Galley Club: Famous Men Who Never Lived

K Chess

At the beginning of the year, Tin House invited a few early readers through a portal and across universes for a sneak peek at K Chess’s debut, Famous Men Who Never LivedIt’s been featured by the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog, The AV Club and The Verge; The Millions called it a “story about immigration wrapped inside a post-apocalyptic fable . . . that also manages to be a meditation on art, fate, trauma, and loss”; and Foreword declared it “an awesome and humbling literary achievement”. 

To escape the outbreak of nuclear war in an alternate United States, Hel and her partner Vikram go through a portal and find themselves living as unwelcome refugees in our world. To Hel, New York City is both reassuringly familiar and terribly wrong; the slang and technology are foreign to her; and while Vikram tries to assimilate, Hel instead sets out to commemorate the world she had to leave behind, and to preserve artifacts and memories of her vanished culture. Her attention focuses on The Pyronauts, a sci-fi masterwork from her old world which never existed in ours, and when the only copy of the book goes missing, Hel must decide how far she is willing to go to recover it and reckon with how much she has lost. 

Curious yet? Take a peek at our early readers’ thoughts below.

Do you have a favorite line from Famous Men Who Never Lived?

  • “I have to behave myself. Behave the way they expect me to. I have to be unfailingly polite, dignified-maintain that image. I can only be angry at specially chosen times, and only in response to egregious injustices against my people. I have to, or I’ll give it all away.”
  • “…but I can’t go there knowing the city itself is gone. How I miss that empty, nothing place, my home. And that feeling after I left it all through the blue, that long backward glance.”
  • “And outlaws never compromise?” “If they do, what’s the point of being an outlaw?”
  • “The possibilities stretch into eternity, for all of us. It is dizzying.”
  • “We humans tend to see whatever befalls us as our fate. We perceive good things and bad things alike as happening in just the way they are meant to. To teach us lessons, maybe. To make us into the women and men we ought to become. If one lives to be old––as I have––it’s terrifying to imagine the infinite slew of choices made over the course of a lifetime. Different events. Different luck.”
  • “If you closed your eyes, the world stayed right where it was. Looking back at you. Searching you out.”
  • “He was a sinner, too weak to have survived–or was it his very weakness that had preserved him? that was what John Gund thought to himself just then. Or something along those lines; Hel couldn’t quite remember the terms he’d used to berate himself. He was too late. He’d made himself too late. Hel had to read it again, to know the rest for sure.”
  • “In this life, each of us must find a single thing that we think is worthwhile and do it faithfully.”
  • “Work like The Pyronauts, ill bound between paper covers and sold for dimes to people who didn’t know better, to dreamers and newcomers, paupers and children. Work like that explored realms of possibility, Vikram thought; not what was past and could not be undone, but an improbable future from which humanity was obliged to try to learn. Not that which seemed most likely to happen, but that which could teach readers the most about themselves.”
  • “He thought about all the things he knew about, all the minutiae he would take to his grave.”
  • “There was no mercy, she realized, floating outside herself. There could be no kindness for its own sake.”
  • “From the right distance, all movement looked like fate.”

If you liked Famous Men Who Never Lived, you’ll also like ____.

  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • The End We Start From by Megan Hunter
  • Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
  • Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  • Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  • Tell The Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
  • Blackfish City by Sam J Miller
  • Sea Oak by George Saunders
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo

Thanks to our wonderful Galley Club members for exploring Famous Men Who Never Lived with us. Interested in being part of Galley Club? We’ll announce the next Galley Club for Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things on social media in a few short weeks, with instructions on how to enter.

Infographics by Jakob Vala.