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Famous Men Who Never Lived Paperback – 2 February 2021
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Wherever Hel looks, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong. As one of the thousands who fled the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States--an alternate timeline, somewhere across the multiverse--she finds herself living as a refugee in our own not-so-parallel New York. The slang and technology are foreign to her, the politics and art unrecognizable. While others, like her partner, Vikram, attempt to assimilate, Hel refuses to reclaim her former career or create a new life. Instead, she obsessively rereads Vikram's copy of The Pyronauts--a science fiction masterwork in her world that now only exists as a single flimsy paperback--and becomes determined to create a museum dedicated to preserving the remaining artifacts and memories of her vanished culture.
But the refugees are unwelcome and Hel's efforts are met with either indifference or hostility. And when the only copy of The Pyronauts goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and finally face her own anger, guilt, and grief over what she has truly lost. With Famous Men Who Never Lived, K Chess has created a compelling and inventive speculative work on what home means to those who have lost it forever.
A story about immigration wrapped inside a post-apocalyptic fable with multiple universes that also manages to be a meditation on art, fate, trauma, and loss.-- "The Millions"
As timely and powerfully written as it is jaw-droppingly imaginative.-- "Salon"
Impossible to forget.-- "Book Riot"
Impressive.-- "Vol. 1 Brooklyn"
Incredibly intriguing.-- "The Washington Post"
Intriguing and fresh . . . a promising new voice in speculative fiction.-- "Booklist"
Magnificent. . . . An awesome and humbling literary achievement.-- "Foreword Reviews, Starred Review"
Powerful.-- "The Verge"
Remarkable.-- "A.V. Club, Best Books of the Year"
Stands among the best works of hybrid SF.-- "New York Journal of Books"
The novel jumps off from a fascinating premise into strange and fertile territory. K Chess constructs not just one universe, but two, and delicately entangles them to create a rich, engrossing exploration of displacement, history, memory, of the past and the present. Conceptually adventurous yet full of feeling, Famous Men Who Never Lived is a smart, thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable debut.--Charles Yu, author of Interior Chinatown
A beautiful labyrinth of a novel--electric, formidable, and wildly moving.--Laura van den Berg, author of I Hold a Wolf by the Ears
A beautifully written and conceived novel, and one whose message of empathy across lines of difference is much needed.--Tor.com
Eerie and ingenious. . . . Describes an impossible world in order to more clearly show us our own.--Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Dreamers
Powerfully written.--Jo Walton, Tor.com
Spectacular.--Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others
About the Author
- Publisher : Tin House Books (2 February 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 328 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1951142284
- ISBN-13 : 978-1951142285
- Dimensions : 13.97 x 2.54 x 21.59 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Exploring themes of homesickness, nostalgia and displacement, every page of this book was soaked through with the kind of emotion that’s hard to put into words – some combination of longing and liminality, restlessness and seeking and searching, and that infinitely aching desire to feel a sense of home again.
The best fiction is at once of its moment and timeless. Chess conjures a stream of refugees from a "parallel" America devastated by nuclear war. Coming to our own America, they face both legal and de facto discrimination, on top of the utter and irreversible loss of everything and everyone they have known. Chess portrays the resulting devastation sensitively, with obvious echoes of the horrible politics of our real-life historical moment.
Yet this is far more than a topical allegory. By labeling the other-world refugees "Universally Displaced Persons," Chess raises the profoundest existential questions. As we age and the people and places we used to know vanish forever, we all become Universally Displaced Persons, trapped in an alien world. And on an even deeper level, aren't we all born into a strange universe we never asked for, one we never quite feel at home in? What can we do, what must we do, in this condition of universal alienation? Chess answers with an inspiring tale of infinite sadness and faith in the redemptive power of art. Do yourself a solid and add this book to your collection immediately!
But in the end, I'm not entirely sure what the point was. I found myself wishing there'd been more at stake than just a missing paperback and painting. There are random passages written as exerpts from the Pyronauts book, and I couldn't discern how they fit into the overall story, thematically. The POV changes a lot and the story feels murky in the end.
It was well written and the concept was solid but the end execution left me wanting more.