The Heap

The Heap

by Sean Adams


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New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice

Featured on Recommended Reading lists by the New York Times  New York Post • Library Journal • Kirkus • Thrillist • USA TODAY

"The first great science fiction novel of 2020. " —NPR 

“As intellectually playful as the best of Thomas Pynchon and as sardonically warm as the best of Kurt Vonnegut. . . A masterful and humane gem of a novel.” —Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters

Blending the piercing humor of Alexandra Kleeman and the jagged satire of Black Mirror, an audacious, eerily prescient debut novel that chronicles the rise and fall of a massive high-rise housing complex, and the lives it affected before - and after - its demise.

Standing nearly five hundred stories tall, Los Verticalés once bustled with life and excitement. Now this marvel of modern architecture and nontraditional urban planning has collapsed into a pile of rubble known as the Heap. In exchange for digging gear, a rehabilitated bicycle, and a small living stipend, a vast community of Dig Hands removes debris, trash, and bodies from the building’s mountainous remains, which span twenty acres of unincorporated desert land.

Orville Anders burrows into the bowels of the Heap to find his brother Bernard, the beloved radio DJ of Los Verticalés, who is alive and miraculously broadcasting somewhere under the massive rubble. For months, Orville has lived in a sea of campers that surrounds the Heap, working tirelessly to free Bernard—the only known survivor of the imploded city—whom he speaks to every evening, calling into his radio show.

The brothers’ conversations are a ratings bonanza, and the station’s parent company, Sundial Media, wants to boost its profits by having Orville slyly drop brand names into his nightly talks with Bernard. When Orville refuses, his access to Bernard is suddenly cut off, but strangely, he continues to hear his own voice over the airwaves, casually shilling products as “he” converses with Bernard.

What follows is an imaginative and darkly hilarious story of conspiracy, revenge, and the strange life and death of Los Verticalés that both captures the wonderful weirdness of community and the bonds that tie us together.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Wil Medearis

…Sean Adams is thankfully less interested in allegory than in harnessing its strange contrasts to create cutting satire…The novel's concern is not the instinct to form groups, but what people do within them. Its characters…suffer because of their idiosyncratic flaws and choices. They manipulate, scheme and consolidate power. But they also care, love and sacrifice. The suggestion is of a lingering quality to human nature. Whether clustered in a vertical utopia or scavenging its collapse, people, for better or for worse—and in The Heap it is frequently the latter—will always act like people.

Publishers Weekly


Adams’s debut, set on a disaster site in a strange alternate present, is an incandescent, melancholy satire. Orville Anders toils daily on the site of the collapsed Los Verticalés—a massive skyscraper. Every evening, he calls his brother, Bernard, a resident of the former tower who is somehow still broadcasting the radio show he hosts from somewhere in the rubble. Meanwhile, the bureaucratic chairperson of the Committee for Better Life in CamperTown stymies Orville’s friend Lydia’s schemes to oversee the upcoming visit of Peter Thisbee, the eccentric entrepreneur behind Los Verticalés, and share her views. After Orville rejects the radio station’s proposal that he begin mentioning brand names during the brothers’ conversations and they remove the phones, the calls continue regardless—in his own voice with painfully obvious product placement. As Orville investigates who is impersonating him, he stumbles into a violent, absurd conspiracy while Lydia abruptly gets her wish only to be hindered by Thisbee’s handlers. Excerpts from an oral history of the prior residents’ surreal life inside the tower provide a whimsically dystopian background to the main madcap plot. Fans of Borges and other inventive but piercing stories will revel in this offbeat novel. Agent: Kent Wolf, the Friedrich Agency. (Jan.)

Chandler Klang Smith

Like Snowpiercer's train, a George Saunders amusement park, or the fractured cityscape from a Donald Barthelme story, The Heap's Los Verticalés is a sardonic monument to our decadent culture teetering on the brink of collapse. A wry, inventive, and highly original debut.


