In an alternate reality a lot like our world, every person’s physical size is directly proportional to their wealth. The poorest of the poor are the size of rats, and billionaires are the size of skyscrapers.
Warner and his sister Prayer are destitute—and tiny. Their size is not just demeaning, but dangerous: day and night they face mortal dangers that bigger richer people don’t ever have to think about, from being mauled by cats to their house getting stepped on. There are no cars or phones built small enough for them, or schools or hospitals, for that matter—there’s no point, when no one that little has any purchasing power, and when salaried doctors and teachers would never fit in buildings so small. Warner and Prayer know their only hope is to scale up, but how can two littlepoors survive in a world built against them?
A brilliant, warm, funny trip, unlike anything else out there, Jesse Andrews’ Munmun is a social novel for our time in the tradition of 1984 or Invisible Man. Available April 3rd from Amulet Books.
So it was a crap jerk peen move to take Usher’s idea of a perfect date with Prayer and instead create it for random lawstudents. But that’s what I did. Because look, that was the whole reason we left the beach and traveled to stupid law school in the first place.
Here’s what I did. I dreamed a family of moons, lemony glowing moons the size of a car or boat, each with a tackedon ropenet hammock swaying underneath, and I floated in one hammock under one moon and Prayer floated in another, and hers swooped down dreamyslow to the windows of the lecturehall.
Lecturehall was where lawstudents dreamed themselves a lot of the time, super bored or anxious, sometimes also naked. So she picked one named Glen. He was thin and quiet and not super mean, and he stepped out the window and into the hammock, and up up up the moons all drifted into the Lossy Indica nightsky.
It’s not so hard to fly in dreams. The hard part is seeing anything faraway. The higher you get the harder it is, the more details you need to dream. So basically I was dreaming super hard to make the whole glittering city visible from cloudheight, all the streets parks suburbs slums, all the scales of house and street. All of Lossy Indica. Dockseye, Sentrow, Sandy Barb, Sacrament, Laura Cannon, Wet Almanac, Eat Almanac, the Dreamoughs.
I even tried to dream the bigrich palacezone of Balustrade, on the coast up to the north, I’ve seen the enormous freaking houses from newsvids so I just planted a few on the beach with a couple rich giants rambling around.
It was a lot but I did okay and when I drifted over to Prayer’s moon, invisibling myself, it did actually sound like she was having her first real convo with a lawstudent that wasn’t just the game of Humiliate Prayer With The Power Of Lawarguments.
“So, I see you around sometimes and I do wonder about you, ofcourse, like where you even came from,” I heard Glen say.
“Well I lived by the beach for a year, right dowwwwwwn there, if you can see it, but I left because I wanted to meet more educated people,” I heard Prayer say, and I dreamed the beach glowing a pulse like hereIam, I’m the beach where Prayer lived.
“You’re full of surprises, I have to tell you,” I heard Glen say. “What I wonder is if you can surprise me,” I heard Prayer say, and that’s when I got out of there.
Obviously Glen didn’t know that it was my dreaming, not Prayer’s. He didn’t even know I was there. But someone else from law school did.
His name was Chess and he had stowawayed in another moonhammock, and as my moon drifted close to his, he caught me looking down and dreaming out some mountainsides.
“Aha, are you the one dreaming this magnificent view,” he said all low and frummy.
“Oh,” I said. “Uh, no. It’s my sis Prayer.”
“Oh,” he said. “You’re just tagging along.”
That was an infuriating thing to agree to so I said, “Well, look. We’re splitting the dream halfandhalf. Half me, half her.”
“Wow, you two must be quite close if you can dream in tandumb like that,” he said.
“Okay fine, it’s a hundredpercent me, zeropercent her,” I said, because lying in Dreamworld makes you heartsick. “But don’t tell Glen or anyone because, being totally honest with you, everyone at law school has been a peen to her until prettymuch this exact moment.”
“I won’t tell anyone, just keep giving me this view,” said Chess, swimming his fingers through it.
* * *
Everynight for weeks I dreamed up a new kind of floaty skyvehicle and Prayer took a date swooping up into the night to gaze down at the winking city, not just with Glen, also with Ken, Will, Berry, Fill, Harry. Because at night here’s what happens. Each guy opens up and gets less mean, tells her stories, asks her questions, gives her compliments, but the next day that stupid guy still doesn’t want to be seen in an embarrassing Lifeanddeathworld convo with tiny cantread homeless Prayer, so the next night she gets frustrated and tries a different guy, or goes back to a guy from a few nights ago, hoping he misses her, and surprise surprise, he does, but only at night, and in the day again he won’t.
