"Immensely witty...thoroughly entertaining."The Washington Post Book World
Paul Trilby is having a bad day. If he were to be honest with himself, Paul Trilby would have to admit that he's having a bad life. His wife left him. Three subsequent girlfriends left him. He's fallen from a top-notch university teaching job, to a textbook publisher, to, eventually, working as a temp writer for the Texas Department of General Services. And even here, in this land of carpeted partitions and cheap lighting fixtures, Paul cannot escape the curse his life has become. For it is not until he begins a tentative romance with the office's sassy mail girl that he begins to notice things are truly wrong. Strange sounds come from the air conditioning vents, the ceiling bulges, a body disappears. Mysterious men lurk about town, wearing thick glasses and pocket protectors...
Kings of Infinite Space is a hilarious and horrifying spoof on our everyday lives and gives true voice to the old adage, "Work is Hell."
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.78(d)|
About the Author
James Hynes is the author of the novels The Lecturer's Tale, Wild Colonial Boy, and the stories Publish & Perish (all New York Times Notable Books of the Year). He lives in Austin, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
KINGS OF INFINITE SPACE
By JAMES HYNES
ST. MARTIN'S PRESSCopyright © 2004 James Hynes
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne brutally hot summer's morning, Paul Trilby-ex-husband, temp typist, cat murderer-slouched sweating in his t-shirt on his way to work, waiting behind the wheel of his car for the longest red light in central Texas. He was steeling himself for a confrontation with his boss, screwing up his nerve to ask for a raise, but his present circumstances were conspiring against him. His fourteen-year-old Dodge Colt rattled in place in the middle of the Travis Street Bridge, hemmed in on all sides by bulbous, purring pickup trucks and gleaming sport utility vehicles with fat, black tires. The electric blues and greens of these enormous automobiles reflected the dazzling morning glare through Paul's cracked and dirty windshield; they radiated shimmering heat through his open window. Waiting for the light, the fingers of his left hand drumming the scalding side of his car, the skin of his forearm baking to leather in the heat, Paul felt less like a man who deserved more out of life than a peasant on a mule cart trapped in the middle of an armored division.
"You're paying me as a typist," Paul said aloud, practicing, "but you're working me as a technical writer."
In the heat, and in the rumble of idling engines, this sounded especially feeble. Paul sighed and peered ahead, where a homeless man was walking through the waves of heat between the lines of hulking trucks and SUVs, turning slowly from side to side as if he were lost in a parking lot looking for his car. Unlike most panhandlers, he didn't carry a hand-lettered sign on a piece of cardboard, telegraphing some tale of woe; even more strange, he wore a white, short-sleeved dress shirt and a tie instead of the usual sun-bleached denims and filthy t-shirt. The bluntness of his large, egg-shaped head was exaggerated by a severe buzz cut and a pair of wire-rim glasses, and his body was egg shaped as well-he looked unusually well fed for a homeless guy. Indeed, in his white shirt and polyester slacks, he looked like a caricature of a middle manager from some draw-this-puppy matchbook school of art, one large oval topped by a smaller one. The shirt and tie are a mistake, Paul thought, he needs a sign-WILL TYPE AND FILE FOR FOOD. But that cut too close to the bone for Paul; he was only a paycheck away from panhandling himself. And anyway, it wasn't his job to offer marketing advice to the homeless. I've got my own problems, he told himself, and he lifted his gaze through the heat shimmering off the trucks ahead and saw, at the far end of the bridge, the time and temperature endlessly chasing each other across the shadow side of the Bank of Texas Building. It was just barely eight o'clock, and already 85 degrees. In the morning glare the bank's brass logo along the sunlit side of the building blazed as if it were burning.
"Bot," said Paul, pronouncing the bank's acronym aloud. "Bee. Oh. Tee." Sweat trickled down his breastbone. Both front windows of his unair-conditioned Colt were rolled down, in the unlikely event of a breeze, and his own dress shirt was tossed on the passenger seat so that he wouldn't sweat through it on the drive to work. A racket like someone violently battering a cookie sheet came from the undercarriage of his unevenly idling car and was reflected back at him by the enormous, neon blue Trooper to his left.
