Greetings, Voyagers! We’re so excited to share the captivating cover of Christopher Brown’s second novel, RULE OF CAPTURE, which goes on sale on August 13, 2019. Better Call Saul meets Nineteen Eighty-Four in this first volume in an explosive legal thriller series set in the world of Tropic of Kansas—a finalist for the 2018 Campbell Award for best science fiction novel of the year!
Scroll down to read Christopher’s thoughts on this awesome cover, and learn more about this book!
Rule of Capture: The Cover Story
by Christopher Brown
What, you may be wondering, is a dystopian legal thriller?
“It’s like Better Call Saul meets Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the elevator pitch version of the answer. (Or, as Harper Voyager Editorial Director David Pomerico suggests, “think Margaret Atwood meets John Grisham.”)
This awesome cover for Rule of Capture, designed by the talented Owen Corrigan, is the visual answer—a design that works on a bunch of different levels to let you know what kind of story is inside. An important task for a book that is trying to do something totally new, remixing elements of several genres in an effort to write a story that’s unlike anything you’ve read before but still riffs familiar narrative chords.
Owen’s design tells you what’s inside the story by showing you the outside: the courthouse in which the fate of the characters—and of the society in which they live—is determined.
The image of the courthouse appears on the cover of many legal thrillers, but usually as the symbol of justice—the place where the imbalances of power in our society are corrected by impartial and independent judges, and by juries who represent the leveling urges of a democratic society. This courthouse is different.
Rule of Capture is the story of people caught in the traps of a legal system that has become the tool of oppression instead of justice, in an America drifting into flag-waving totalitarianism after defeat in a war with China and years of destabilizing climate change. Donny Kimoe is a burnt out lawyer who pays the bills defending political dissidents in a court where the rules are rigged and the most likely outcomes are death or deportation—even if you were born here. One of those clients is Xelina Rocafuerte, a young journalist who finds herself tried as a terrorist after she witnesses the assassination of an opposition politician. When distracted Donny bungles Xelina’s initial hearing, she is sent to the mysterious new prison camp the government is building to house the so-called insurgents it has begun rounding up. To save her, and redeem himself, Donny has to figure out a way to extract justice from martial law—which means breaking the rules, and risking the same fate as his clients.
The legal system embodied in this courthouse is one I invented. But it’s based on actual precedents, reflecting my belief that the best speculative fiction puts a fun-house mirror up to the real world and shows its true face in a way more conventional modes of realism cannot. There’s a refugee crisis straining the America of the book, but the refugees are domestic—people fleeing the drought-ridden Midwest for Texas, only to find the border between the states has been closed at the Red River. The insurgents the government is fighting are young Americans angry about the blighted environmental future they have been bequeathed. Martial law has been imposed to control a rowdy population, in the same way it often was before World War Two. The proceedings used to lock the insurgents up are based on the military tribunals operating right now at Guantanamo Bay, with roots all the way back to the Civil War. And in the background, the Presidential election is being stolen—in a way that would be totally legal under our current constitutional system.
The courthouse is an ideal prism for a story that tries to show the dark forces behind everyday institutions. In the last play of The Oresteia, Aeschylus shows how the courthouse channels the most primal currents of storytelling, ending his trilogy by having Athena trap the deified spirits of human revenge in the temple to power the original hall of justice. Rule of Capture tries to do something similar, by exploring the ways the American legal system sometimes legitimizes injustice—the black robe that cloaks the exercise of raw power, a mass democracy that benefits the few, a system of property rights founded on theft, conquest and the destruction of nature. It’s a way of examining some of the immanent struggles of our contemporary lives, in a laboratory where no real people get hurt, with a goal of finding the path to a more hopeful future (I promise the next book will be set in utopia, or as close to that as I can conjure).
Plus, it’s funny! Or at least that’s the intent. Because, as any lawyer knows, the idea of gallows humor works best when you have actual gallows. Even better when the future of the whole society is on the block.
Last call at the end of the world, and Donny is buying.
The basic idea of a dystopian courthouse as the central image for the cover came from editor David Pomerico, who also gets credit for seeing the potential of the story concept. Making that into a compelling cover is a much more challenging task. It needs to do more than just convey that narrative. It needs to work as a visual composition, maintain the right balance between figurative and abstract, between sf and thriller, between genre and literary. It needs to scare you and invite you in at the same time. It needs to work in conversation with the equally amazing cover Owen designed for Tropic of Kansas, since it’s set in the same world and functions as a kind of prequel to that book (which I’m proud to say was a finalist for the 2018 John W. Campbell Award for best science fiction novel). And it needs to set up for next year’s book featuring the same lawyerly antihero—this time defending people in front of the trials held by the revolutionaries after they win.
Fortunately, in Owen Corrigan we have an incredibly talented designer to work on all three covers. His composition is as strong as those pillars, working with a lot more elements than one might notice at first glance. He tells an imaginative story while grounding it in realism—including some reference images of very real courthouses behind barricades we found while developing this. He cleverly wraps the last word of the title in that barbed wire in a way that evokes meaning. And in maybe the most ingenious touch, he uses bits of rust on the corrugated metal panels in the foreground to foreshadow more subtle parts of the story, and reflect the way this is also a story about deep ecology and resurgent nature.
I feel tremendously lucky to be able to write this story, and to have it wrapped in such a powerfully-designed package. I hope you find it compelling enough to check it out. It’s now available for preorder. If you want a taste of what’s inside, here’s a video of me reading a short excerpt last summer, one that has since been revised, but still conveys the voice of the book pretty well. And if you can’t wait, pick up a copy of Tropic of Kansas and keep an eye out for the billboard where our dystopian lawyer first appears.
Christopher Brown is the author of TROPIC OF KANSAS, a finalist for the 2018 John W. Campbell Award for best science fiction novel of the year. His new novel RULE OF CAPTURE, the beginning of a series of speculative legal thrillers, is forthcoming from Harper Voyager in 2019. He was a World Fantasy Award nominee for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. He lives in Austin, Texas, where he also practices law.
ABOUT RULE OF CAPTURE
Defeated in a devastating war with China and ravaged by climate change, America is on the brink of a bloody civil war. Seizing power after a controversial election, the ruling regime has begun cracking down on dissidents fighting the nation’s slide toward dictatorship. For Donny Kimoe, chaos is good for business. He’s a lawyer who makes his living defending enemies of the state.His newest client, young filmmaker Xelina Rocafuerte, witnessed the murder of an opposition leader and is now accused of terrorism. To save her from the only sentence worse than death, Donny has to extract justice from a system that has abandoned the rule of law. That means breaking the rules—and risking the same fate as his clients.
When Donny bungles Xelina’s initial hearing, he has only days to save the young woman from being transferred to a detention camp from which no one returns. His only chance of winning is to find the truth—a search that begins with the opposition leader’s death and leads to a dark conspiracy reaching the highest echelons of power.
Now, Donny isn’t just fighting for his client’s life—he’s battling for his own. But as the trial in the top secret court begins, Xelina’s friends set into motion a revolutionary response that could destroy the case. And when another case unexpectedly collides with Xelina’s, Donny uncovers even more devastating secrets, knowledge that will force him to choose between saving one client . . . or the future of the entire country.
RULE OF CAPTURE goes on-sale 8/13/19. Click the links below to pre-order and read more about the book. And be sure to let us know what you think of the cover in the comments!