'Culture's Skeleton' Imagines Life in First Human City (Exclusive Excerpt)

Adam P. Knave's novel about people adrift in both time and space is available Oct. 15.
Valentine Barker/Creative Guy Publishing

Prepare to visit the most city of all cities — the first human city, adrift in both time and space and filled with people from all walks of life, from musicians to con artists and back again, going about their daily business, as impossible and unlikely as it may seem. The city is called Mur, and it’s at the heart of an upcoming novel by Adam P. Knave called Culture’s Skeleton. The Hollywood Reporter has an exclusive excerpt of the title ahead of its release next week.

Culture's Skeleton is about cities, first and foremost, but by that I mean it's about people and the bonds between them and their chosen home,” Knave — known for his comic book work on Amelia Cole at IDW and The Once and Future Queen at Dark Horse — told THR.

“The novel is also about music, crime, hope, love, kindness, and accepting strangeness into your life while you decide what your life, and love, is worth. Which makes everything sound very simple, I'm sure,” he continued. “Except the city in question, Mur, is adrift in time and space, so it can be gotten to by any door in any time on Earth. Mur's the concept of a city, a mass of differences coming together, taken to an extreme. There are also forces at play here, needed beings of power to keep a city this impossible running. Because if you can't find a use for The Cat With No Face and The Grandmother of Keys, you're simply doing it wrong.”

Introducing the following excerpt from the upcoming book, published by Creative Guy Publishing, Knave said, “The book is, in some sense, three novels: Mur (the city and its history), Jake and Casey (he's a con man, she's an ex-Combat Musician, they're in love), and small stories of other people who live in Mur scattered throughout. They all intertwine, of course, but any excerpt would, by necessity, be only one slice of one edge of the book.

“Still, thinking that through, it made sense to focus on Jake and Casey. They're the soul of the book. You need to care about them, and they needed to be actual people. Which, drawing from my own life and my friends and past, meant they had to be kind, yet ridiculous, not afraid to have an actual discussion, but not quite comfortable enough in themselves to always say what they mean. So this is Jake and Casey at brunch, because their relationship is, for me, the center that the book revolves around.”

Culture’s Skeleton will be released Oct. 15. Read on for the hand-picked peek into life on Mur:

The Square didn't actually serve brunch so much as it served everything all the time. That played into Jake and Casey's platonic ideal of brunch: ordering random mixes of breakfast and lunch items like children demanding cereal and spaghetti for dinner.

"What's the plan?" Casey asked as she unslung the thin crossbody bag she wore, putting it between her knees. The top of the bag remained unzipped, and the head of a small, electric travel guitar peeked out.

Casey hated to leave home without an instrument on her, specifically the travel guitar, if possible. Realistically a metal stick with six strings, frets, and some tuners along one side, she'd plugged a wireless transmitter into the jack, paired to a small travel amp hooked to her belt. Jake used to ask, he used to insist she wouldn't need it and that she almost never actually touched it when they went out, but he stopped after a few protests, figuring the guitar worked as her security blanket. As they got closer, he discovered the real reason behind the habit and still categorized it as mostly security blanket — just a very strange and theoretically deadly one.

"The plan?" Jake asked, shifting all of his cutlery slightly until the arrangement pleased him. "The plan is to eat brunch."

"I mean after that," Casey said, adjusting the amp on her belt so it didn't knock into the side of her chair.

"Pay the bill?" Jake asked, smirking.

"All right, jerkbutt," Casey said, sprinkling it with laughter, "you know exactly what I mean. I have a show later, you have a thing—"

"Work," Jake corrected.

"Yeah, a thing, like I said," Casey agreed, smiling, "but that leaves a lot of day. I was just thinking, we could go see a new couch maybe."

"Do we need a new couch?"

"Don't we?"

"We could replace the couch with something better than a couch, is all I mean," Jake said, looking over at the waiter who'd appeared seemingly out of nowhere (but really just out of the back the way waiters normally did).

They ordered without looking at menus, and thanked their waiter, before returning to the matter at couch-like hands. Not that couches have hands. Well, sure, all right, some do, and Jake thought that if he found a couch that had arms that looked like arms, with hands at the end, he might be into that particular couch, but otherwise a couch was just a cushiony butt-bench and a place to feel bad about accidentally napping and he could take them or leave them.

"What would be better than a new couch to replace the horrible thing we have now?" Casey asked.

"A daybed, maybe," Jake said. He sipped at his water and reached down to twitch the placement of his fork again.

"A daybed is just a couch without a back," Casey pointed out.

"Right, but that would open the room up."

"And be annoying for sitting on – no way to lean back. How about we just get a really nice couch?"

Jake shrugged. "We can do that, too. I just think there are other options."

"Such as couches that are missing part of their couchness," Casey said, nodding.

"Or a few armchairs, instead of one big couch," Jake offered.

Their food showed up: eggs, sunny-side up, a cup of tomato soup, and a salad for Jake; pancakes and chicken wings for Casey. They started to eat, Jake crumbling crackers into his soup. They ate in silence for a while and then started to snicker and laugh as they snarked at people walking by outside.

"Oh, see," Casey said, using a wing bone stripped of all meat to point at a man walking by outside before dropping it onto a side plate, "that guy isn't a native. He's been here maybe two years?"

"Hey now," Jake said, laughing, "careful casting stones, newbie."

"I've been here five years," Casey protested, "I'm a native, now, retroactively."

"Are you, though?" Jake asked. "I mean a native is someone born here. You weren't. So…"

"So even when I'm eighty, I won't be a native?"

"Technically, no," Jake said, swallowing some salad. "That's just not how it works."

"I don't see why not," Casey said, "I mean, I know the city, I live here – I love it here, in fact."

"But you weren't born here," Jake pointed out.

"Better, I choose to stay here," Casey said, raising an eyebrow. "Or is that not better?"

"I think it's terrific," Jake said, "but it still doesn't make you a native."

"See, it's that sort of attitude that makes people feel like people born here are just smug."

"We're not just smug, and you know it. We're also occasionally rude and pretentious."

Casey sighed. "I'm serious, though. I can feel the city in my bones as well as you can, at this point.”