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Literature / City of Angles

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Buildings next to buildings, askew or aligned. Buildings sometimes intersecting buildings, for that matter. Nobody knows where the city came from. Nobody knows how we got here. Nobody knows why any of this is happening. But it's happening. We live a life amidst the twisted yet familiar...

City of Angles follows the adventures and misadventures of people stranded in a twisted alternate version of America. It's a City Noir carved out of a perpetually changing and shifting landscape; in lesser cases new city blocks insert themselves spontaneously, in worse cases you end up lost in the Sideways, a pseudo-random mishmash maze of twisty little passages, all alike.


With the wildly varying territory (including randomized stretches of Suburbia and rural settings) the stories themselves wobble around between Comedy, Drama and Dramedy with a perpetual splash of Psychological Horror. Thanks to a baked-in existential crisis due to the Alternate Universe nature of the city (new arrivals are copies, not kidnap victims) the series also dips frequently into exploring anxiety, depression, and suicide.

City of Angles is structured as a Web Serial Novel, written by Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne. It consists of a series of both free and for-pay stories, also available in published book form with various extras.


These stories contain examples of:

  • Arc Number: The number 23 pops up quite frequently. It's a way of leading Penelope to Patient 23, at the Heart of the City.
  • Alien Geometries: It's right there in the title. The amount of alien-ness varies, from illogical city layouts to straight up surreal and twisted hallwayscapes. People infected with "cubism" who turn into roaming Picassos also ignore spatial laws freely.
  • Apocalypse Cult: The Cult of Bedlam (comprised largely of Crazy Homeless People) and the Echo Chamber are twists on this, with one wanting the city turned even crazier than it already is, and the other wanting the city erased from existence.
  • Bold Explorer: Penelope Yates, spunky preteen girl who wears an Adventurer Outfit and loves crawling around the Sideways making maps of the city. She's keen to understand its structure and its heart. There's a pretty good reason for that; she's a Mysterious Waif who fell into Gregory's care, and related to forces that shape the city.
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  • Break the Cutie: Vivi Wei, who investigates the Cult of Bedlam and ends up trapped in a cell, Forced to Watch her sister endure Electric Torture, and ends up flipping out and going Picasso, although she ultimately recovers.
  • Creepy Child: Bedlam and Echo, as weird little goddess types representing chaos and oblivion respectively.
  • Deaf Composer: Vivi Wei, who enjoys dance clubs even though she can't hear the music. She uses a combination of other senses to get a feel for the "shape" of the sound and the flow of the crowd, and has become quite adept as a result. Dubstep gives her problems, though.
  • Disaster Scavengers: Although not technically a post-apocalyptic world, having to rely on a limited manufacturing base and frequent import of new buildings to get the things you need mean there's a whole branch of government (the Department of Resources) dedicated to stripping down new buildings and redistributing what they find. Often at profit. Salvager gangs do similar, but without the legitimacy.
  • Dream Apocalypse: The reason why Penelope strongly suggested they NOT wake up Patient 23.
  • Dream Land: The City of Angles itself, byproduct of the dreams of Patient 23.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Many characters have prophetic or symbolic dreams, such as Dave's occasional self-reflection nightmares or Penelope's attempts to tell herself the truth about what she is. It's Grandma Scarlett's entire schtick, mind you.
  • Driven to Suicide: A frequent end for new arrivals, unable to accept that they're not only stranded but that the "official" version of themselves is carrying on blissfully unaware back on Earth. Becomes more of a factor in volume two, when it ramps up into Suicide Is Painless territory.
  • Eldritch Location: The entire City but especially the Sideways, which are like if someone designed Ry'leh out of bits and pieces of a modern city building.
  • Evil Twin: At first, assumed to be Bedlam and Penelope. Until Echo makes it a set of triplets. And the whole "evil" aspect is questionable. As is the "separate people" part. They're really just three aspects of Patient 23's mind.
  • Gangbangers: One of the many options for disaffected youth to deal with the weirdness of the city is to band together against it — as a Salvager Gang, stripping new arrivals for their loot and stealing whatever they can.
