all that was disturbed tilts back into place, settles, grows quiet. And then, Manuel Rodrigo de Guzmán González vanishes. Poof.
For twenty-six hours, nobody knows he's gone. Everybody thinks he's with someone else, like the time he went to the Philippines and everyone thought he was in Jersey. He never answers his telephone anyway, they say. He tells people to call so he can let it ring twenty, thirty times. He has a phone from the sixties with a fire alarm bell on it; it helps him get to sleep.
Then his apartment explodes, blows apart the outside wall and rains bricks, plaster, timber and glass, burnt paper, shredded clothes in the street, but leaves the rest of the building standing, untouched. The news spreads in a widening circle of shock, people are talking about it up and down the street, voices crackle across the air and over wires. He's gone, he's gone, it goes in letters, in words flashing across flickering screens, it is written by planes in the sky. It spreads from the city and moves to the end of Long Island, into New Jersey, Connecticut, upstate, across New England; it moves across the continent over the miles of thrashing grain, the ragged heights of the Rockies, down into the deserts and dense forests and to the opposite shore, where men hear it on shortwave radios at the place where the Mexican border falls into the Pacific Ocean, and the waves roll in gigantic and break against the rocks and sand with a force that ensures compliance. It passes along the piers of Eastern Europe, syllables slipped between knife points and rusting rifles; on the shores of Angola they wail at the ocean, beat their feet into the sand, turn back toward crumbling cities. The news burns bodies in the Bronx, things are cast adrift in the deep water of the East River, people depart into the sky, there are meetings in drainage systems, encoded signals broadcast in the flight patterns of birds, machines stir, motors grind into action at frequencies only subterranean people can feel. And people begin to congregate in the places that Manuel loved. They want to know what happened, they want to understand, but being the kind of people they are, all that wanting turns into partying. In Astoria, Egypt Café is jammed to the ceiling, people walk over other people to get inside, they spill out onto the street in front of the Laundromat, they raid the delis and liquor stores and close down Steinway, they make a party so big that the police see it and just throw up their hands, set up roadblocks, join in when they get off duty. At the Maritime Lounge in Red Hook, some Congolese soukous band appears out of nowhere and plays for two days straight, they have to coat their fingers with glue in between numbers to keep the skin on, and the crowd crashes in and chokes on seven different kinds of smoke and laughter, they pour beer and whiskey all over each other and dance to break floorboards. The place runs out of alcohol after eighteen hours but people keep bringing in more, they toast Manuel again and again, wish to God you were still here. They end up in the water of the harbor, holding their drinks high and setting them on fire until the end of the second day rolls by and they go to sleep in the street, they crawl home in a blind drag. They pass out in subway cars, they wake up feeling like their brains are cut in half. They go home in pairs and wake up naked with each other, their furniture upended, dishes broken, sheets ripped into long shreds, clothes plastered somehow to the ceiling. And Wendell Apogee weaves home alone in the dark, through the cheers and the falling confetti, the flash and bang of fireworks, all the way back from Red Hook to Astoria where the crowd is dead from dancing; and he goes to his apartment, opens the window to the stifling summer air, drenches himself in freezing water, and then falls on the floor and cries.
* Our Hero
He wakes up the next morning escaping from heat-troubled sleep, thrashing to life in the sun that's already baking concrete, melting the antennae of cars. Downstairs he can hear his old landlord moaning, a World War Two refugee who will spend the day spitting at his fat dog and sweltering into his velour armchair. In the apartments around him, people have their shirts off and are hanging out the window, running soaked towels over their arms. Two women lounge in bikinis on the roof with a radio playing a melted Cuban cassette, they fan themselves with newspapers and fling Spanish curses to the boys on the fire escape who whistle at them between dousing swigs of frozen malt liquor from frosted plastic bottles. All across the city it is like this, you feel heat flow from every surface and multiply, push under your skin and cook you off your bones. People crawl into their blasting air conditioners, sixteen of the elderly pass away, vagrants and runaways wade into the filth of the East River, kids break open Siamese plugs on buildings and lie in the gutter in their underwear, letting the water crest over them, over their hands and hot faces, knowing they'd felt cold once, oh, not six months ago; but the heat is like the flu: three days into it and you can't remember what it was like to be well.
For the nascent Church of Panic, it's part of its mythology. In robes of black and white, its members hover four inches over the pavement, gliding in formations of three up and down major thoroughfares. They jostle the quality on Lexington south of 96th, pass through the South Americans on Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue, collide with Dominicans at Broadway and 160th. The heat is a portent, they say, a sign of the chaos to come. We are the Prophets of Fear, the Angels of Paralysis. Begin stockpiling weapons now. They seem serious.