This is not the climate for ambition, Paul thought, and at the edge of his consciousness flickered a retort from his former, more politically engaged persona as a university professor: that this kind of thinking was prejudiced and possibly even racist. Old buzzwords flickered dialectically at the back of his brain like heat lightning along the horizon-colonial/postcolonial; First World/Third World; North/South-but Paul was only barely aware of them. During this moment of distraction, each of the red numerals streaming across the bank at the end of the bridge had grown by one. Now it was 86 degrees and 8:01, and Paul was late for work.
The egg-shaped man had come closer, only a couple of vehicles away. All the other drivers on the bridge sat high up behind their tinted windows, ignoring the man in air-conditioned comfort. Paul had come to think of these more affluent drivers as "the truckoisie," middle-class state employees who faced, at worst, a forty-minute, stop-and-start commute every morning, but who did it in vehicles capable of fording a jungle stream or hauling half a ton of manure. These vehicles had names that bespoke Spartan virtues, a semimilitary asceticism-Explorer and Pathfinder and Samurai-but within, even in the cabs of the pickup trucks, the vehicles were as comfy as suburban living rooms, where the truckoisie drank from huge plastic flagons of specialty coffee, talked on their cell phones, and listened to hyperventilating, drive time DJs on the radio or best-selling self-help books on tape. Paul's own tape player had long since choked to death on a cassette of Jan and Dean's greatest hits, stuck at last on the screeching tires of "Dead Man's Curve," and the FM band on his radio no longer worked, leaving him with only the shrill democracy of AM-jammin' oldies, oompah Tejano accordion music, and Dr. Laura. At this moment he waited with the radio off, his car noisily juddering itself to pieces beneath him, and he sat smelling exhaust, his own sweat, and the nitrous aroma of bat shit rising off the sluggish green river below.
"I'm not a typist," muttered Paul, trying to focus on the matter at hand, "I'm a goddamn tech writer."
Suddenly the egg-shaped man was at the Colt's bumper, swiveling his spectacles in Paul's direction. Paul averted his gaze, trying to avoid eye contact. Too late. The homeless man came up to Paul's window, his eyes huge behind his glasses.
Paul glowered straight ahead, his train of thought derailed. This was a breach of panhandler decorum. The way it was supposed to work was, you waggled your sign, if you had one, and scowled in a guilt-inducing manner; the object of your attentions ignored you; you moved on. Paul sighed ostentatiously and lifted his eyebrows at the traffic light, just barely visible above the tall rear end of the Pathfinder ahead of him. Still red. Over the stink of exhaust and hot metal, he was certain he could already smell the homeless man's riparian scent. But for the heat, Paul would have rolled up his window.
Don't meet his eye, Paul told himself. Pretend he isn't there.
But now Mr. Egg was bent at Paul's window like a highway patrolman. Paul allowed himself only the tiniest roll of his eyeballs to the side and was surprised to note that the man's tie featured some sort of astronomical theme, lines of right ascension and declination and signs of the Zodiac against a background of twilight blue. Still not meeting the man's eye, Paul performed another leftward, double-take bounce of his eyeballs. The tie was faded but tightly knotted and clipped to the man's shirt with a dull, silver tie clip, upon which an eroded engraving read "... OF THE YEAR." Paul risked another eyeball bounce at Herr Egg, then another. The white shirt front was smudged, and the narrow points of the man's collar were frayed, but astonishingly in this heat-Paul himself perspired like an overweight prizefighter-there were no sweat stains on the shirt. Monsieur Egg wore two pens; the lower end of one poked through a hole in the bottom of his breast pocket. Across his other breast, inches from Paul's nose, was a smudgy, creased, blue-and-white paper name tag, the sort with a sticky backing that conference goers wear. It read, in blue sans serif and large, block hand lettering:
Hello! My name is
Paul twisted sideways in his seat and looked the man in his egg-shaped face. "Go away," he demanded.
