Book Review: City Come A-Walkin’

Author: John Shirley
ISBN: 0-9642505-1-9
Dell Publishing / Eyeball Books

Depending on who you ask, the history of Cyberpunk literature starts around 1980, but is heavily influenced by different people. According to

William Gibson, one of the five writers associated with the cyberpunk genre, is credited by critics and peers for typifying the cyberpunk writing form in his popular novel Neuromancer. Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley and Lewis Shiner, the other four writers who helped launch the movement, agree that Gibson’s Neuromancer influenced the categorization of the new science fiction as cyberpunk. Therefore, Gibson’s novel can be used as a reliable source for defining the cyberpunk genre.

This sentiment is prevalent among many people and Gibson’s name is certainly the most often said as the most influential founder of the Cyberpunk genre. As you see above, the four other authors who “helped launch the movement” agree that Neuromancer influenced etc etc. Yet others say that Sterling “became the movement’s chief ideologue [of the Cyberpunk genre].”

With that in mind, imagine my surprise when I heard of a book that was highly praised by William Gibson and had a foreword written by him as well. This was my first introduction to John Shirley and I picked up City Come A-Walkin’ which sat on my shelf for well over a year before I found time to read it. Now, let me see if I can imagine your surprise when you read the following quotes, written by William Gibson, about John Shirley and his book.

“John Shirley was cyberpunk’s Patient Zero, first locus of the virus, certifiably virulent.”

“I was somewhat chagrined, rereading it recently, to see just how much of my own early work takes off from this one novel.”

“Attention, academics: the city-avatars of City are probably the precursors both of sentient cyberspace and of the AIs in Neuromancer, and, yes, it certainly looks as though Molly’s surgically-implanted silver shades were samples from City’s, the temples of his growing seamlessly into skin-stuff and skull.”

“I had made a start [writing fiction], had abandoned the project of writing, and was shamed back into it by [Shirley]. Finding Shirley when I did was absolutely pivotal to my career.”

“What puzzles me now is how easily I took work like City Come A-Walkin’ for granted.”

“It would be a couple of years before whatever it was that was subsequently called cyberpunk began to percolate from places like Austin and Vancouver.”

“I look forward to [his new book]. In the meantime, we have Eyeball Books to thank for re-issuing the Protoplasmic Mother of all cyberpunk novels, City Come A-Walkin’.”

Wow, this review writes itself. When William Gibson, arguably the most widely considered founder of cyberpunk, says that he only wrote his book after meeting Shirley and reading City Come A-Walkin’. He goes far to say that some of the popular and distinguishing ideas in Neuromancer were sampled from this book. That alone should encourage any fan of the genre to check it out and pay respect to one of the seminal works.

What happens when the city comes alive, taking the form of another resident. A resident who feels the city, controls it, bends it to their will? What if the city is mad at some of the denizens who corrupt it’s very being. Enlisting the help of a down-and-out bar owner (Stu) and a punk quasi-psychic band leader (Catz), the three of them try to take back a vital part of their lives without losing themselves or each other.

As they fight the good fight, Stu and Catz quickly realize that City may be taking a bigger toll on them and asking them for too much.

Note: This book was originally published in 1980 by Dell Publishing Co., Inc and is currently published by Eyeball Books since 1996.

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