  • Go Back to the Source: Penelope's purpose in mapping the Sideways, whether she realizes it or not, is to find Patient 23 at the Heart of the City.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Fate of many a person to cross paths with Bedlam, who encourages people to embrace insanity as a path to salvation. Seth Dougall willingly embraced Bedlam's philosophies as a child, going quite mad — but keeps a good poker face in public while pushing her agenda.
  • Goshdang It To Heck: Gregory, because Liz dissaproved of swearing.
  • Granny Classic: Grandma Scarlett. Runs an adorable orphanage full of adorable orphans and sews hand-made teddy bears in her spare time. Is also the oracular leader of an anti-Bedlam movement and a former police dispatcher, making her a bit of a Retired Badass.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Well, when you're firing a semiautomatic at a giant whirling cloud of insanity it's probably not going to hit much... subverted slightly by area-effect weapons like explosives and flamethrowers being excellent Picasso removal tools.
  • Insanity Immunity: Dave Smith, who was so deadlocked by anxiety issues as a child that he eventually punched through madness and out the other side to become a preternaturally Unfazed Everyman. He endures a full-on mental assault from Bedlam without batting an eye, although more mundane life worries can paralyze him.
  • Literal Split Personality: Bedlam, Echo, and Lucid. All three look just like Patient 23; all three have different takes on what to do with the city. Also, Penelope as Lucid personified.
  • Mad Mathematician: Kelsey Jones, who indulges heavily in analysis of the Sideways Signals even at the cost of her sanity. The counterpoint to Chaos Is Evil.
  • Mad Oracle: Cass, the Beatnik poet who can read words hovering over people's heads. This became less worryingly crazy when she met similarly strange people.
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: Dave's full name is Dave Danger Smith. His mother was 'weird'. See also Kelsey Trouble Jones.
  • New Media Are Evil: Sideways Signals, the digital counterpart to the Sideways. Websites you can only access through cubism-infected computers, cable channels between other channels, broadcast frequencies with impossible TV programming, etc. Also mixes in Old Media Are Evil.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Vivi and Marcy Wei. Vivi was adopted. The pair repeatedly deny any sexual element in their relationship despite appearances, although there's clearly an amount of unhealthy codependency, particularly from the moody Marcy.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Echo, who normally encourages suicide as a way out of the City. Since the city is actually a Dream Land, she wants to wake up the dreamer and obliterate the entire City in one go. This would actually wake Penny up, not kill her as such, since she's the literal (sleeping) consciousness of Patient 23. Of course, it's still a dream... hard to tell how close to her waking personality she is...
  • Once an Episode:
    Buildings next to buildings, askew or aligned. Buildings sometimes intersecting buildings, for that matter. Walk down a hallway, end up in a ballroom, double glass doors to a subway station, third exit on the left...
  • Papa Bear: Gregory Yates, although he often slides into Overprotective Dad territory.
  • Parental Abandonment: Since people rarely arrive in the city alongside loved ones, orphanages do a booming business. Sometimes this results in being Happily Adopted, but in the case of the Wei sisters, not so much — they rely on being True Companions to each other to make up for parental neglect.
  • Reality Warper: The cubist Picassos are these; roving monsters that twist the world around them as they pass. So, to a far greater degree, is Penelope. It makes sense; the city is her dream. Well, normally one would say the city is her waking self's dream, but she's never yet been awake.
  • Real Person Cameo: We never learn the full name of the DJ in Chapter 6, but the fact that he's a dubstep artist coupled with the fact that his initials are S. Moore heavily imply he's Skrillex.
  • Slipping a Mickey: One half of Bedlam's plan to turn the city into a paradise of insanity. Seth Dougall arranges for the water supply to be tainted with a slow-release anxiety drug.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Occasional moments from the perspective of a Picasso. They don't realize they're a scattershot Reality Warper — they're just lost, in more than one sense of the word.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Passage to the City is a one way ticket. There are no routes back to Earth, and there's an entire branch of government (Department of Orientation) dedicated to helping new imports accept their fate and embrace a new life.