Señor Egg's face from temple to chin was one long, smooth, hairless curve. His skin-another first for a homeless guy in Texas-was pale as a slug, almost albino. His milky scalp gleamed through his stubbled hair, but even this close to him Paul saw not a drop of sweat. The man-Boy G, why else would he wear a name tag?-had a small mouth and a rounded nose, and his tiny, pale eyes were magnified by the bulbous lenses of his wire rims. He was not looking at Paul, however, but past him, appraising the contents and the state of Paul's automobile. His fishy eyes noted the S-shaped crack in the windshield, the greasy dust on the dashboard, the foamy rents in the upholstery. The driver's side sun visor was long gone, torn off in a rage, and the armrest on the passenger door hung by one screw. Behind the front seat a rising tide of Coke cans, crumpled Taco Bell bags, and empty Big Gulp cups cluttered the foot wells.
Paul stared at the man openmouthed and gripped the steering wheel, his stomach tight with anger. Could this bum be judging him? Was it possible that Paul Trilby, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., almost a Fulbright, did not meet the exacting standards of the homeless? Boy G's small mouth curved down at either end, either the beginnings of a smile or a condescending frown, and Paul braced himself for some hoarse obscenity or just an indecipherable grunt. He frantically sought for something cutting to say to forestall this asshole's street witticism.
But Boy G spoke in a whisper, his breath betraying no trace of alcohol nor of anything else for that matter.
"Are we not men?" he said.
Paul's retort caught in his throat. "What?" was all he managed to say.
"Are we not men?" repeated Boy G, with the same ghostly inflection.
The driver of the Ram Truck behind him honked her horn just then, startling Paul, and he glanced in the rearview mirror, then ahead through the windshield glare at the traffic light. It was green, and all the gleaming trucks ahead of him were in motion; a wide gap had opened up between his front bumper and the receding wall of SUVs and pickups. Paul jerked his foot off the brake and the Colt rattled forward. Then he remembered the homeless guy so close to his car, and he hit the brake again. He turned to the window as Ms. Ram Truck leaned on her horn.
"Watch it!" said Paul to Boy G, but there was no one there.
The Ram Truck roared around him and raced through the yellow light. Paul cursed and hit the gas, then jammed the brake almost immediately as the light turned red. His threadbare tires screeched; his arthritic shocks groaned. He lurched against his seat belt, and from the passenger seat his shirt and his lunch slid to the floor; behind him the midden of cans and crumpled bags rustled. Paul pounded the wheel and twisted in his seat, looking right and left, forward and back, for the egg-shaped man. But all he saw were the six sun-baked lanes and the concrete parapet of the bridge, and another fearsome brigade of Troopers and Scouts coming up from behind. Boy G had vanished.
Chapter TwoBy the time Paul pulled into the parking lot, all the spaces in the shade next to the General Services Division Building had been taken by trucks and SUVs, lined up along the wall like piglets at the teat. Paul's watch said 8:06, and he drove frantically up and down the lanes looking for a spot, the angry rattle under his car reflected back at him by the rows of vehicles. But all the shady spots were taken, and he was forced to park along the river embankment in the sun. Before the car shuddered and gasped to a stop, he had rolled up the windows and bent with a grunt to snatch his shirt and his bag lunch off the floor. He trotted across the lot in the stifling heat, pulling on the shirt as he ran, his bag lunch dangling from between his teeth.
"Tech writer," he snarled through clenched lips, "not typist."
Preston, the security guard, lifted his eyebrows at the sight of Paul tucking in his shirt as he came breathlessly into the dank air-conditioning of the lobby.
Excerpted from KINGS OF INFINITE SPACE by JAMES HYNES Copyright © 2004 by James Hynes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide
1. Kings of Infinite Space can be read as both satire and horror. Are any of the scary scenes funny, and vice versa? What techniques of genre horror and literary fiction does the author use in writing a novel that's both scary and funny?
2. Do you know someone like Paul at work? Do you find him charming and intriguing, or is he just a pain in the ass? Are you like Paul? What does that say about you?
3. What pop cultural allusions did you notice? Which literary ones? Do they add to the book or detract from it? Do you think the author watches way, way too much TV? Or not nearly enough?
4. Does the author indeed "mess with Texas" in this book? Do you think he knows that it's legal for Texans to carry concealed firearms? Do you think he should have taken that into account before making snarky jokes at their expense?