Meanwhile this guy Chess kept hanging out with me. A night or two later I asked him why he kept chilling with me.
“Because I enjoy your dreams, ofcourse,” he said.
“Why,” I said.
“They’re just very rich,” he said. “Very different from anyone else’s.”
“Huh,” I said.
“Believe me, they’d have to be pretty remarkable to get me to spend this much time with a fourteenyearold boy,” he said.
“What does that mean,” I said.
“You’re not the most gifted or intresting conversational partner,” he said.
“Neither are you,” I said, hopefully hurtfully.
“I actually am,” he said.
Anyway I got better and faster at dreaming the skyview of Lossy Indica, and I added extra dreamstuff for me and Chess to enjoy. Nightfish, starbirds, moonbats. Fireworks blushing up at us from below. Clouds made spooky by lights inside, tiny wildfires and fireflies, bright wires like lightbulb linings. Faint faraway fields of moss and flowers as big as half of everything, out behind the stars.
I had to keep the extra dreamstuff away from Prayer’s part of the sky because she kept saying, hey, these extra crazy things are not helpfull to my date, in the sense of, they are super distracting and also I have to explain to a guy, here’s why I chose this specific moment to dream a string of golden murmuring butterflybats.
I got to enjoy Chess being there, it was nice to have a fan.
“The best yet,” he said everynight. “Wow. Delightfull. Amazing. Sumpchewus. You’re a prodedgy.”
“I’m okay,” I said. “I’m surprised at how no one is as good as me at dreaming stuff, because it’s not that hard.”
“Okay,” he said. “I know you wanted to sound humble with that, but that actually wasn’t humble at all.”
“I’m just being honest,” I said.
* * *
For lunch that day, Chess found me on a table and let me eat a corner of his lunch.
“You know, I ﬁnd myself wondering what you do with yourself all day,” he asked me.
“Runs, climbs, pushandpullups,” I said.
“All day?” he asked, like this was insane, which, okay, it was insane.
But I didn’t want to describe to him the usual scummy littlepoor routine of spy around for crap to steal and use, hustle for munmun opportunities, eat scraps and sneak water, et set set setera, so I lied.
“I’m teaching myself to read,” I told him.
“How,” he said.
“How,” I repeated.
“Yes,” he said.
“I guess I’m still ﬁguring that part out,” I said. He got a funny look on his face.
“Warner, I want to do something for you,” he said.
“That is great news,” I said.
So that day Chess tucked me into his cool smooth leatherbag that smelled like woodﬁre and wisky, and he picked up Usher too, and he took me back to his apartment, so we could teach ourselves things with some magical middlerich tech.
His bed was eighty silk pillows, his water lived in crystal barrels soaking limewedges and mintleaves, his toilet was an ivory bathtub in a vault of candles. Walls were tapestried with screens and fabrics, soft to touch, rippling paisleys and murmuring news.
Chess was doublescale middlerich, twice middlescale, twentytimes Warner Scale.
“My banker says I could be twoandahalf but I think it’s a little tacky to be as big as you could be,” he explained to us, pulling down some tablets. He set my tablet up with some vids of, YEWESS NATIONAL WAR ON ADULT ILLITERACY, LEARN HOW TO READ.
Usher burrowed furiously into his tablet and in seconds had lined up a queue of a dozen vids.
And Chess left for his classes and we spent the day watching vids, me doing LEARN HOW TO READ and Usher doing his own education with chemistry, history, any free and not too janky vids he could ﬁnd.
And the next day, Prayer came too, infact for the rest of the week, all three of us commuted to Chess’s house, getting some tablet educations in exchange for delightfull amazing sumpchewus dreamstuff.
* * *
Learning to read at age fourteen is not so easy. You put letters in your head but it’s like collecting ants in a cup. Sure, you can ﬁnd some ants, you can drop them in the cup, but while you’re getting more ants the old ones climb out and scatter.
But after four days, me and Prayer had learned some tricks of how to kill the ants dead so they don’t leave the cup. You kill letters by trapping them in words, you kill words by trapping them in sentences. Turn on CLOSED CAPTIONING, listen to some shows or the news, read along the printwords underneath, trap them dead in your mind.
