Rock Manning Goes for Broke

Rock Manning Goes for Broke

Illustration By Carolyn Nowak
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Dust jacket illustration by Carolyn Nowak. 

Subterranean Press is proud to present Rock Manning Goes for Broke, a major new novella by Charlie Jane Anders, whose first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, won the Nebula, Locus, and Crawford awards, and was on Time Magazine’s list of the 10 best novels of 2016.

About the Book:

Vikings vs. Steampunks! Ice cream sundae hearse disasters! Roman gladiators meet vacuum-cleaner salesmen! Inappropriate uses of exercise equipment and supermarket trolleys! Unsupervised fires, and reckless destruction of public property! Nothing is off limits.

Rock Manning lives and breathes slapstick comedy, and his whole life is an elaborate tribute to the masters, like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Jackie Chan. With his best friend, Sally Hamster, he creates joyfully chaotic short movies that are full of mayhem and silliness.

But Rock and Sally are becoming famous at a time of unrest, when America's economy has collapsed and people are taking refuge in highly addictive drugs. America's youth are being drafted to take part in endless wars against imaginary enemies overseas, while at home, a fascist militia known as the Red Bandanas is rising to power. As America becomes more mired in violence and destruction, Rock Manning's zany comedy films become the escapist fun that everybody needs.

Over-the-top physical comedy and real-life brutality collide, as Rock and Sally find themselves unable to avoid getting sucked into the slow implosion of their country. The Red Bandanas want Rock Manning to star in propaganda films promoting their movement, and soon Rock and Sally are at the center of the struggle for the soul of America. The trauma and death that Rock witnesses begin to take a toll on him.

When a botched weapon test plunges the world into deeper chaos, Rock and Sally must confront once and for all the outer limits of comedy.

Limited: 1500 signed numbered hardcover copies

Lettered: 26 signed leatherbound copies, housed in a  custom traycase

From Booklist (Starred Review):

“Disaffected young-adult filmmakers who specialize in escapist stunt comedy are caught in a propaganda war in Anders’ sharp, absurdist novella… This gonzo vision of an apocalyptic America is a challenging mixture of both farce and tragedy; it makes its point about the influence and responsibility of the media in the weirdest possible way.”

From Publishers Weekly:

“Hugo and Nebula winner Anders (All the Birds in the Sky) glances sideways at current political and social issues in this jittery, vigorous science fiction novella set in a near-future United States… At times hilarious, at times brutal, this is an extremely personal look at how one person tries to survive constant tragedy.”

From Kirkus Reviews:

“Anders' (All the Birds in the Sky, 2016, etc.) latest short work is an absurdist, apocalyptic fable… The emotional currents and thematic elements running through this story strongly resonate with today's sociopolitical milieu, even if our situation is not currently as dire—in particular, the tendency to try to continue with daily life even as catastrophe threatens, as well as the necessity of making art in the face of fierce opposition, feels topical. Rock's personality—easily distracted, always in motion despite being somewhat aimless—is both realistically uncomfortable to experience and sympathetic. An astute capsule of that moment of overload when you can't decide whether to laugh or cry.”

From Locus:

“When Kingsley Amis coined the very useful term ‘comic inferno’ back in 1959, he wasn’t thinking of Harold Lloyd comedies, and certainly couldn’t have imagined the sort of Jackass-style homemade movie stunts that are at the heart of Charlie Jane Anders’s novella Rock Manning Goes for Broke. But the term is a pretty useful description of the slapstick-in-the-face-of-apocalypse attitude of Anders’s characters… Amis’s idea of the comic inferno referred to the exaggerated satire of social trends in the work of authors like Frederik Pohl; in Anders’s manically entertaining version of it, satire gives way to slapstick, and the exaggerations, hilarious as they are, seem unnervingly unlike exaggerations at all.”


Praise for All the Birds in the Sky:

From Publishers Weekly:

“A friendship between two adolescent misfits is the catalyst for an apocalyptic reckoning in Anders’s clever and wonderfully weird novel.”

From NPR:

“The book is full of quirkiness and playful detail...but there’s an overwhelming depth and poignancy to its virtuoso ending.”

From Michael Chabon:

“The very short list of novels that dare to traffic as freely in the uncanny and wondrous as in big ideas―I think of masterpieces like The Lathe of Heaven; Cloud Atlas; Little, Big―has just been extended by one.”

From Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians:

“What a magnificent novel―a glorious synthesis of magic and technology, joy and sorrow, romance and wisdom. Unmissable.”

From N. K. Jemisin, The New York Times Book Review:

“Into each generation of science fiction/fantasydom a master absurdist must fall, and it’s quite possible that with All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders has established herself as the one for the Millennials…highly recommended.”

From the Los Angeles Times:

“Has the hallmarks of an instant classic.”

From Felicia Day:

“Thoughtful and hip and fantasy and sci-fi all wrapped up. A+.”

From Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing:

“Everything you could ask for in a debut novel―a fresh look at science fiction’s most cherished memes, ruthlessly shredded and lovingly reassembled.”

From Scott Sigler, New York Times bestselling author of Alive:

“It’s fantastic when someone who is so important in the scifi world can flat-out write as well as critique and analyze.”

From the New York Daily News:

“The craziest thing about Charlie Jane Anders’ book is how it remains so intimate and accessible despite genre jumping. All the Birds in the Sky moves from a coming of age story to a millennial romance and then a dystopia―and it’s filled with so much of the uncanny. That includes, but is not limited to, a shapeshifting teacher, talking birds and an anti-gravity gun… A truly fun read.”

From the Washington Post:

“A fairy tale and an adventure rolled into one, All the Birds in the Sky is a captivating novel that shows how science and magic can be two sides of the same coin.”

From The Wall Street Journal:

“Anyone suffering from midwinter blues should read Charlie Jane Anders’s between-categories fantasy All the Birds in the Sky. The scenario is (almost) Harry Potter, the tone is (quite like) Kurt Vonnegut, the effect is entirely original.”

From the Financial Times:

“Heartfelt, ambitious, and dynamic. Fantastic stuff.”

From the Independent:

“Imagine that Diana Wynne Jones, Douglas Coupland and Neil Gaiman walk into a bar and through some weird fusion of magic and science have a baby. That offspring is Charlie Jane Anders’ lyrical debut novel All the Birds in the Sky.”

From the Mail on Sunday

“Highly readable and imaginative, All the Birds in the Sky will sing to Philip Pullman fans.”

From Buzzfeed:

“An entertaining and audacious melding of science, magic, and just plain real life that feels perfectly right for our time.”

From Elizabeth Hand, Los Angeles Times:

“Like the work of other 21st century writers―Kelly Link and Lev Grossman come immediately to mind―All the Birds in the Sky serves as both a celebration of and corrective to the standard tropes of genre fiction. [...] Like William Gibson, Anders weaves a thrilling, seat-of-the-pants narrative with a compelling subtext.”

From Karen Joy Fowler:

“Two crazy kids, one gifted in science, the other in magic, meet as children, part and meet again over many years. Will they find love? Will they save the world? Or will they destroy it and everyone in it? Read Anders lively, wacky, sexy, scary, weird and wonderful book to find the answers.”

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

“Impossibly hip fiction with the voice and cultural inflections of the millennials… Often quirky and amusing but rising to encompass a moral seriousness and poignancy…an engaging book.”

Praise for Six Months, Three Days, Five Others:

The title story, “Six Months, Three Days” is the winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and was nominated for the 2011 Nebula Award and 2011 Theodore Sturgeon Award.

From Rachel Swirsky, Locus:

“Charlie Jane Anders is ridiculously brilliant.”



We’re thrilled to be publishing Rock Manning Goes for Broke, a major new novella by Charlie Jane Anders, whose first novel, All the Birds in the Sky,won the Nebula, Locus, and Crawford awards, and was on Time Magazine’slist of the 10 best novels of 2016. Our own Gwenda Bond caught up with Anders for an exclusive interview about what’s shaping up to be one of our most acclaimed titles this year.

Gwenda Bond: I know this novella has an interesting tale of how it came to be. Can you tell me a little about the genesis of this story—where did it come from and how did it develop? 

