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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Vertical City by Tristan Scott is a dystopian science fiction novel revolving around its protagonist, Edgar “Ed” Pacey, a mineral/carbon miner known as a Duster in the last known refuge of man: an astronomically sized high-rise on the remote island of Tristan da Cunha. Millions live both above and below the ground floor of the skyscraper, segregated by affluence and the work they do to keep Vertical City, or VC, running efficiently. People are quite literally stacked one on top of the other. Both space and privacy are completely unknown to the generation of residents who are born and bred to serve VC in their assigned, almost from birth, posts. When a catastrophic accident in the mine has its impact minimized by Ed, he and his friend Terry become heroes. After a stint in the medical ward where he secretly witnesses something he had no business seeing, he is brought above ground among the upper echelons of VC. Overwhelmed by the luxury and a vantage point he cannot come to terms with, one of the last things a murdered worker tells him may turn out to be true and the prospect of this reality is more terrifying than any mining disaster. “VC has been bursting at the seams for a long time, only now the fraying is starting to show.”
Vertical City is one of those ultra-rare and very, very special novels that remind us there are still completely engrossing and original stories to be told. Tristan Scott is an exceptional writer, full stop. Having the imagination to come up with something shiny and new is difficult enough, but having the ability to craft it with such skill is another thing altogether. As a character, Ed is quirky, socially awkward, and not the kind of guy anyone would expect to step outside his own lane. He certainly has thoughts that question the structure of VC but as an Everyman who prefers a firm handshake over the customary French kiss-in-the-shower greeting, spouting conspiracy theories is super un-Ed-like. But this is what he does, particularly after another death closer to home.
The narrative and dialogue are both intelligently witty and the shifting points of view provide insight into what Ed is thinking as well as those who surround him, mostly underground. I love that even as Ed grows into his role as an unpopular rabble-rouser, he largely remains his authentic self. The clues that stack up like sleeping tubes continue to multiply but, when faced with true danger, Scott reminds us that Ed is a normal guy who, like most of us would in the face of danger, chooses “the noblest form of courage.” Ed runs, and we chase him while we pump our fists and furiously flip the pages. Very highly recommended.