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Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,581 ratings  ·  194 reviews
High above Manhattan android and human steelworkers are constructing a new Tower of Babel for billionaire Harry Gant, as a monument to humanitys power to dream. In the festering sewers below a darker game is afoot: a Wall Street takeover artist has been murdered, and Gants crusading ex-wife, Joan Fine, has been hired to find out why. The year is 2023, and Ayn Rand has been ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published September 10th 2004 by Grove Press (first published 1994)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  2,581 ratings  ·  194 reviews

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Feb 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: If you've ever shrugged at Atlas Shrugged...
Recommended to Alan by: Sui generis
Sewer Gas and Electric is an utter failure as an sf novelif science fiction must be defined as a serious attempt to predict the future, anyway. From the large-scale to the small, Sewer Gas and Electric's prognostications about the early 21st Century have almost uniformly failed to pan out. The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts haven't merged into one urban exploration club; there are no high-speed trains criss-crossing the U.S.; nor are there twin towers still looming over southern Manhattan's ...more
Oct 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Jillian by: Corprew
Shelves: sci-fi
This book is FanTasTic, and so fun to read. It combines mind-bending, wacky ideas with neat characters in the setting of New York City in 2023. There's some sci fi and some mystery and Lots of hilarity, I laughed out loud every 10 pages or so. Included in this book are environmental warnings, conspiracy theories, artificial intelligence, and some very interesting ideas about how Americans really feel about black people. All of this is wrapped up in a clever package that you should read.
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This has the lunacy of Roald Dahl, the social commentary of Douglas Adams, and the tongue-in-cheek liberal guilt of a collection of Stuff White People Like blog entries, along with scholarly Bible references, lovingly Asimov-derivative sci-fi, and Ayn Rand rejecting the premise of a knock-knock joke. This is my third Matt Ruff novel, and I love it like I have loved his other work.

This is a story set in the distant future of the 21st century (it's not quite post-apocalyptic, more like
May 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american
The last sentences of this book in the acknowledgments are:
"Thanks also to the New York Times, newspaper of record, for confirming that even in a rational universe, 'far-fetched' is a relative term. In an article dated February 10, 1935, the Times recounts the story of a group of teenagers who found a seven-and-a-half-foot alligator in a Harlem sewer, dragged it up onto the street, and beat it to death with shovels. Public works officials have since denied the existence of any reptile larger
Nov 09, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: nobody I like
Recommended to Dan by: igtrtsootbc
I had to stop. I'm sorry. I hate not finishing books but this one increasingly felt like a waste of my ever precious reading minutes.

Yeah, this book is crap.

This book was very bad. It is not genius, clever, or even that interesting. The characters are not developed in any real way and the premise and plot situations are sophomoric and trite. This reads like a college student who had just read some philosophy and other literature decided to write a novel based on what he'd just learned. Had Ruff
Jul 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi

That's pretty much the only way to describe this book. I loved it, I don't really remember the entire plot even though I've read it at least 4 times, and I'm pretty sure the plot made sense when I read it. What sticks with me are the vivid images in my head of certain scenes and moments in the book, permanently rendered there by the clever phrasing of the text.

I highly recommend this book. I wish I could coherently tell you why, but you can't always get what you want.

But if you try
E Lowe
Aug 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Aquarians
'Sewer, Gas and Electric' mixes ideology and fantasy in a funny, witty and inventive manner. The novel gives a creative and intelligent consequentialist interpretation of what the world could be like in 2023, while at the same time drawing in philosophical dialogues concerning morality, the environment and unrestrained liberal capitalism.

Would not recommend this book for someone who has difficulty keeping tack of many characters or following multiple plot lines.

May suggest reading Ayn Rand's
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
But Aristotle has written Forget Aristotle. [He] only covers research and development. This is consumer marketing. Which philosopher should I have studied to comprehend consumer marketing? Munchhausen.

Absurd? Of course, its absurd; thats the point. But better written than many similar tales of the silliness of modern life. Better-than-average advocacy fiction.

So you lied to yourself. The first symptom of true intelligence. Selective self-deception. Hows that for a Turing test?

