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Steel Sky by Andrew C. Murphy
Review by Mel Jacob
Per Aspera Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0974573450
Date: 26 April, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Written in an episodic fashion even more pronounced than Lucifer's Hammer, Murphy focuses on the struggle of a doctor, an Engineered woman (created by gene alteration), a Deathman (one who ends life for the aged, the terminally ill, functionally handicapped, or the suffering), a ruthless, would-be despot and his family, technicians, and even the AI, Image, who tries to maintain the city and ready the inhabitants for the End. Some may find the rapid switches (well marked) between characters disorienting. However, Murphy brings all the threads together for a satisfying conclusion.

For those who like X-Men, the Winnower, a revival of a mythic hero, offers plenty of thrills as he struggles to right wrongs and prevent crime. A hero to some and a villain to others, he must ultimately answer the question: who decides whether any one healthy person should live or die.

The Orcus, the current ruler, and his son have no trouble with such niceties. Incest and murder are the norm for those grasping for power. Punishment for the innocent occurs as readily as for guilty. The police force focuses on supporting the holders of power. Like 1984, people, except at the lowest levels, live under the ubiquitous eyes of cameras. The current dictator uses these devices to track activity within the city and to anticipate and eliminate opposition.

The higher their status, the higher level people live at in the Hypogeum. An artificial sun provides light and hydroponics food. Corpses are recycled for organs and meat. Women from the lower rungs supply milk. In surrounding tunnels and caves, degenerate and cannibalistic humans called Rats survive and threaten any who leave the city.

A bored worker with well-developed curiosity begins to explore the tunnels. When he leads a second such expedition involving young elite men, disaster occurs. The Rats prove more intelligent and resourceful than expected. Even the one man who deciphers their language may not escape the Rats desire to feast on well-fed humans.

Political maneuvering, violence, and gore appear throughout the novel. With a few exceptions, the citizens of the Hypogeum have lost morals and purpose to pose major problems for the AI Image. Program limitations restrict Image's ability to help individuals or act when people make bad decisions.

Murphy never explains why the buried city exists although the implication is some horrific event poisoned the earth and the air, forcing residents underground. Some might quibble with whether technology could accomplish such a feat as building and burying the city in time to escape destruction, or whether the city could survive for four hundred years; however, once the environment is accepted, Murphy draws the reader into his characters' lives. Even the nastiest ones show some positive aspects. Discovering the fate of the diverse cast of characters carries the reader to the end of the Hypogeum and the novel.

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