Joseph Snoe Book Review: THE HEAP by Sam Adams
Sean Adams’ THE HEAP seems to be a bible or proposal for a TV series.
Its good parts are amazing, but the uninspired storylines drag my rating down to three stars.
The novel’s basic premise: A building 500 stories high (Los Verticales), really a city unto itself, collapses into a “heap” killing everyone in it, except a building radio DJ is broadcasting from somewhere in the rubble. Hundreds or thousands volunteer to dig through the rubble to find him. One of those digging is the DJ’s brother, Orville.
First, the good stuff. Some of the building’s residents survived because they were away when the building collapsed. They are known as the Displaced Travelers. They formed their own mini-community in RVs by the Heap, but segregate themselves from the diggers. What they contribute to the novel is a series of topical remembrances of life in the Los Verticales they call “The Later Years.” These remembrances are fantastic, and easily could form the basis of a proposed TV series. (I can see it now. Three or four years of life on Los Verticales. Then when ratings drop the building could collapse in a season finale cliffhanger and the show transitions to the new Heap society (with new characters since most of the former ones other than the Displaced Travelers die in the collapse.)
“The Later Years” bits are scattered through the book. They have little to do with plot but are wonderfully creative. You must read them. Skip the rest of the book. Go to the library and read “The Later Years” parts. They are in italics so easily found. They have titles like Neighbors, Media, Time Change (truly fantastic), Base Expansion (a favorite. It seems the outer units with windows are more expensive than the inner units that have no windows, only video screens showing the outside. The outer unit residents consider themselves superior to the inner unit residents and refuse to associate with them. As the building grows higher, the developer widens the base for building support. A MAJOR consequence of this base widening is many of the formerly outside units become “innerized” causing some interesting rearranging of class structure), Parking (and how the parking decks became a sexual liaison district), Visitors, Disputes (and their resolution), Education, Rumors, Floors, Entertainment, Holidays, and Emergency Drills.
The post-collapse community is a totally different one as you can imagine. Sean Adams does a good job of setting it up too. Just not as focused as in The Later Years.
Another short but wonderful inclusion is the penultimate paragraph of chapter 61. I can’t describe this scene without it becoming a spoiler. It blew me away. I can imagine how excited Sean Adams must have been when he got the idea for it. Kudos, Sean.
Now the really bad. Most of the novel revolves around two very weak, uninspired storylines. One concerns Orville, the DJ’s brother. The DJ, stuck under the rubble, takes phone calls and becomes a media sensation. The highest ratings come when Orville makes his daily call to his brother. The media company wants to monetize these calls. They offer Orville money to drop the name of products into the conversations. Orville refuses. Soon he hears someone impersonating him on the radio. Next people are trying to kill him, and it becomes a ho-hum story.
The second story line features Lydia, one of the two people in Orville’s Dig group. Lydia wants to get into politics and believes she can get there faster if she is the one who gives Peter Thisbee (the mastermind behind Los Verticales) a tour of The Heap community; but, of course, she faces hurdles (and they are repetitive and not all that interesting).
There you have it: Two mediocre storylines detracting from a wonderful world (community) building.
P.S. I may have missed it, but somehow Orville “knows” a seemingly throwaway character is a bad guy. How does he know? You got me. I’ve searched the pages looking for the aha moment but couldn’t find it. Maybe someone will enlighten me.
It makes me think of “The Line” currently being built in Saudi Arabia. It’s a rather scary thing, but apparently really is under construction: https://www.neom.com/en-us/regions/theline
A.J. Thanks for that. It’s scarey to me. I wouldn’t live there, but people love tehcnology.