Title: A Fall in Autumn
Series: Book One
Author(s): Michael G. Williams
Genre: Sci fi
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
Publisher: Falstaff Books
It’s 9172, YE (Year of the Empire), and the future has forgotten its past.
Soaring miles over the Earth, Autumn, the sole surviving flying city, is filled to the brim with the manifold forms of humankind: from Human Plus “floor models” to the oppressed and disfranchised underclasses doing their dirty work and every imaginable variation between.
Valerius Bakhoum is a washed-up private eye and street hustler scraping by in Autumn. Late on his rent, fetishized and reviled for his imperfect genetics, stuck in the quicksand of his own heritage, Valerius is trying desperately to wrap up his too-short life when a mythical relic of humanity’s fog-shrouded past walks in and hires him to do one last job. What starts out as Valerius just taking a stranger’s money quickly turns into the biggest and most dangerous mystery he’s ever tried to crack – and Valerius is running out of time to solve it.
Now Autumn’s abandoned history – and the monsters and heroes that adorn it – are emerging from the shadows to threaten the few remaining things Valerius holds dear. Can the burned-out detective navigate the labyrinth of lies and maze of blind faith around him to save the City of Autumn from its greatest myth and deadliest threat?
Review by Andrew
Michael G. Williams’ “A Fall in Autumn” is a clever sci fi detective novel that offers a new take on futuristic, Orwellian conspiracies.
The narrator is Valerius Bakhoum, a private detective who has been beaten hard but not broken by life. He’s a member of a dying species: non-genetically-engineered humans called “Arties,” short for artisanal humans. Since the many centuries-past holocaust on Earth, Arties have been kept on reservations as something of a quaint link to antiquity. Humankind has evolved with genetic enhancements (Plusses), hybridizations (Mannies), the creation of a floating city called Autumn, and two competing sects on opposite poles of religious extremism.
Society’s baser tendencies have survived, and most people on Autumn live in urban squalor while a privileged few enjoy economic freedom and the benefits of biotechnological advances. Ostensibly, non-enhanced humans exist as a middle caste between their Plus superiors and the Mannies who are engineered to do the grunt work that keeps the city running. But it’s not a distinction that has much practical meaning.
Valerius escaped the hopelessness of reservation life to make his way in Autumn’s underground markets and prostitution rings. He stowed away enough money to set up an independent business, but his detective work is a precarious enterprise that’s on the verge of going under. Add to that: he was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, whose cure is only afforded to Autumn’s upper echelon.
His client is a beautiful golem Alejandro seeking answers to his murder, which robbed him of his human body. In Autumn’s world, golems coexist with humans without much fanfare, though there is an air of mystery about their origins. Alejandro presents Valerius with an outlandish story involving a mythical Avenging Angel who destroyed the flying city of Splendor. Valerius suspects the golem has got a screw loose, but his survival precedes ethics. He’s soon to be homeless if he doesn’t come up with rent money, and his unusual client is rather emphatically easy on the eyes. Valerius accepts the case and plunges headfirst into a dangerous investigation that will challenge everything he thought he knew about how the era of flying cities came to be.
In addition to his dark, totalitarian vision for the future, Williams imagines worlds driven by bioengineering more so than the conventional spin of automation and artificial intelligence. Autumn hovers in Earth’s troposphere, repositioning itself for optimal temperature and precipitation, powered by a “ghost drive” few people comprehend to the point that its workings are attributed to gods and magic more so than science. While medicine has advanced such that wounds and broken bones can be healed by topical pastes, people still take grounded, human-driven cabs or buses or they simply walk to get from here to there. It’s a curious and appealing juxtaposition.
The suppression of knowledge creates fertile ground for Autumn’s exploited masses, including Valerius, to distrust their masters and spin a dark mythology about the past and present. Valerius never imagined himself as the man who would expose the truth, but that’s where he finds himself as he seeks information about Avenging Angels.
Williams’ voice, via his narrator, is cynical, witty, and enjoyably crass, and the story has the feel of crime noir catapulted into the future. In fact, Valerius’ detective work involves old school methods of trailing shady characters, talking his way into places he doesn’t belong, and nosing out or strong-arming out information as the situation requires.
In a world that has evolved grotesquely from the present, it’s Valerius’ humanity that engages and fascinates. With his terminal diagnosis, he’s a man quite literally with nothing to lose, and the passages where he contends with that reality, desperately looking to barter for the cure outside his grasp, are gripping and emotional. It’s hard not to want the guy to succeed.
He enters into a sexual relationship with Alejandro, which is similarly handled well. It begins as something of a fleeting opportunity for Valerius to get some while he can, but the two men’s intimate moments after sex demonstrate Valerius’ need for honest human connection. That situation is all the more intriguing as he contemplates Alejandro’s nature—is there a soul inside him or has his every facial expression, each inflection of his voice been programmed by his creator?
There’s a lot to like about this story, which will have appeal for both high concept sci fi fans and crime/mystery readers.