The news was a lot of, which corpo made the most munmun, which corpo lost the most munmun, did anyone go to the bank and get really huge today, do we have exciting vid of this huge person walking out of the bank and into their new huge house for the ﬁrst time, where were the bombings and shootings today, how many people got shot and bombed overall, where was the weather terrible, are we building enough stuff in space.
Then there were lots of shows of the lives of the Yewess’s biggest people, what are they doing and eating, how do you make a palace to ﬁt a family twelvetimes middlescale, rooms a hundredfeet high, we’re coming to you live from Balustrade where a pharmalord named Mark is about to eat a mammoth.
The three of us together watched a vid called WOW YOU’RE READY TO SCALE UP!, directed and produced by the bank, and Usher focused on the math, meanwhile me and Prayer read the captions.
At the bank everyone has two accounts, munﬂow account and scale account. Here’s how they’re different.
Munﬂow account doesn’t change your scale at all, you just keep extra munmun there because it’s safer than wallets, mattresses, personal treasure chests. You pay for stuff out of munﬂow account with muncards, and a proper job can deposit munmun direct to munﬂow, andsoonandsoforth, it’s all super usefull and easy and has no effect on your scale.
Scale account is what changes your scale. So for scale account there’s no cards, withdrawls, directdeposit, anything like that. Instead, to make any changes to your scale account, you must visit the bank personally. Eye ee if you contribute munmuns to it, you go to the bank, designate the amount in munﬂow you want to transfer to scale, and the bank performs the Scale Up Ceremony, tada, you walk out twice as big as when you came in, or however big.
Or if you’re broke, indebted, need to buy a house and there’s not enough in your munﬂow box, et set set setera, you transfer munmun out of your scale account and into munﬂow, ohno, it’s time for Scale Down Ceremony and you walk out a door smaller than the one you came in, sadfaced, wearing temporary bankrobes.
After all ceremonies, the banks robe you so you have something to wear, old clothes obviously no longer ﬁtting you anymore.
And if you’re scaling up to eightscale or more, billionair big or bigger, they can’t even ﬁt you in robes, or the bank forthatmatter, instead they tell you to go lie naked in a ﬁeld on some slippery tarps, then I guess you go to sleep and they slowly inﬂate you.
WOW YOU’RE READY TO SCALE UP! mostly tells you how bankers calculate when you can scale up, and by how much, because without the bankers here’s an easy mistake you could make. Let’s say, you have a million munmuns in your scale account and ninemillion in munﬂow. Perfect, you say, I’ll put the ninemillion in scale and scale up by two, and now all my tenmillion munmuns are in my scale account.
(Onemillion is middlescale, tenmillion is doublescale ay kay ay twotimes middlescale, hunmillion is fourscale ay kay ay fourtimes middlescale, it makes no sense if you don’t have a mathbrain. And then hunthousand is halfscale, tenthousand is quarterscale, onethousand is eighthscale, and ﬁvehundred and below is rat size, about tenthscale, Usher tried to explain the speciﬁc math to me but prettyquick he was talking about something called a loggerrhythm and I had to tell him to shut up.)
So okay, you put the entire ninemillion from munﬂow into your scale account and now you’ve scaled up double. And so ofcourse you need new clothes, new house, new car, plus you’re eating way more food, not even double but more like sixtimes, plus you’re too big to use the middleroads.
But surprise, you have no munmun in your munﬂow account to deal with any of those situations. Because all your munmuns are in scale account. So you leave the bank doublescale but not ready to lead a doublescale life, so immediately you have to turn back around and scale back down, and it’s a huge mess, that’s why the bankers are there to make calculations and help you.
Ruleofthumb, you shouldn’t put tenmillion in the scale account unless you have ﬁvemillion left in munﬂow, eye ee, atleast ﬁfteenmillion total, maybe more, it depends on your income, labor costs of maintaining your lifestyle ee gee how many middlepoors are needed to clean your house, tax situations andsoonandsoforth, calculations of that nature, explanations of when to scale and how often, ohmygod was this vid boring.
Usher understood it and even he admitted, yeah, this type of thing is super boring, that’s your life when you work at the bank I guess.
Excerpted from Munmun, copyright © 2018 by Jesse Andrews.