Still, I dont
Matt Ruff has written three novels in a literary career spanning nearly two decades; all three are rooted somehow in fantasy and should be regarded as fine examples of speculative fiction. "Sewer, Gas Electric: The Public Works Trilogy" is a dazzling, hilarious cyberpunk adventure set in the New York City of 2023. Ruff conjurs up a bizarre, almost dystopian, view of a near-future New York City laced with the political wisdom of Ayn Rand, who returns, resurrected as a major protagonist in this ...more
Jun 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite of Matt Ruff's books. Like some of his others, it's packed full of characters. This one is very fun, lots of satire and comedy.

It involves robot servants, a flying mutant shark named Meisterbrau, a crew of ecoterrorists who pilot the polka-dotted submarine "Yabba-Dabba-Doo," a hurricane lamp containing the AI representation of Ayn Rand, and a mystery involving a sentient computer which resides underneath Disneyland.
Feb 14, 2018 marked it as abandoned
That's a whole lotta NOPE.

I made it about 25 pages in before the LITERALLY BLACK SKINNED SERVANT ROBOT said "Zippety do DAY!" as way of greeting.

Maybe he was trying to make comments on the state of race in America or something? I'll never know.
Robert Enzenauer
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
WOW! I really liked this book (A birthday gift from my adult daughter.) And for me, it is striking as the most "originally unique" novel since I read A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES. Definitely reminds me of some of the best of KURT VONNEGUT. I agree with other reviewers who describe this book as very hard, and indeed pretty hard to describe in a formal review. Written more than twenty years ago, the authors presents a "vision" of the future where sharks are living in the New York sewers, ...more
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
An almost impossible to define and literally laugh-out-loud science fiction satire. Atlas Shrugged meets Snow Crash meets a Carl Hiassen novel.
Sam Reader
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing

               Okay, the rundown is as follows. This is a sprawling, crazy work about a great white shark, homicidal robots, eco terrorists, and overstuffed with insane twists and turns. The good is that there's a rich world full of colorful characters and a very "comic book" kind of feel to the overall proceedings that works in its favor. 

                 The bad is that there is almost too much here, and definitely too much going on. That's really the only flaw with
Carolyn Tragasz
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Hopes a choice, not a sum; you can have as much of it as you damn well feel like having, regardless of actual circumstances. Im not sure any event has a meaning unless we humans decide to give it one. Thats why hope is optional rather than mandatory. I think were born with a need to explain all the things that happen to us, not just to scientifically explain them but to actually create an account for them, a sort of framing story to hang them on; and I think we have a wide variety of choices as ...more
I started reading this book many times over the years only to get around page 100 before giving it up and reading something else. Twenty-one years after buying it, I finally finished it. It left me with a ho-hum impression. The writing is fine, but maybe it's just the absurdist humor that I didn't like. _(ツ)_/ ...more
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Well, ya gotta like a guy who has a favorable blurb from Pynchon on his book cover. Also I'm of the opinion that Ruff has read Stephenson's 'Snow Crash' more than twice. These are both very good things and so is this book. His sense of humor is maybe a little heavy handed at times, but he tells a rousing story that moves quickly into a climaxogasm.
May 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sarah by: Jillian
(Preliminary apologies: I kind of sped through this book, and I will kind of speed through this review- my apologies to the author and also the the lady who recommended it to me! It's not been much of a week for dawdling, which is too bad- I could use some dawdling (although, of course, the fact that I dawdle so much is precisely what makes this a non-dawdle-able week, so perhaps I really could not use that dawdling)- and of course quality suffers where quantity prevails, but I want to add this ...more
Just re-read this, as it's my book club pick this month. I love it as much as always. I happen to think that Matt Ruff has a fine command of excessive plot threads, a knack for fun characters (and Joan is so so great), a penchant for exhilarating action, and a delightful sense of the absurd.