The authorities are investigating the explosion in Manuel's apartment, collecting testimony from witnesses and neighbors. There was first a warping sound, they say, a rush of air that rattled windows and stripped hats from heads. Then the fire shot straight out in a column of wide flame that broke against the building across the street, rolled across its face, and was gone. Neighbors who peered into the hallway afterward saw smoke snaking from under the door, through the keyhole. Now the police are calling every name they can find in what remains of Manuel's things. Come to his apartment for an interview, they say. It will not be like a wake. But it is.
The door to Manuel's apartment is charred around the edges; shocks of black streak from the corners, through the locks. Inside, all is ruin. The couch is burned down to melted springs and withered struts, chairs and tables are blown into shadows. The walls are tortured plaster, fused wiring, the appliances a pile of slag. And at the apartment's edge, nothing: just the open air above the street, the last step to suicide laced by police tape, framed by swinging cables, nails, burnt walls, silent pigeons.
"Mr. ... Apogee?"
"Inspector Herman Trout. My partner, Lenny Salmon. We recognized you from this." The policeman holds up a bubbled, half-melted photograph, a close shot of Wendell and Manuel, their faces smiling, almost cheek to cheek, arms around each other's backs. The angle of Wendell's shoulder tells you that he took the picture himself, holding the camera out in front of him while the two of them squinted into the flash. In the background, throbbing lights, raving hands reaching toward them.
"Where did you find it?"
"In the oven with his birth certificate," Salmon says. "Mr. Apogee —"
"Wendell." Salmon says. "Would you say that you were friends with Mr. González?"
"I ... friends? Yes, we were ... very good friends, we ..."
"Would you say that you were familiar with his friends?" Trout says.
"Yes. Well ... some of them, he had so many friends ..."
"Mr. Apogee," Trout says. "We have compiled a list of over eighty-seven people who describe themselves as close, personal friends of Mr. González. Now here is the conundrum: none of them can say where he went."
"They have some interesting ideas," Salmon says.
"A certain Lucas Henderson ..." Trout licks his thumb, flips through the pages of a small notebook. "Yes, here, told us that quote Manuel's vanishing is not a disappearance, it is an apotheosis unquote...."
"Some of them said he went to Hungary. Or Mars."
"Something about running Soviet-era weaponry to African revolutionaries."
"Money laundering for certain government officials in Turkmenistan, taking a percentage of their profits in the Central Asian opiate trade, which appears to be quite lucrative."
"We've heard a lot of stories today, Wendell. Want to know how most of them end?"
"... I don't know, do you think I want to know this?"
"They told us to ask you where he went."
"But I have no idea where he is."
"They said you would know. They said he told you everything. They said you knew him best."
The night before his last day, Manuel visited Wendell at two in the morning, swung hand over hand along the power lines to his building and slid through the open window. He must have watched Wendell sleep for an hour. He walked around the bed, put a hand on the shoulder that pushed up a ridge under the covers, and sobbed until Wendell woke and put his arms out to comfort him. Manuel told him many things that night, piteous and cruel, but it was nonsense, Wendell understood so little of it, he just wanted his baby to be calm, to roll into his arms and go to sleep. It's too much, Manuel said. I'm going, I'm leaving everything and going.
You can't leave me, Wendell said. Don't go away from me. And he locked his arms around Manuel's chest and Manuel slowed, as if coming to some sort of peace. He said he would not go, he seemed to rest; but he must have changed his mind again, or maybe he was lying, because he was gone now, gone leaving Wendell's hands clutching at air, frayed nerves buzzing, looking for their ends.
"I thought I knew him. I really did," Wendell says.
He walks back to the subway in a heat like the sun is coming closer, a tendril of nuclear fire reaching out to lick the surface of this hapless planet, run a scorch mark a thousand miles across a continent, string up a chain of smoking cities, ashen farmlands. At the corner near the subway stop, men and women have gathered, they're shielding their eyes with their hands. One of them saw something up in the sky and they're talking about it. It was like a jellyfish, all eyes and hungry limbs, writhing in the air. A creature of heat stroke, someone says. The squiggling image of the sun burning into your retina. And this from a trio of priests of the Church of Panic: it begins.
There are twenty-six messages on Wendell's machine when he gets home. The first is from Lucas Henderson: he is having a party that night for Witnesses to the Ascension of González, bring etcetera. Then twenty-three more from various friends of Manuel, informing him of said party, love it if you'd come, be great to see you, how are you holding up, need to stick together. We all miss him, really we do. Then a long rambling message from the policeman he just talked to, Inspector Salmon. Sorry if his questions were upsetting, he could tell they made Wendell uncomfortable. He wanted to make clear that nobody considered Wendell guilty of anything and they wanted to keep in touch, please call if he found anything or just wanted to talk about it. A cough. Then message twenty-six: a woman's voice drenched in a Spanish accent, crackling with distance.
"The phone is about to ring," she says. "Do not answer it."
The phone rings.
"Do not answer it."