[The Heap] recalls elaborate dystopian scenes found in Terry Gillam films. . . . Irresistibly clever commentary steeped in wit and secrets.” 

New York Post

"Darkly funny and dystopian."


"A deeply weird but poignant novel about the extended family we discover amongst the rubble and ruin of a rich man's folly."

Shaun Hamill

As intellectually playful as the best of Thomas Pynchon and as sardonically warm as the best of Kurt Vonnegut, The Heap is both a hilarious send-up of life under late capitalism and a moving exploration of the peculiar loneliness of the early 21st century. A masterful and humane gem of a novel.

Seth Fried

Somehow both timely and timeless, The Heap explores with heart what it means to live in the wake of strange new kinds of catastrophe.


"The Heap is dizzying in scale, but at its heart it's an endearing and downright fun story about a man who defies all odds to reestablish a familial link that's been sundered by technology, catastrophe and commerce. . . . The first great science fiction novel of 2020, The Heap is sharp, acidic and sweet."

New York Post

"Darkly funny and dystopian."


[The Heap] recalls elaborate dystopian scenes found in Terry Gillam films. . . . Irresistibly clever commentary steeped in wit and secrets.” 

New York Times Book Review

"Cutting satire . . . . A compelling narrative with unexpected twists and darkly comic turns."

Library Journal


DEBUT Los Verticales once stood five hundred stories tall, so broad from top to bottom that its residents comprised two groups, those who could still see natural light through their apartment windows, and the rest who had to rely on images on UV screens, guaranteed to "re-create 92 percent of the window experience." When the building collapsed, its remains covered 20 acres of ground. Volunteers are digging it out now, searching for anything usable in the rubble. Orville's brother Bernard, a radio journalist, was inside when the building collapsed. He's still broadcasting. The show is a national hit. Orville calls in every night and talks with him. When he's approached by the radio station's parent company and asked to insert product brand names into conversation with his brother but refuses, Orville is shut off from any further communication with Bernard. Still, every night he hears his own voice talking to Bernard, promoting the same products he'd refused to pitch. Things get steadily more menacing. Interspersed throughout are chapters detailing the skewed environment in which the complex dwellers lived, with the world outside not looking much better. VERDICT Adams's debut is an effective, jolting dystopic novel that should appeal widely. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/19.]—David Keymer, Cleveland

Kirkus Reviews

When the largest and most audacious housing project in history crashes to the ground, a new culture is born, for good or bad.

Adams' debut novel is a dystopian nightmare that is metaphorical in nature but has a compelling story, a recognizable villain, and a few key characters whose personality traits make them interesting. The setting is Los Verticalés, a nearly 500-story architectural marvel of its time; or, to be more accurate, what's left of it after the unprecedented housing complex crashed to the ground under its own weight. What the salvage crew unaffectionately calls "the Heap" is nothing but an enormous pile of rubble punctuated by the occasional dead guy. Weirdly, there's a single survivor: DJ Bernard Anders, who mysteriously still has electricity and broadcasts regularly to a wide audience from somewhere in the rubble. Meanwhile, interstitial excerpts from a history of "the Vert" titled The Later Years give context to the monolith's rise and fall. The novel's story centers on the "Dig Hands," the poor souls recruited to shovel their way through the biggest recycling project in the world. The link to Bernard is his brother, Orville, digging relentlessly and carrying on nightly conversations with his brother over the radio. Orville's companions include Hans, the photographer who emotionally captures his subject, and Lydia, who is trying to work her way up the community's political structure. There are a couple of bad guys here—Hal Cornish, from the company that runs the radio station, wants Orville to converse with his trapped brother for the highest ratings, at any cost, while Peter Thisbee, the mogul who built the Vert in the first place, plays at redemption while working his own machinations to profit off his fallen monolith. It's distressing that we have so many bleak visions of the future these days but at least here people are given a chance to dig themselves out of the hole that the upper class made.

A vision of the future that gives the working class a chance to get even.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062957733
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/07/2020
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 284,047
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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