He has also gotten better at women in this one (compared to my old favorite Fool on the Hill). Instead of a fairy whose battle scene we don't see, a cop who gets knocked out before she can help (although
Feb 21, 2016 rated it liked it

The best overall description I can give of this book is interesting. There are a lot of plot lines that meet up however it took to about page 160-180 to figure out how stuff starts to tie in together. Until it starts to tie together it gets confusing, especially since there are so many characters involved. Some characters are discussed in detail but only appear in the book for a few pages. Because of all the story lines I dont think I can fully explain what the book is about but I will do my
May 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nook-st

"Artificial intelligence wasn't something to be trifled with, particularly if you didn't have the documentation that went with the hardware. Purloined military microchips wired into a homemade logic board, set to the task of creating consciousness from a kabbalistic stew of African songs, biographies, and broken dreams, all of the above encased in a pop art egg shell... Well, gods and devils had been born from a lot less, hadn't they?"page 220

I could
Mar 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was outstandingly fun to read. Come on, a robotic safety device in the form of a beaver with the voice of Ralph Nader; what's not to like here? An environmental activist group on a polka dotted submarine that throw giant whipped cream pies at whaling vessels. I really really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it for a light-hearted read for just about anybody; but especially for people saturated in pop culture and political news junkies.

However, I did have some problems with the
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Charlotte by: Jillian
I think the best words to describe this book are "zany" and "romp." Set in a near-future dystopia, it takes a satirical view of a number of modern issues. Most biting is its treatment of race relations in the U.S. Through it all, characters must face outlandish hurdles to save the world.

Unfortunately, I found the shear ridiculousness of the book to be too much for me and the humor came off as forced. The oddities of the world tended to overwhelm the somewhat bland characters. Impressively, many
Apr 07, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: weird-fiction
This book is Zany--with a capital Z. Whether that's good or bad depends on your perspective. Ruff seems to have tossed every wacky idea he's ever had into one book. Some of it works, some of it doesn't. Because he focuses so much on his ker-razy ideas about the near future, there's no real character development or even differentiation. Most of the main characters seem like platforms for Ruff's various ideas rather than people in their own right. It definitely could have used an editor's stronger ...more
Jan 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Matt Ruff has created a novel entirely intent on pulling the crazed insanity from within each of us. There is nothing normal about this novel; it will leave you in hysterics if you allow it and it will definitely leave you wondering how you managed to pack so much wonderful nonsense into your mind. Each page brings new characters and plots which lead you to the cliff of disbelief and leave you there to teeter over the edge and debate whether it can possibly get any more absurd. Well, yes it can.
Jul 19, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf
This would have been a great short novel. The first third or so was an entertaining send-up of the little-examined backstory of familiar sci-fi tropes (what happens to the sewer system when your city gets all big and shiny? why are there no black people in the future?).

The last two thirds? An unrelenting slog of tedious zaniness. It's like if you took a Dr. Who episode, removed the emotionally manipulative background music and other TV tricks that serve to cheaply plaster over the plot holes,
Oct 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book is a fantastical science fiction novel that tries to be funny, mainly by being wacky. Does it succeed? Not for me, most of the time. A lot of the humor comes from incongruous situations -- but there's nothing really funny there, so it gets old quickly.

The actual story takes place largely in New York in the year 2023, which is an ecological disaster and has mutants running around the sewers. There's more, but honestly, it doesn't really matter.

There were some parts I enjoyed, but most
Dec 01, 2010 marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-read-soon
this is a note to myself, which please feel free to remind me of later when I forget again:

self, you always for some reason confuse this book with Stone Junction by Jim Dodge. I think they are the same slightly oversize, with similar lurid reds & purples? But otherwise I don't know why this happens. Hurry up and read this so that you will be able to separate them properly in your head. okay?
Agatha Lund
Aug 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who couldn't finish Atlas Shrugged
Shelves: fiction
Somewhere along the way my copy of this disappeared, which makes me sad, because it was a first edition that my ex T.C. bought for me for my 18th birthday. Less of a fairy tale than Ruff's first novel, this is still a dreamy, magical realism tour through a futuristic New York City, full of alligators and hybrids and Ayn Rand in a lamp.
Jul 08, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Nicole by: Dan
Shelves: sci-fi
Crazy, wild, weird, cool weird book. Not sure the set-up quite paid off as much as you'd expect.
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I was born in New York City in 1965. I decided I wanted to be a fiction writer when I was five years old and spent my childhood and adolescence learning how to tell stories. At Cornell University I wrote what would become my first published novel, Fool on the Hill, as my senior thesis in Honors English. My professor Alison Lurie helped me find an agent, and within six months of my college ...more

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