Wendell does, a hello ...? that pinches down his throat and comes out meek and scared. At first, nothing answers, there is only the sound of his own breath and the ambient noise of the street filtering through the receiver; but then a hiss emerges from this, a hiss that widens as if something is approaching, voices become distinct from one another, the sounds of men, women, and children, and at first it seems as if they are whispering, no, they're chanting, but then Wendell can hear it for sure: they're screaming, screaming above the keen of engines and now a howl that dives down from the sky and tears the earth apart. A giant hand wriggles through the phone line and strains through the sieve of the receiver to enter Wendell's head, push its fingers into his brain, and the phone slips from his grasp, swings on the cord and smacks against the floor; and Wendell teeters like his feet are on a fulcrum, and the ground has rotated to accept him. Lights out.
* Wendell's Dream #1
The road that bends and angles up from Huehuetenango in Guatemala and hangs along the edge of the long valley in the ruddy Cuchumantanes ends at Todos Santos, a steep cluster of layered houses, cobbled passages, and muddy alleys where the people still wear Maya garb and the families still feel the spaces from all those deaths, deaths in the civil war not long ago when they gathered men, women, and children and shot them in the square, chased them up into the hills and shot them there; it is a place of half-finished buildings, of stray unspayed dogs and a terraced plaza where the men in red pants and shirts of many colors lean against the railings and exchange words, and the market every Saturday brings them in from the hills with vegetables, pigs on leashes, hinges, and foggy cassettes of ranchero and electric ballads. In the evening, when the shadow of one side of the valley crawls up the other and the lights flicker on in the street, and people strike candles in their houses and the music starts up in the evangelical church, bass and accordion and tuba, and the houses filter buzzing marimba music through portable radios into the darkness, it is mournful, it is joyful, it winds around the end of the day and brings rest.
Manuel has fled to this place and built a house on one of its streets, a house that has one story when it starts, but stretches to three as the land falls away beneath it. He's in the panadería overlooking the square during the day, drinking instant coffee with sweet rolls, and at night he stands in the street, speaking in slow tones with other men and drinking Gallo beer from long, brown bottles, watching kids play with bicycle tires, people packing things out of town in bundles lashed to their heads, while in the plaza a tourist gets the most expensive shoeshine the town has ever seen. And he is there where the road ends at the church when the bus from Huehuetenango pulls in, coughing diesel and shaking off dust. Farmers and artisans descend; then Wendell, who has dirt on his hands and grime in his hair, and has brought nothing with him.
"I knew you'd be able to find me," Manuel says.
"Don't leave me again."
"Then stay here."
And Wendell moves forward and embraces him. Manuel puts his lips to Wendell's ear and repeats it: stay, stay; and Wendell's hands move on Manuel's shoulders: I will, I will....
* Yellow Skis
Lucas Henderson labors down Lorraine Street in Red Hook, thinking. Once the neighborhood was rowdy with sailors, dark ships heaving on the water, piers creaking against the rocks, prostitutes, fights, and vomit. There were factory fires and parties, longshoremen shooting each other over illegal booze, floating hotels and movies on the playground. Then the piers began to close, the city bored a tunnel, flung a highway through the neighborhood, severed it from the mainland. Up rose the cross-shaped projects while the houses slumped on the cobbled streets, they put in only the streetlights they had to, made days and nights of boredom and violence, of stepping over corpses in the doorway. Now the artists have moved in closer to the water, the upwardly mobile followed with their giant stores and condominiums, put in a ferry to Manhattan in the places where sailors kissed their girls and fell drunk in the water. So many plans, unready for the winds that would tear down houses, the coming firestorms. The newspapers and magazines all say the neighborhood's changed forever now, they're holding funerals for the Red Hook that was. But along the streets of fried-chicken places and Laundromats, check-cashing stores and community centers, merengue and hip-hop bouncing off the sidewalk, the people know that the papers aren't talking about them. Maybe closer to the water, where there's a wine shop, new paint jobs, European cars. But here there are still soccer games in the wide parks by the pool, here they pull Central America out of the ground and you can eat pupusas and tacos with shards of coconut and a bottle of Jarritos while the men who work night construction jobs tear across the field in striped jerseys. Near the projects, the old sit on benches and smoke, talk of nothing; the boys in long shorts and baseball caps mob the sidewalk, drink off the heat with forties. Bless you my sons, Lucas says. In his arms and on his back he bears the weight of bottles and bottles of whiskey and vodka, a few jugs of wine, so that the Witnesses to the Ascension, aka Manuel's friends, may be merry.
Excerpted from Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery, Liz Gorinsky. Copyright © 2007 Brian Francis Slattery. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Brian Francis Slattery is an editor, writer, and occasional musician living in New Haven, Connecticut. Spaceman Blues is his first novel.
Brian Francis Slattery was born and raised in upstate New York. He is an editor for the U.S. Institute of Peace and the New Haven Review. He is the author of the novels Spaceman Blues, Liberation and Lost Everything, and is also a musician. He lives near New Haven, CT.
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