When Gravity Fails
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 10, 2003
George Alec Effinger wrote three books about Marid Audran, a private investigator living in the Budayeen, the red light district of an unnamed Arab country in the 23rd century (but in actuality modeled on the French quarter in New Orleans, where Effinger lived). When Gravity Fails is the first of the three books, which introduce us to Marid, who was raised in Algeria by his mother, an Algerian prostitute, and who never knew his French father. Considered a barbarian north african by the Arabs in his city, Marid lives on the fringes among the drug dealers and users, and the strippers, protitutes, sex changes and outcasts that live just outside the law, working as a private detective when he can find a client. Marid prides himself on being unwired, that is, unlike most residents of the Budayeen, Marid has not adapted his brain to accept personality modules, or Moddies, or add-ons, better known as Daddies. Nor does Marid work or live under the largesse or protection of Friedlander Bey, better known as Papa, who controls most the business, legitimate or otherwise, in the Budayeen.
When a client is killed in front of Marid's eyes and Marid's acquaintances start dying horrible deaths, Marid is drawn into an uneasy alliance with both the police, whom he does not trust, and Papa, to whom he does not want to be beholden.
Effinger has created a world that is unlike most science fiction books, keeping the actual science light, and letting us believe that this is how the Arab world might be in the 23rd century, with not much changed except a bit of technology. Effinger offers both an interesting who and why-dunnit, while examining the issues of faith and identity. Is Marid, a heavy drug and alcohol user who lives by his own code and is committed neither to Allah nor any other human, the faithful one, or is it Papa, who kills and extorts in the name of business but who faithfully prays 5 times a day? What is it like to be an outsider, and how do you find yourself?
This book is sadly out of print, but easily available used on the internet. Still compelling after all this time and well worth tracking down.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Effinger has created what might at first seem an impossibility -- a cyberpunk, film noir murder mystery set in the Middle East. Where is the Budayeen? That's not important (although from references it seems to be near Egypt); what is important is the characters. The people, from Audran to Papa to Half-Hajj all fit in this world. You know what they look like, feel like, smell like, and if ever they act out of character you know something is wrong. This is a world of shadows and sand, one where there is trickery and deceit around every corner. The mullahs call you to prayer and people wire their brains to alter their personalities. Life is cheap, sex is cheaper, and everyone has to look out for himself. There is nothing heavy-handed in the way Effinger puts this together. He is stylish without being self-conscious. You will be drawn in and only want to read more about this world he has created. This is a fantastic book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2004
For my money, this is the definitive work of the cyberpunk genre. All the classic elements are there: just-beyond tomorrow technology, drugs, sex, and a casual disdain for human life. Style is far more important than substance, as eloquently expressed in the form of moddies, jackable personality recordings that make you whomever you want to be. Hard, objective truth is by turns an inconvenience or a victim to practicality and hypocrisy.
The two most engaging things about this novel are, in fact, the two things that should stand out in any novel: the characters and the setting. Most often in scifi these both take a back seat to technology. In "Gravity", the technology exists only to enhance the characters, as we see how they use (and abuse) its capabilities. Best of all, Effinger captures the film noir quality of cyberpunk with style and elegance. The good guys might win, but it is a pyrrhic victory.
If you're looking for the feel-good hit of the summer, take a pass on this one. If you want a novel with style, grit, and integrity (and not a little cynicism), this is an excellent choice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2012
Within the Budayeen, a world full of cheap pleasure and criminal mischief, we are introduced to the protagonist Marid Audran. Audran, a down and out detective that prides himself on being a traditionalist, makes his way through the seedy underworld of the Budayeen. When forced to adapt to the world around him, Audran becomes one of the many people he despises.

Meanwhile, Audran is given a new case where he must track down a murderer that uses augmented personality cartridges that allow the killer to assume the identity of everyone from James Bond to a sadistic murderer named Khan. These cartridges are personality modules that once plugged into the brain of the user, allows them to become someone else, either real or fictional. When Audran's friend goes missing, he becomes enraged and bound by vengeance to capture the kidnapper. As he soon finds out, the murderer and the kidnapper may have something or someone in common.

George Effinger is an author with immense talent. Within "When Gravity Fails", there are moments of description that are beautifully written, specifically when he describes the rough neighborhood that is the Budayeen. He skillfully gives descriptive scenes of violence that transcend being disgusting or unwarranted, a feat that many authors cannot replicate.

The best thing I could possibly say about this novel is that it is welcoming to be read time and time again. On subsequent readings, you will recognize subtle hints that lead to finding the killer before Audran can.

I give this novel five out of five stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2006
This is definitely cyberpunk with a twist. Effinger really creates a twisted reality where a constant diet of narcotics, sex changes, and Godfather-like control over the city seem to be the usual daily background noise. Step into the mind of Marid Audran, a rather unfaithful Muslim, with a keen eye for detective work. As we follow him into the mystery of multiple horrific murders, first of a client then later of his friends, you get totally immersed in this alter-world.

A few things really stand out about this book. It'll hit you right off the bat that our main character isn't white---he doesn't even speak English. He's not quite the strictest follower of his faith but he is very conscious of his surroundings and modifies his etiquette flawlessly. Secondly, it is very transgender-inclusive. (I guess that's the new buzz word these days?) The "sex changes" are both men-who-became-women and women-who-became-men---while there is definitely an air of exotica surrounding them, they are treated surprisingly normally as just people. Thirdly, the world Marid moves through is varied and textured. You almost feel the grime of the Budayeen stick to you, the stifling air of Papa's upscale mansion, the darkness of the backrooms, and the hovel of Marid's apartment.

