Tim Lebbon's Echo City serves as another strong example of the New Weird cityscape. Like Mark Charan Newton's Legends of the Red Sun or Alan Campbell's Sea of Ghosts, Echo City takes place in a dying world and features an imaginative (and inexplicable) fusion of magic and technology.
In this case, Echo City is a city built on its ancient past - quite literally. Beneath the streets, there's an underground city. Beneath that city are the ruins of another city. Beneath those rest the abandoned, crumbling ruins of yet another city. Beneath that... you get the picture.
The city (the top one) is also in a state of stagnation. Technological progress has crystallised into a single art: creating warped creatures known as the 'baked'. These are semi-human creatures born from vats that all fulfill discrete purposes. The telescopes, for example, are particularly horrific. Even that science has rapidly become specialised and runs the risk of being forgotten. "The Baker" is a single, isolated woman, outlawed by the ruling theocracy and hiding deep beneath the city.
Echo City is also isolated, it is completely (seemingly) alone in the world. A poisonous desert goes miles in every direction and no one knows what is on the other side (or even if there's another side). The city's status quo is brutally disrupted when a man comes stumbling in from the wasteland. Rufus, with his impossible existence and complete lack of memory, fulfills not one prophecy but thousands. The ruling priests are infuriated. The timid rebellion is galvanized. Factions of isolated, weirdly-evolved cultists crawl up and out into the light, blinking (and sharpening knives). A city that's been slowly declining for hundreds of years suddenly explodes into into violent death throes.
Like the Newton and Campbell books, Echo City is set as a race against an ecological clock. If a conventional fantasy looks at how The Glorious Empire Came to Be, the New Weird sub-genre examines How It Finally Collapsed. There's something marvellously brave about this. If the defining attribute of fantasy is still (unfortunately) world-building, it takes a particularly ballsy sort of author to craft an intricate universe and shove it over the edge of a cliff.
Mr. Lebbon's book differentiates itself from the others primarily by the rate of his world's destruction. As the book unfolds, it becomes very clear that The End of the World (such as it is) is exceedingly nigh. An odd group of heroes comes together, squabbles a bit and then gets down to the dirty business of saving the day. Or, failing that, at least grabbing a few hours of said day and getting the hell out of dodge. Mr. Lebbon infuses the book with a start-to-finish tension that leaves the reader chewing his or her fingernails. Every lunch break, false start or dead end hurts - there's Something Nasty coming - good lord, why don't people understand?
I'd also be remiss if I didn't praise the opening chapter of Echo City - some of the best, Weirdest, creepiest pages I've read this year. Mr. Lebbon not only introduces his world and the gooey alchemy that makes it go, he manages to build empathy with the utterly inhuman. It is a cross between March of the Penguins and Pilgrim's Progress - a heart-tugging, deadly, symbolic journey towards distant salvation. If you are unconvinced on whether or not to try this book, the opening chapter provides the ultimate sales pitch. Hooked by those early pages, I found Echo City impossible to stop reading.
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Echo City is one of those books I picked up because I loved the title. Simple as that. I'm not a fantasy or sci-fi reader, but after reading the synopsis, I was intrigued. Then, after reading it, I was thrilled, because it's everything a good sci-fi fantasy book should be, with all the elements that make an exciting story(though not arbitrarily included): horror, action, violence, technology, genetics...
Lebbon has created a fascinating world here- a city that is so well realised you can almost smell it; a cast of characters who you immediately relate to and an ominous menace which changes the book from being a world- building epic to a frenetic race against time.
The middle section does go on a little too long, but it more than makes up for it with a seriously thrilling climax. If you haven't read much sci-fi fantasy then I'd suggest Lebbon is a great place to start. I've often been put off fantasy works because the writer spends 500 pages describing the weather and architecture; Lebbon doesn't allow that to happen. He builds this universe brilliantly, but he never lets it take over the story.
This book reminds me of Twelve Monkeys, though I'm not sure exactly why (probably the tech and colour of the environments), but in style and tone, it's totally unique and I highly recommend it.
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I kinda like Lebbon's concepts, but something happens between his brain and the page. I'm still not sure what this book is about. OK, it's set in a huge city in the middle of some post apocalyptic desert. The city is divided into separate districts. There's some kinda ruling elite. People and animals can be created and adapted by wizardy scientists. Everything seems to be falling apart. There's something horrible about to happen. There is a plot and people seem to be doing stuff. but I'm not sure what it is, and I'm not going to read it again.
I love a story that's a little different to a lot of the titles already out there and Tim Lebbon is the type of author that really allows his mind to expand to encompass any tale that has a kernel of something special so much so that you're never sure what you're going to get in a proverbial Forest Gump type of manner.
What Echo City does is take Mega City One (or rather a city that feels like a fantasy version of Judge Dredds turf) and add a deeper horror element with a stranger carrying some undesired truth for the inhabitants that the totalitarian system doesn't want revealed. Its beautifully done and with Tim's talent it's a story that has a lot of scope that will keep you entertained however where the story fails for me is that it all seems to occur in a Dark City type of environment where there's nothing else out there and thus feels more than a little flat for expansion.
Yes there are area's that can be explored such as how the city came to being or you have the scope to expand into the old a city is a 1000 stories waiting to happen but there is only so much that you can do and the story really has to be character driven which if they're not that strong can fall flat fairly quickly. All in the story was entertaining but of all Tim's books there are others out there that I'd recommend before this as a prime example of his work. I'm not saying that it didn't fulfil what I wanted but rather just didn't leave me with the bumps that I've expected at a tales end and for me that's the pay off as far as Tim's concerned.
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