In Dash’s (Sunburn, 2015, etc.) sci-fi outing, a man finds himself in a bizarre city filled with emotionless, robotic drones and people with fluctuating memories.
Londoner Newman Riplan, who troubleshoots computers, is in Amsterdam for work. It’s a relatively simple gig, but he takes his time so that he can stay overnight and party with Hughie and Battles, old friends whom he hasn’t seen in a couple of years. After the trio drinks, smokes, and snorts to excess, Hughie convinces Riplan that he’s due for a vacation and even buys him a plane ticket to a surprise destination. A fairly uneventful flight, however, takes an eerie turn when a confused Riplan suddenly has the feeling that he’s the only living soul on the plane—everyone else seems to have turned into mannequins. After the plane lands, he gets no clarification as to his whereabouts; when he asks the people around him, they respond: “Where do you think you are?” He enters a nameless city populated by drones—humanlike automatons that initially don’t seem to serve a purpose. Neither are the humans very accommodating, and they’re unfamiliar with even basic amenities, such as glass or electricity. Apparently someone called “the Alchemist,” of whom little is known, provides the people with what they need. Riplan believes that if he can just meet this man, he can find a way out of the city and back home. Dash’s surreal tale has its share of unsettling moments; two of the most disturbing entail Riplan learning what type of currency the city dwellers use and the origin of their preferred drink. There’s also an abundance of intriguing peculiarities, from beasts that run amok when the moon turns crimson to men who do a nightly task when everyone’s asleep. Readers shouldn’t expect many answers, though, as the city’s inhabitants have spotty recollections of their pasts. As a result, the novel is a dizzying affair, but Dash grounds the story with Riplan’s genuine connection to a woman he meets, named Cheryl. The author also provides moments of humor; Riplan gets a job in the city as a teller of tales, which he pulls from books and movies and claims as his own. The ending, though predictable, doesn’t disappoint, as it offers resolution while also leaving a lot to interpretation.
An often baffling tale, but its protagonist’s wry commentary is undeniably entertaining.