5. Do you think that spunky, sexy Oklahoma girls are likely to be flattered by the book's portrayal of sexy, spunky Oklahoma girls? Do you think the author has a shot at any of them?
6. Does Paul's office feel familiar to you? Do you have coworkers like Paul's? Is that depressing or what? Do you hate your boss? Does your boss hate you? Do you hide in the bathroom? Does your boss hide in the bathroom?
7. Do zombies live in the suspended ceilings or inside the walls where you work? How do you feel about that? How do you feel about zombies in general?
8. Have you ever wondered what's at the bottom of the aluminum can recycling box at work? Kinda creepy to think about it, isn't it?
9. Would you be willing to loan the author, oh, say, a hundred bucks until his next royalty statement? It would really help a lot.
10. Three zombies board a train which then travels west at 70 mph. Zombie #1 begins to eat passengers' brains at a rate of 6 brains per mile (or bpm). Zombie #2 eats brains at 1.5 times the rate of Zombie #1. Zombie #3 eats brains at .75 times the rate of Zombie #2. After 3 hours, how many brains has each zombie eaten? Which zombie has eaten the most brains? Which zombie has eaten the least? Show your work.
11. Seriously, if you can't spare a hundred, seventy-five would be nice. The author has a money order coming from New Zealand and can pay you right back.
12. Discuss the allegorical uses of cats in horror fiction, with particular reference to the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. Kinda creepy, aren't they, cats? Do you like cats? More importantly, do cats like you? Because trust me, you're in big trouble if they don't.
13. Fifty? Twenty-five? Could you at least buy him lunch?
14. Charlotte haunts Paul to punish him for what he did to her. So why does she save him and Callie at the end? Oops, if you haven't actually read the book yet, you probably should have skipped this question. Sorry.
15. There is no question fifteen (special extra joke for Monty Python fans).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really have no idea what book the other reviewers read. I should have put this book away at the very beginning, but I just kept chugging along hoping that a clever twist or maybe a little character growth on the protagonist. Nope. Ultimately, I was left hollow like the caverns the zombies worked in.Paul Trilby is an academic loser who couldn't complete his book, cheated on his wife and lover, and then kills a cat. I am supposed to sympathize with this guy? He actually gets into another relationship that seems to be based solely on sex, and all he can do is whine about his life and deny everything bad as a dream. On top of this screwed up protagonist, you are faced with a lack of suspense (unless you are as dimwitted as Paul Trilby), and a complete lack of any sense of real or imaginary action that could possibly happen. A barbecue grill going into water is supposed to make some kind of tidal wave and steam up a cavern holding 37 people... please!I wasted 12 hours 10 minutes and 13 seconds of my life listening to this awful Recorded Books venture. Don't make the same mistake!
Those familiar with Hynes's academic horror-satires won't be completely disappointed. He's moved on a bit into bureaucratic, neo-Lovecraftian satire a la Charles Stross. But his shtick still seems to have gotten a little old. Another twist is the surprisingly successful attempt to recoup Paul Trilby as a sympathetic character. All more than competently done, but the formulas really seem to have overwhelmed any inspiration that may have been here.
Not as entertaining as his earlier publish or perish spoot about a failed academic stuck in a dead end bureaucratic job in Texas, but engaging enough.
pretty damn good except for the predictable and cliched ending. captures office life and the less exotic side of austin well.
Kind of Carl Hiassen (with male protagonist) meets Chuck Palahniuk. Doesn't exactly fit a genre but don't want to spoil it. Fast moving with strong character development. This is one of the few books where an academic and writer can write about a failed academic without being morose and completely depressed (although it's there) about the university scene. About 2/3 of the way through I realized the book was going to end too soon--it could have gone another 200 pages without being dull, but the author or story ties itself off pretty fast, too fast for my taste. Enjoyable, clever, slow in the beginning but accelerates and leaves you wanting more, although some of the subject matter or characters seem a bit more juvenile than might be plausible, even in a Red-State government bureaucracy.
I very much enjoyed this book. It is unusual for me to actually not be able to put down a book, but this one I had to keep reading. Despite the fact that the main character is a schmuck, you feel empathetic towards him and actually annoyed by Charlotte, whom actually has every right to continue haunting him. I highly recommend this one! Bravo James!