Anyways, this is definitely now one of my fave novels. Try it!
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2002
The elements that make this novel a cyberpunk classic are all here: the sharp story concept, the sleaze-noire environs, the eccentric yet honorable anti-hero, and the morally hazardous technology. I read this book upon hearing about Effinger's recent death, so I came to this novel well past its original release, and my perspective is affected by the 14 intervening years of evolution in cyberpunk.
In an unnamed Middle Eastern city's criminal enclave, the Budayeen, Marid Audran artfully plies his trade as a freelance underworld "fixer." Need someone found; need to make a break with your pimp; need to negotiate with the local godfather? Audran's your man. His essential feature is his independence, even from the cerebral implants that are universally popular: plug-in modules that alter your personality to any fictional or real person, and add-ins for instantly acquiring expertise on any subject. Audran even eschews the expedient of firearms. He relies only on his functional drug habit, and his occasionally useful crew of acquaintances comprising the barkeeps, bent policemen, prostitutes, and ne'er-do-wells of the Budayeen. Effinger renders the future of 400 years from now quite softly (nearly as an afterthought, except for the implants), but the intricate beauty of the Arab backdrop is vivid, with its ancient mores and formalisms coexisting with criminal enterprise.
Discordant as Audran's techno-phobia is for a sci-fi novel, Effinger plays this intriguingly as the basis for the dominant theme of the book: the contest between humanity and inhumanity, bridged as it is by consciousness, which can be altered by a technology that remakes who you are and what you know as easily as swapping a plug. I also think it was a deft distinction that Effinger made between modules and add-ins, because he clearly wants to keep the issues separate, with personality encompassing morality. Audran, who would be nearly amoral but for his own code of honor, becomes the agent for justice in the Budayeen and eventually embraces the means he fears in order to resolve the dark mystery of exceptionally brutal serial murders that threaten to unbalance the criminal order of the Budayeen.
An inspired story, one that is worth the read, but it does suffer from unnecessarily raw transitions in the narrative and an uncompelling international contest that motivates the murders. These shortcomings sap energy from the story and leaves the reader feeling a bit flat at the conclusion. And because of this, Effinger's work falls short of William Gibson's of the same period, but then again it's better than any of Gibson's later work (e.g., "All Tomorrow's Parties").
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2013
I had wanted to read this book for awhile, as two of my greatest reading loves are cyberpunk and less explored cultures (for American/British authors, anyway). It did not disappoint. I loved the language and middle eastern cultural aspects - it's wonderful to read science fiction set somewhere beyond the usual suspects. The vocabulary is one of the reasons I like cyberpunk - you're usually just dropped into it without explanation. These terms are normal for the narrator and characters, so they're normal for you now. I did wish that I had a dictionary for the proper language, though, as I wanted to look up some of the non-English words.
Marid Audran is properly likeable and unlikeable at the same time. I'm looking forward to reading the sequels. I'm also a little bit appalled that Effinger isn't more well known, but at least these books are available. I can't believe I didn't read them sooner!

I bought the ebook version of this title. The transfer was good and I didn't notice many typos or formatting errors.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 1997
Marid Audran has kept his independence and his identity the hard way. Still, like everything else in the Budayeen, he is available.....for a price. For a new kind or killer roams the streets of the decadent Aribic ghetto, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. The 2 hundred year old godfather of crime in the Budayeen has enlisted Marid as his insturment of vengeance. But first Marid must undergo the most sophisicated of surgical implants before he dares to stop a killer with the powers of every psychopath since the beginning of time I thought this book was fantastic, there is a sieres of books centered around this character, but most of them are hard to find. If you are lucky enough to find them, do so.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 1997
A unique and original work that is part science fiction and part mystery, and is a novel worthy of many reprintings. Effinger has done his homework as he depicts a city (called the Budayeen) that recalls the days of Euro-French colonization in Arab-Berber North Africa, where millions of denizens lived in Casbahs from Casablanca to Tunis. The truly international flavor, intrigue, and cyberpunk technology conjure up a realm that is more magical then the Baghdad of a thousand years ago. Truly a landmark Sci-Fi novel worthy of recognition and the status of being referred to as a classic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2006
I've read a total of three cyberpunks novels, the other two being the classic genre-starting Neuromancer by William Gibson and Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling, and this by far is the best. It's not as science-fictiony maybe as some other cyberpunk novels, but it's well written. Even the cover of this novel makes it seems like a Penguin literary classic novel. There are elements of the humor of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy throughout the novel. It's this wry sense of humor that upgrades this from a good book to a great book. Unfortunately its ending drops it to very good.

It's difficult to write about the flaw of this book since it's great up until the end. It's definitely a case of had the author just stopped before he did, it would have been great, but he had to keep fiddling with it. There are three sort-of endings. One is the major mystery of the novel, and it comes to a great climatic conclusion. The novel could have ended there and it would have been great. But there's something unfinished and the protagonist addresses that. This is the only time the book winds on a little bit, but that finally comes to a conclusion. And that would have been a great ending, except for the last sentence. But no, the author goes on to another conclusion. This is where almost everything in the protagonists life changes. And instead of going into any depth, bam, the book ends. It was as if while writing, the author considered to modify the ending to allow for sequels. And with this disappointment brings out thoughts on the flaws in the plot

Still, as with any 4 or 5 star book, I would recommend this novel. 1987 was a year for a blend of the genres of Mystery and Science Fiction within the Nebula Award winners. Although not an award winner, it was a finalist for both the Nebula and Hugo awards.
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