Excerpt from Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Shades of Grey

By Jasper Fforde

Shades of Grey
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2009,
    400 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2011,
    400 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt


Any colorized park was a must- see for visitors, and Vermillion’s offering certainly didn’t disappoint. The color garden, laid out within the city walls, was a leafy enclave of dappled shade, fountains, pergolas, gravel paths, statuary and flowerbeds. It also had a bandstand and an ice cream stall, even if there was no band, nor any ice cream. But what made Vermillion’s park really special was that it was supplied by color piped direct from the grid, so it was impressively bright. We walked up to the main grassed area, just past the picturesque, ivy- gripped Rodin, and stared at the expanse of synthetic green. It was a major improvement on the park back home, because the overall scheme was tuned for the predominance of Red eyes. In Jade- under- Lime the bias was more toward those who could see green, which meant that the grass was hardly colored at all and everything red was turned up far too bright. Here the color balance was pretty much perfect, and we stood in silence, contemplating the subtle Chromatic symphony laid out in front of us.

“I’d give my left plum to move to a Red sector,” murmured Dad in a rare display of crudeness.

“You already pledged the left one,” I pointed out, “in the vague hope that Old Man Magenta would retire early.”

“Did I?”

“Last autumn, after the incident with the rhinosaurus.”

“What a dope that man is,” said Dad, shaking his head sadly. Old Man Magenta was our head prefect and, like many Purples, would have trouble recognizing himself in a mirror.

“Do you think that’s really the color of grass?” asked Dad after a pause.

I shrugged. There was no real way of telling. The most we could say was that this was what National Color felt the color of grass should be. Ask a Green how green grass was and they’d ask you how red was an apple. But interestingly, the grass wasn’t uniformly green. An area the size of a tennis court in the far corner of the lawn had changed to an unpleasant bluey- green. The discordancy was spreading like a water stain, and the off- color area had also taken in a tree and several beds of flowers, which now displayed unusual hues quite outside Standard Botanical Gamut. Intrigued, we noticed there was someone staring into an access hatch close to the anomaly, so we wandered over to have a look. We expected him to be a National Color engineer working on the problem, but he wasn’t. He was a Red park keeper, and he glanced at our spots, then hailed us in a friendly manner.

“Problems?” asked Dad.

“Of the worst sort,” replied the park keeper wearily. “Another blockage. The Council are always promising to have the park repiped, but whenever they get any money, they spend it on swan early- warning systems, lightning protection or something equally daft.”

It was unguarded talk, but we were Reds, too, so he knew he was safe. We peered curiously into the access hatch where the cyan, yellow and magenta color pipes fed into one of the many carefully calibrated mixers in order to achieve the various hues required for the grass, shrubs and flowers. From there they would feed the network of capillaries that had been laid beneath the park. Colorizing gardens was a complex task that involved matching the osmotic coefficients of the different plants with the specific gravities of the dyes— and that was before you got started on pressure density evaporation rates and seasonal hue variation. Colorists earned their perks and bonuses.

I had a pretty good idea what the problem was, even without looking at the flow meters. The bluey- green caste of the lawn, the grey appearance of the celandines and the purplish poppies suggested localized yellow deficiency, and this was indeed the case— the yellow flow meter was firmly stuck on zero. But the viewing port was full of yellow, so it wasn’t a supply issue from the park substation.

Excerpted from Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Copyright © 2009 by Jasper Fforde. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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