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Literature / Sewer, Gas & Electric

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Sewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works Trilogy opens up with a crazy businessman building the tower of Babel in New York City, and a hapless new hire to the Department of Sewers being eaten by a sewer-dwelling mutant great white shark. It's 2023, and New York is on the brink of a giant earthquake, and that's the least of the city's problems. Penned by Matt Ruff, it's a novel of ecoterrorism, mad AIs, absurdly spacious sewers and an AI construct of Ayn Rand spouting objectivist philosophy and generally having melting down arguments with the rest of the cast.

This book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: The Yabba-Dabba-Doo's blue hamsters.
  • Apocalypse How: Regional Class 3 for most of Africa.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Morris Kazenstein is routinely given a hard time by his five adoptive Palestinian siblings, who hassle him about wanting a homeland despite having grown up to be Oxford professors in Britain. When he finally pisses them off for real, they lambast him for being American rather than for being Jewish.
  • Big Applesauce: A great deal of the book takes place in New York.
  • Brick Joke: During the eco-terrorists' opening move against an oil-survey icebreaker bound for Antarctica, it's mentioned in passing that their hackers' bots call every pizza place in Manhatten to request a delivery to Gant's office. The later conversation between Gant and his underlings over the resulting media brouhaha ends when Crowd Control calls up from the Phoenix's ground floor to ask if he'd ordered two thousand pizzas.
  • The Croc Is Ticking: Once Meisterbrau swallows a digital watch.
  • The Comically Serious: Befitting her philosophy, Artificial Ayn Rand has great difficulties understanding jokes.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: The ten-pack of condoms, which cost $50,000.
  • Cool Boat: Yabba Dabba Doo
  • Death by Irony: There are one thousand of them. Orchestrated by the Big Bad.
  • Expospeak Gag: Standard policy in the Zoological Bureau of the Department of Sewers, where referring to any of the dangerous sewer-lurking wildlife by anything but its taxonomic name - i.e. by any name that the public or press might recognize and freak out about - is a big no-no.
  • Eye Scream: Shiva's Cinder. It consists of a laser, which scans the landscape for reflecting surfaces like binoculars or glasses, and in case of a discovery is tuned to full power to burn out the eyes of anyone in range.
  • Flying Seafood Special: Meisterbrau eventually unfolds wings.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Morris Kazenstein
  • General Ripper: Troubadour Penzias, in an unusually cruel and racist way.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: Seraphina was born with smilies painted on her soul, due to a neurochemical quirk in her brain. She'd probably be angry about that, if she could be angry; as it is, the closest she can come to wanting to retaliate against somebody who crosses her is to play practical jokes on them.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Queen Elizabeth II, still ruling Great Britain in 2023, is moody, arrogant, and tends to poison recalcitrant subordinates.
  • Hidden Depths: Matt Ruff apparently likes to eventually unfold detailed backstories for previously sketchy characters.
  • Improbable Weapon User: After hurling arctic bunnies with euphoria-tipped toenails at polluting ships' personnel, Ninety-Nine Words For Snow clouts the ones still standing with a rubber fish.
  • Jackass Genie: The evil AI antagonist of the novel deliberately "misunderstands" a couple of men ordering dinner at a restaurant as a command to unleash a murderous campaign and also as an excuse to kill its creator.
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: Abbie Hoffman has to teach Ayn Rand humor in heaven as punishment for committing suicide. He tries this kind of joke, but Ayn doesn't like to pretend he was knocking a door, because that's unlogical if she can see it!
  • Methuselah Syndrome: Kite
  • New Meat: Eddie Wilder.
  • Multinational Team: The crew of Philo Dufresne's u-boat.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Not quite. Queen Elizabeth II. and many other real-life persons that were still alive at the time of the book appear undisguised. Some are not portrayed especially pleasantly, and others are eventually killed off.
  • Psycho for Hire: Troubadour Penzias.
  • Refuge in Audacity: A big part of the eco-activists' strategy is to attack polluters in such ridiculous ways that their targets are utterly humiliated on live television.
  • Scout-Out: The Boy and Girl Scouts have merged into a single organization, and become so urbanized that a troop goes on a "nature walk" in the slums, taking notes on graffiti and studying a dead mutant rat for their wildlife lesson.
  • Sewer Gator: Averted; Teddy May's crew wiped out all of NYC's sub-surface alligators in the 1930s. Just don't ask about the gharials, Nile crocodiles, electric eels, piranha, or mutant great white sharks....
  • Shamu Fu: Ninety-Nine Words clouts members of a polluting ship's crew with a rubber trout.
  • Shark Pool: Meisterbrau is kept in an outside pool by the aquarium employees Frankie and Salvatore. It does not end well.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Maxwell and Troubadour Penzias. Both are rather insane, in different ways.
  • Submarine Luxurious: The Yabba-Dabba-Doo is the only sub ever equipped with hamster tubing and an arboretum.
  • Submarine Pirates: The Ecoterrorists.
  • Take That!: Atlas Shrugged is acerbically dissected by Joan.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Harry Gant's mother is a tall, husky construction forewoman, while his father is a short, rather frail history buff.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future
  • Xenofiction: In-universe, Dufresne's attempt at a first novel is written from the POV of whales and dolphins.
  • War Is Hell: A recurring theme. Several characters are insane Shell Shocked Veterans, and Kite stopped viewing war as an adventure when the actual killing began.
  • Why Am I Ticking?: A subplot involves a greedy capitalist who has been fitted with an explosive collar. It will go off in twenty-four hours, killing him, unless he manages to earn $1000 by begging in Grand Central, and feed all the bills through a shredder attached to the collar. Naturally, people are less likely to give him money when they see what he's doing with it...