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Steel Sky
Andrew C. Murphy
BrainWorks Books, 275 pages

Steel Sky
Andrew C. Murphy
Andrew C. Murphy is the Creative Director for Art of BrainWorks Communications, an independent medical advertising agency. He lives in Penn Valley, Pennsylvania with his family.

Andrew C. Murphy Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Susan Dunman

A vast underground city is built in stone to save humanity from catastrophic events on the surface of the planet. Now, four hundred years later, the citizens of Hypogeum have no memory of their origins or the purpose the Founders had for their subterranean metropolis. In fact, they do not even realize there is anything above their colossal city entombed in rock.

Life is not pleasant for most of the citizenry, where society reflects the multi-leveled habitat that has grown ever-upward over the centuries. Those who live at the top, near the fluorescent sun, are privileged beyond the imaginings of those consigned to the deeper depths of the city.

In spite of their diminished status, the lower level Tertiary and Quaternary citizens do have some things in common with the highest, Null class population -- the rampant pollution, crime, and overcrowding which afflicts the entire Hypogeum. Into this stagnant, synthetic world comes the Winnower, a seemingly unstoppable creature in deadly armor who is either a deranged product of the lower levels or the mythic character foretold centuries ago as a harbinger of The End Times.

Encased in armor equipped with razor-sharp spikes, the Winnower appears and disappears at will, wrecking havoc on criminals throughout the Hypogeum. The Orcas family is an influential Null-class clan which controls all of the equipment that spies on the city's citizens. The failure of the Orcas' technology to locate and identify the Winnower is a blight on the Orcas family name and begins to undermine their reputation.

As the heir-apparent of the Orcas family, Second Son is forced to accept unpleasant familial responsibilities due to the death of his older brother, months earlier. Much to his father's dismal, Second Son cannot achieve the state of consciousness required to master the city's surveillance equipment and is not a suitable partner for his sister, which custom dictates he must marry in order to produce a new family heir.

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the social spectrum, Bernie and Orel are two maintenance men trying to identify the source of a pneumatic breach in the duct systems of the lower levels. Their familiar world of drainage pipes, pressure valves and pumping stations becomes life-threatening when the two men discover that the breach is not accidental. In fact, all signs point to the infiltration of the city by Rats, a hybrid half-human, half-rodent mutation that exists in unknown numbers at the fringe of the city.

Within these two extremes exists a well-defined society that the author has carefully created to compliment the environment in which it is forced to exist. Because of limited space and resources, unproductive citizens, whether they are newborns with birth defects or terminally ill cancer patients, are brought to a speedy and painless end by the Deathsmen. This enigmatic brotherhood eliminates the old and unfit, and their function has been integrated into society's religious beliefs, allowing them unfettered access to all class levels.

However, there are other options for ending one's life in the stifling, depressing confines of the city. The most popular option is simply to walk outside any building without a respirator mask and the polluted air will kill within minutes. These suicide "breathers" are a common occurrence and are usually allowed to die of asphyxiation.

But all is not doom and gloom in the Hypogeum. There is still room for love, friendship, justice, and hope in a world that has not seen the true light of day in four hundred years. Revealing snippets of life from all levels of the city, readers gradually begin to see the city as a whole and how it is influenced by the different levels and social classes upon which it is built.

Steel Sky is a compelling work at different levels, which is what makes it so entertaining. In addition to solving the mystery of the Winnower, a variety of intriguing characters help readers explore a bizarre city that has lost its past and is unsure of its future. Those hoping to find a good story within the Hypogeum will not be disappointed!

Copyright © 2005 Susan Dunman

Susan became a librarian many light years ago and has been reviewing books ever since. Audiobooks and graphic novels have expanded her quest to find the best science fiction in Libraryland.

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