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Tropic of Kansas: A Novel Paperback – July 11, 2017
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“Futurist as provocateur! The world is sheer bat-shit genius…a truly hallucinatorily envisioned environment.” (William Gibson, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author)
“The great American novel about the end of America. This book is marvelously propulsive, big hearted, and whip smart.” (Kelly Link, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of Get in Trouble)
“This vision of the future is violent, unforgiving, and bleak: Cormac McCarthy meets Philip K. Dick. It’s disturbing because of how believable it is...It’s remarkably effective. Recommended for fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and China Miéville.” (Booklist)
“Timely, dark, and ultimately hopeful: it might not ‘make America great again,’ but then again, it just might.” (Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling and award winning author of Homeland)
“Tropic of Kansas is like a modern dystopian buffet [...] It is, in this particular moment in history, frighteningly prescient. It is the nightly news with the volume turned up to 11.” (NPR.org)
“This stunning novel of a time all too easily imaginable as our own highlights a few of the keen-voiced, brave-souled women and men who balance like subversive acrobats on society’s whirling edges...Read it to burn with the joy of realistic hope.” (Nisi Shawl, Tiptree-award winning author of Everfair and Writing the Other)
“A unique blend of Philip K. Dick, Kafka (just a smidgen), and a whole lot of Christopher Brown. Adventure novel meets political satire and the finest elements of realistic sci-fi, and it’s so well written it goes down like a greased eel. It’s hopeful dystopia. What a book.”
(Joe R. Lansdale, author of the Hap and Leonard series)
“This wildly audacious alternate history pits a black lawyer and her semi-feral stepbrother against a paranoid U.S. government defending its ex-movie-star president, who was maimed during a foiled assassination attempt. This funny, heart-wrenching book cuts through genre expectations with the speed of a jackhammer.” (Seattle Times)
“This book is a powerful vision of an America that might be, an America that some nights seems as though it is all too likely to be, filled with powerful characters and a chilling presentiment of how far our country could fall...a novel well worth reading.” (San Francisco Book Review)
“Tropic of Kansas is the tale of a politically desperate USA haunted by a sullen, feral teen who is Huck Finn, Conan and Tarzan. Because it’s Chris Brown’s own imaginary America, this extraordinary novel is probably more American than America itself will ever get.” (Bruce Sterling, award-winning author of Islands in the Net and Pirate Utopia)
From the Back Cover
The United States of Americ is no more. Broken into warring territories, its center has become a wasteland DMZ known as the Tropic of Kansas. Though this gaping geographic hole has no clear boundaries, everyone knows it’s out there—that once-bountiful part of the heartland, broken by greed and exploitation, where neglect now breeds unrest. Two travelers appear in this arid American wilderness: Sig, the fugitive orphan of political dissidents, and his foster sister, Tania, a government investigator whose search for Sig leads her into her own past—and toward an unexpected future.
Sig promised those he loves that he would make it to the revolutionary redoubt of occupied New Orleans. But first he must survive the wild edgelands of a barren mid-America policed by citizen militias and autonomous drones, where one wrong move can mean capture . . . or death.
One step behind, undercover in the underground, is Tania. Her infiltration of clandestine networks made of old technology and new politics soon transforms her into the hunted one, and gives her a shot at being an agent of real change—if she is willing to give up the explosive government secrets she has sworn to protect.
As brother and sister traverse these vast and dangerous badlands, their paths will eventually intersect on the front lines of a revolution whose fuse they are about to light.
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Unfortunately, the author imposes a succession of completely implausible resolutions to impossible situations that ruined the story for me. Reminds me somewhat of the Jack Reacher series...an overly-simplified comic book plot with two protagonists rather than one.
Disappointing. A more thoughtful writer could have really done something with this idea.
The immediate impulse, even before starting the book and based on the synopsis alone, was to draw comparisons to current events and put myself in that head space. Instead, when I was introduced to one of the protagonists, Sig, I immediately felt like I was fifteen again and reading Kerouac. At that age, when confronted by those who lived a bohemian ideal, the whole thing felt subversive to me and in fact, compelled me to have my own 'On The Road' experiences. Now, at Forty-One, and reading an entirely different book, I was filled up with that same yearning to subvert the course of the norm. I wanted to hit the road again. To escape the responsibilities of modern life and try and exist beyond societal expectations.
It was a feeling that stuck with me the whole way through the novel. Initially, there isn't much to draw the free and wild Sig and his more conservative foster sibling, Tania, together, except a loose, familial bond. But once you begin to recognise that both characters long for the same thing, just from opposite sides of the fence, then you really get to the heart of things. Both are prisoners, to some degree, of a shared history, and both long to escape. But of course, this is the future, and in the future, there never truly is an escape.
Brown's speculation is not so much future as alternate future based on alternate past, although to be honest, it's not much different than the one we live in now. The weird mesh of celebrity propaganda, constant surveillance, ecological terrorism and uneasy foreign policy is just as current as it is in our own timeline. It's interesting to see the author's take on it and I was fascinated by his use of the written word to crystal ball things and put a new spin on past and present problems.
Everything fits well from a world-building sense, but never occludes the plight of the protagonists, which is sometimes an easy thing in novels of this caliber. Never once was I left feeling disassociated with what either Sig or Tania were attempting to achieve. That makes everything so much more heightened and believable and the pay-off for the reader is worthwhile. The ending left me feeling hopeful, which is a rare and valuable achievement with the current state of play at home and abroad.
Ultimately, I'll return to my modern day life of spreadsheets, reports, meetings, scrolling through feeds, eating and drinking too much and exercising not enough. The difference is that now, I have had time out from the humdrum by reading this book. The journey amongst the pages of Tropic of Kansas allowed me to escape on a road trip of invention that catered to my rebellious side, if just for a little while.