Charlie Jane Anders: Rock Manning actually started its life as a novel, back during the George W. Bush era. We were invading Iraq and there was all sorts of stuff going on that was freaking me out, and I wanted to try to write about it in my fiction. And meanwhile, I was interested in trying to take my comedy as far as I could—not just in terms of being funny, but in terms of weirdness and extremeness. I was interested in physical comedy and mayhem and those moments when something is funny, until it suddenly isn’t. I was trying to get this book published in the late 2000s, and couldn’t get anyone interested. But then in 2013-ish, John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey were editing a trio of anthologies that were pre-apocalyptic, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic, and I was able to cut the novel down to three installments of around 7000 words each. More recently, I decided to try revising the 21,000-word version one more time, to see if it could become a standalone project. (And I’m so glad it did!) Cutting out a lot of random subplots and weird side trips from the full-length novel definitely went a long way towards making it more readable, I think. It’s a much stronger book at 22,000 words than it was at 70,000. 

GB: Rock and Sally are both such great characters. Did they come to you fully fleshed out or how did you develop them? I’m curious about Rock’s influences like Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan—do you share his love of slapstick comedy?

CJA: I feel like Rock and Sally developed slowly, over time, while I was writing different versions of their story in the Bush era. But some aspects of them were there all along, chiefly Rock’s love of slapstick and intense over-the-top set pieces. And yes! I have always loved slapstick comedy, partly because I’m a very clumsy person who breaks everything I touch. Pratfalls are basically my life, so I kind of identify with slapstick characters. While I was working on this book, I got a big boxset of Harold Lloyd movies, which I highly supermassively recommend. They are incredible films that hold up to this day, plus you get a beautiful view of Los Angeles from almost 100 years ago, with streetcars everywhere. And I’ve been a huge Jackie Chan fiend forever, since I was living in Hong Kong and my local theater was constantly showing his films.

GB: The line between slapstick and violence can be so fine and Rock Manning Goes for Broke definitely explores that. Can you speak to the themes about violence and extremity here?

CJA: The line between slapstick and “real” violence is razor thin and it’s partly a matter of perception. I’m tempted to quote that oft-quoted Mel Brooks line, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.” But I feel like it’s more complicated than just “if it happens to someone else, it’s funny.” Slapstick comedy is also usually bloodless and cartoony, or so over-the-top you can’t take it seriously. And even if you know Jackie Chan is breaking every bone in his body, he looks so cute doing it. But like I said above, I’m interested in the moment where something goes from being “screamingly funny” to “straight-up horrifying.” I do think we have a capacity, as human beings, to witness horrific violence and feel no empathy for the victim, as we’ve seen over and over again with state violence against marginalized people. I want to try and figure out just what separates “funny” violence from terrible violence, because I don’t think it has a simple answer.

GB: There’s so much weird, wonderful absurdism going on, but at the same time it’s such a poignant book—I particularly loved the way Rock Manning explores the importance of making art in chaotic times. This story feels very timely and relevant to our current climate. I’m curious...did it feel that way when you were writing it? Have you had any new insights on this?

CJA: Part of why I decided to get my butt in gear and turn this novella into a book (after it was serialized in those Adams/Howey anthologies) was because the backdrop suddenly started feeling more relevant. Part of the book’s exploration of violence comes in the form of the rise of a new fascist movement, the Red Bandanas, whose followers end up marching into major cities all over the U.S. and imposing a kind of mob rule crossed with martial law. Plus the book is full of nebulous fearmongering about the Pan-Asiatic Ecumen, a boogeyman that may or may not even exist, but which provides a pretext for an endless series of futile and destructive wars. In our new era of extreme fearmongering, scapegoating and violent rhetoric, with so many fringe ideologies slithering into the mainstream, this dark vision of the future started to feel way too plausible.

GB: Last but not least, tell us what’s next from you?

CJA: Thanks for asking! My second novel from Tor,The City in the Middle of the Night, comes out Feb. 12, 2019. It’s the story a girl named Sophie who gets banished into permanent darkness, and she only survives by learning to communicate with the creatures that live there. I have been fascinated by tidally locked planets (where the sun never rises or sets) forever, and I spent way too much time thinking about what it would be like to live in such a place, caught between a boiling-hot day side and a frozen night side. And then, I’m hard at work on a young-adult space opera (as yet untitled) for Tor, which I’m hoping comes out sometime in late 2019 or 2020. And I’m dying to write some more novellas as well!


Rock Manning Goes for Broke (excerpt)

Break! Break! Break!

Earliest I remember, Daddy threw me off the roof of our split-level house. “Boy’s gotta learn to fall sometime,” he told my mom just before he slung my pants seat and let go. As I dropped, Dad called out instructions, but they tangled in my ears. I was four or five. My brother caught me one-handed, gave me a spank, and dropped me on the lawn. Then up to the roof for another go round, with my body more slack this time.

