Fried's debut explores issues likely to affect everyone—and pokes predatory capitalism with a sharp stick, attracting readers of darkly absurd science fiction à la Philip K. Dick, Charlie Jane Anders, and Warren Ellis.
The obnoxious antics of artificial intelligence OWEN, who finds both children and seniors suspicious, and who spends much of his time figuring out how to replicate the sensation of becoming drunk, contrast brilliantly against the serious Henry, a man with few friends and a love of trains and transit, whose main personality trait is dedication to his work. Fried’s skill at making their friendship so dynamic, mismatched, and often ridiculous is what makes this novel so effective—OWEN and Henry’s quest to defeat an evil genius becomes a touching and funny caper that keeps the reader intrigued through the final pages. Meanwhile, in the background floats a quiet debate about the modern city. Fried gestures to city-planning thinkers such as Ebenezer Howard and Jane Jacobs, revealing his careful research and thought into the ways that targeted infrastructure and funding can encourage neglect and gentrification.
Immediately one sees parallels with Isaac Asimov’s 1953 classic The Caves of Steel, in which the detective hero was partnered with a robot. OWEN, however, is not at all like Asimov’s deferential R. Daneel Olivaw. He’s an AI with attitude, quick to point out that his human partner is just 'a bipedal ape with high manual dexterity,' whose brain is remarkable only because he grew it himself ... The clashes between OWEN and Henry, between Suitland and Metropolis, turn into a conflict of philosophies, in which the right side is never clear. AIs are good at helping, in unexpected and sometimes comic ways, but in the end a city has to be 'organized around human relationships.' The Municipalists is a new and irreverent take on both real-world politics and sci-fi history.