Book Review – When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

The blurb says:

When Gravity Fails, the first Marid novel, is set in a high-tech near-future featuring a divided USA and USSR, a world with mind-or mood-altering drugs for any purpose; brains enhanced by electronic hardware, with plug-in memory additions and modules offering the wearer new personalities (James Bond, celebrities); bodies shaped to perfection by surgery. Marid Audran, an unmodified and fairly honest street-survivor, lives in a decadent Arab ghetto, the Budayeen, and, against his best instincts, becomes involved in a series of inexplicable murders. Some seem like routine assassinations, carried out with an old-fashioned handgun by a man wearing a plug-in James Bond persona; others, involving whores, feature prolonged torture and horrible mutilations. The problem comes to the attention of Budayeen godfather Friedlander Bey, who makes Audran an offer he can’t refuse. Audran submits to electronic brain enhancement in order to track down and deal with the killer or killers.

Like a few of the books I’ve read recently, this one’s a bit older (1986).  Mostly this is only apparent in the things about the intervening years that were the hardest to predict – computers, cellphones and the post-cold-war political landscape which at the time was fiction and is pretty different to what actually happened.  The age of the book is impossible to ignore, but it’s not really a problem.

Noir and cyberpunk are my favorite genres so this book was right up my alley, and the Arabic setting is a nice change.  I’ve read a few sci-fi books with Arabic settings (e.g. Effendi) and it always adds a nice flavor to them.

Something that was probably controversial at the time (and still is to a certain extent) is that a LOT of of the character are transsexuals.  The book is very accepting of transsexuals (and explores the consequences of technology improving to the point where sex changes are practically perfect) but conversely it’s pretty bad in its treatment of women.  I don’t know if this represents the author’s point of view or whether it was his extrapolation of Muslim attitudes.

The Kindle edition of the book has some OCR errors, which is understandable given that they probably wouldn’t have a digital version of a manuscript that old, but is disappointing because a quick readthrough of the book would have allowed them to identify and fix the mistakes.