- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (January 15, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312858787
- ISBN-13: 978-0312858780
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 132 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,983,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Gun, With Occasional Music: A Novel First Edition Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Lethem's first novel is a work of noir science fiction inhabited by animal gangsters and a gritty futuristic P.I.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Private detective Conrad Metcalf finds himself the victim of an official inquisition when the murder of a former client and an obvious cover-up attempt lead him into dangerous political territory. Set in a near-future where only police and detectives are licensed to ask questions and where drugs to suppress memory are commonplace, this first novel imparts a new meaning to the word mystery . Spare prose and tight plotting create a taut sf thriller that should appeal to both sf and mystery fans.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"Gun, with Occasional Music" is the story of Conrad Metcalf, a private eye (or "inquisitor") who stumbles across a case that he just can't quit. He's living his life in a futuristic Oakland, California, where genetic testing has led to "evolved" animals with human traits and sped-up "babyheads" who are much older than their years or their appearance would suggest. Along the way he dodges the efforts of those around him to get him off the case of a murdered doctor (who had hired Metcalf to track his wife), and also the gun-toting kangaroo who seems to be harboring a deep hatred for our hero.
All the traits of noir are here: the down-on-his-luck detective, the femme fatale, the unsolved murder and seedy underbelly of a city that would rather not have its sins exposed to the light. What's different are the sci-fi touches: the karma that each character carries (and which can have points deducted from it), the new drugs that everyone's addicted to, the punishment for crimes (being put on ice), and so on. It's not a completely successful mash-up or hybrid, but it hints at the work that Lethem would do later (in many ways, it's a dry run for his "Motherless Brooklyn"). Plus, it's just a fun escapist read when you need one, with some things that will make you think later.
Jonathan Lethem has continued to grow and develop as a writer as he's gone on (his most recent novel, "Dissident Gardens," I would force on people if I taught a contemporary lit class). But it doesn't hurt to go back to the beginning and see that the seeds of literary greatness were there. "Gun, with Occasional Music" isn't one of Lethem's best, but it is his first, and as debuts go, it's nothing to turn your nose up to.
Lethem's novel itself is fascinating. His prose already in this first novel is beyond accomplished - perfect flow and beautiful language. Especially for people who know the Bay Area, many interesting areas are described - from Oakland to El Cerrito, rather than the standard San Francisco. However, this first novel feels a bit too close to Philip K Dick's world (Lethem's idol). Feels like a belated PKD novel rather than something truly new for the 1990s. Also, there is a bit too much noir and not enough science fiction (at least for sci-fi fans); some fascinating ideas like the advancement of animals, freezing of bodies in prison, new uses of drugs, but I wished to know more about the new world. Then again, this first novel is worlds better than PKD's first novel.
The best way to read the book: a reversal of PKD's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." Instead of mechanical animals, we have evolved animals. Instead of chickenheads, we have babyheads. The drug use and regulation is here taken to new dimensions of regulation and insanity. And instead of a bounty hunter, Deckard, we have... well, Metcalf, whose nickname is "Dickface," perhaps an ironic reference to PKD.