From my dad, I learned there were just two kinds of bodies: falling, and falling on fire.

My dad was a stuntman with a left-field resemblance to an actor named Jared Gilmore who’d been in some TV show before I was born, and he’d gotten it in his head Jared was going to be the next big action movie star. My father wanted to be Jared’s personal stunt double and “prosthetic acting device,” but Jared never responded to the letters, emails and Web sites, and Dad got a smidge persistent, which led to some restraining orders and blacklisting. Now he was stuck in the boonies doing stunts for TV movies about people who survive accidents. My mama did data entry to cover the rest of the rent. My dad was determined that my brother Holman and I would know the difference between a real and a fake punch, and how to roll with either kind.

My life was pretty boring until I went to school. School was so great! Slippery just-waxed hallways, dodgeball, sandboxplosions, bullies with big elbows, food fights! Food fights! If I could have gone to school for twenty hours a day, I would have signed up. No, twenty-three! I only ever really needed one hour of sleep per day. I didn’t know who I was and why I was here until I went to school. And did I mention authority figures? School had authority figures! It was so great!

I love authority figures. I never get tired of pulling when they push, or pushing when they pull. In school, grown-ups were always telling me to write on the board, and then I’d fall down or drop the eraser down my pants by mistake, or misunderstand and knock over a pile of giant molecules. Erasers are comedy gold! I was kind of a hyper kid. They tried giving me ritalin ritalin ritalin ritalin riiiitaliiiiin, but I was one of the kids who only gets more hyper hyper on that stuff. Falling, in the seconds between up and down, you know what’s going on. People say something is as easy as falling off a log, but really it’s easy to fall off anything. Really, try it. Falling rules!

Bullies learned there was no point in trying to fuck me up, because I would fuck myself up faster than they could keep up with. They tried to trip me up in the hallways, and it was just an excuse for a massive set piece involving mops, stray book bags, audio/video carts and skateboards. Limbs flailing, up and down trading places, ten fingers of mayhem. Crude stuff. I barely had a sense of composition. Every night until three a.m., I sucked up another stack of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd or Jackie Chan movies on the ancient laptop my parents didn’t know I had, under my quilt. Safety Last!

Ricky Artesian took me as a personal challenge. A huge guy with a beachball jaw—he put a kid in the hospital for a month in fifth grade for saying anybody who didn’t ace this one chemistry quiz had to be a dipshit. Some time after that, Ricky stepped to me with a Sharpie in the locker room and slashed at my arms and ribcage, marking the bones he wanted to break. Then he walked away, leaving the whole school whispering, “Ricky Sharpied Rock Manning!” I hid when I didn’t have class, and when school ended, I ran home three miles to avoid the bus. I figured Ricky would try to get me in an enclosed space where I couldn’t duck and weave, so I stayed wide open. If I needed the toilet, I swung into the stall through a ventilator shaft and got out the same way, so nobody saw me enter or leave. The whole time in the airshaft, my heart cascaded. This went on for months, and my whole life became not letting Ricky Artesian mangle me. One day I got careless and went out to the playground with the other kids during recess, because some teacher was looking. I tried to watch for trouble, but a giant hand swooped down from the swingset and hauled me up. I dangled a moment, then the hand let me fall onto the sand. I fell on my back and started to get up, then Ricky told me not to move. For some reason, I did what he said, even though I saw twenty-seven easy ways out of that jungle-gym cage, and then Ricky stood over me. He told me again to hold still, then brought down one boot on the long bone of my upper arm, a clean snap, my reward for staying put. “Finally got that kid to quit hopping,” I heard him say as he walked across the playground. Once my arm healed up, I became a crazy frog again, and Ricky didn’t bother me.

Apart from that one stretch, my social life at school was ideal. People cheered for me but never tried to talk to me—it was the best of human interaction without any of the pitfalls. Ostracism, adulation: flipsides! They freed me to orchestrate gang wars and alien invasions in my head, whenever I didn’t have so many eyes on me. Years passed, my mom tried to get me into dance classes, my dad struggled to get me to take falling down seriously as a noble struggle with gravity, the way my big brother did. Holman was spending every waking moment prepping for the Army, which was his own more socially acceptable way of rebelling against Dad.

Carolyn Nowak
Charlie Jane Anders
Deluxe Limited
United States