• Shovel Ready: Excerpt from hardboiled dystopian thriller by Adam Sternbergh

    About Shovel Ready: Spademan used to be a garbage man. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before his wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self.

    Now he's a hitman.

    In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to "tap in" to a sophisticated virtual reality, and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. His new job is not that different from his old one: waste disposal is waste disposal. He doesn't ask questions, he works quickly, and he's handy with a box cutter. But when his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, his unadorned life is upended: his mark has a shocking secret and his client has a sordid agenda far beyond a simple kill. Spademan must navigate between these two worlds—the wasteland reality and the slick fantasy—to finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he's not the one who winds up in the ground.

    The way it happened was, it started as business software. Some kind of fancy teleconferencing gimmick. Clunky helmets, silly goggles, but once you plug in, it was pretty amazing. 3D around a table. Avatars that look surprisingly like you. Pick a tie, any color. Your choice. Dreams really do come true.

    That was maybe ten years back.

    And if we've learned anything in this once-proud world, it's that once someone figures out how to do something as miraculous as that, it's only a matter of time before someone else soups it up so you can use it to suck a horse's cock. In pretend land.

    Or run a brothel. Or be a holy Roman emperor.

    In pretend land.

    Soon people were running around, half-centaur, or space-alien furry, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or what have you. Fucking Chewbacca.

    Literally fucking Chewbacca.

    Then they got rid of the helmets and goggles and made the whole thing about a thousand times more convincing and all you had to do was get in a bed. But beds are expensive. From basic model to deluxe silver bullet. The basic ones are just tricked-out cots, but the top end are like shiny half-coffins, personal escape pods, with a bunch of touch screens to guide you into the dream, sensors to put you under. Full immersive experience.

    As real as real.