The basic premise is that Palimpsest*, a fantastic city not unlike New Crobuzon, can only be entered from this world by having sex with someone who’s already been there. (There is an in-book explanation, which may or may not be true, for how the ball got rolling. So to speak.) Those who have been there get imprinted, on a random location of their body, with what appears to be a nasty black melanomic tattoo but is in fact a map of a small part of the city, complete with tiny street names and such. Afterwards, whenever that person dreams, they return to Palimpsest, but can only visit the neighborhood represented by their “tattoo” — unless they find and sleep with another person who has been to the city and has a different map on their body, in which case they each can visit the other’s neighborhood. Everyone (well, almost everyone) who goes to the city wants to go back, so obsessive behavior ensues.
Why doesn’t everyone want to go back to Palimpsest? Well, there are parts of the city that are not so nice, such as a disturbing graveyard full of bamboo stalks with distorted corpses inside. And the people who were actually born there, and live there full time, don’t always care much for the “immigrants” who show up nightly, wander around for a while, and then disappear. There’s plenty of discrimination, roving (but as yet unseen) squads of anti-immigrant vigilantes, and lots of darkly ominous talk of a war that was fought over this very issue in the recent past. How recent? Recent enough that there are still plenty of veterans and victims of the violence around, many of whom have been kept alive by having animal parts inexpertly grafted onto their body. Like this poor fellow:
He is not really a rabbit. But he is not a man in a suit either. He is more like a very sad-looking man who has had bits of rabbit attached to him by someone who was not particularly good at it.
So evidently this is not Frank, the man in the rabbit suit from “Donnie Darko“:
Oh, and if you die in Palimpsest, or are otherwise injured, that carries over into the real world when you wake up. Or when you don’t.
Speaking of people who would like to wake up into the real world, or at least out of where they are now, I’m about halfway through what will (I hope) be the last editing pass through Television Man. After this, the next pass will just be to hunt for typos, and then it’ll finally be time to prep the actual book.
The creatures had formed into a pair of lines, about two arm’s-widths apart, creating a straight path between the statue and a pile of rags. They had their claws raised, ready to strike and slash. It looked like someone was going to be running a nasty gauntlet. Given that Myra occupied the rag pile at the end of the aisle, he figured she must be the intended player. From the oh shit expression on her face, she knew it too.
Incidentally, if anyone’s interested in listening to the Talking Heads song that gave Television Man its name, check it out below:
*I have yet to figure out if the city is literally a palimpsest or not.