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This is another noir cyberpunk story with a reluctant hero who works for people he swore he'd never work for, doing things he swore he'd never do. If you've read "Neuromancer" or "Altered Carbon", you've read "When Gravity Fails". Just replace future-Tokyo or future-San Francisco with future-Damascus. (Actually, the city is never actually named: it could just as easily be Beirut or Amman or Jerusalem or Cairo.) While this was a good story, I'm thinking it was nominated for a Hugo and Nebula in 1988 because "Whoa, dude! Cyberpunk! In the Middle East! Like, everyone's Muslim!"
Aside from that novelty factor, When Gravity Fails serves up what you expect in a cyberpunk novel: digital personalities, downloaded brain modifications, surgically altered bodies, fractured nation-states, and lots of crime and grit and whores.
Marid Audrian is a Moroccan son of a prostitute who's your fairly standard noir protagonist: he hangs out in the Budayeen, an Arab ghetto in an unnamed Middle Eastern city, and his friends, lovers, and business associates are all grifters, bartenders, prostitutes, various-shades-of-dirty cops, street hustlers, just trying to get by, preying on rich tourists and their fellow citizens alike.
Marid gets dragged into a convoluted plot involving a serial killer who initially uses a James Bond persona, which was a mildly clever touch. Since he begins the story stating his abhorrence of having his brain modified, we know he's going to wind up chipped and jacked to the max.
The action scenes are fast-paced and well-written and the technology blends smoothly with the Middle Eastern setting. The "mystery" is a bit of a let-down, as I was expecting something more clever and twisted, but it ultimately made sense, and why should the real killer be some shocking Big Reveal instead of just another grimy scumbag?
Effinger's handling of Middle Eastern culture from a first-person POV did not, I think, exoticize it too much. Marid, while not devout himself, sees Arab culture and Islam as the default, so if he's sometimes critical or even mocking of it, it's no more so than an agnostic American who's not above taking shots at American culture and Christianity.
There are a lot of sex-changed characters in the book, including Marid's girlfriend. I wouldn't say it's particularly sensitive to trans people (there are the usual jokes about "You didn't know she used to be a man?"), but they seem to be accepted like everyone else. When Gravity Fails was probably pretty progressive for 1988. The "Whores! Whores! Whores!" sensibility is pretty de rigueur for cyberpunk. (That said, if you want cyberpunk that's not full of whores and nipply breasts, try Neal Stephenson or Hannu Rajaniemi.)
Like Neuromancer, When Gravity Fails is a book that might have been edgy and mind-blowing in the 80s, but now has nothing you haven't seen rolled out in mass production by Hollywood and dozens of SF imitators. This story about a street operator tracking down a serial killer in an unnamed futuristic Middle Eastern city is an entertaining enough read, but unless either cyberpunk or the Middle Eastern setting holds special appeal for you, it isn't something I'd recommend you go out of your way for.
24 of 25 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of When Gravity Fails to be better than the print version?
Both are top notch. I couldn't say one was better than the other.
What did you like best about this story?
This is one of the must read cyberpunk series. Mr. Effinger died too young as I would have like to see hum expand on this series. He has a unique fully formed world. It is arabic in nature but also loosely based on the French Quarter in New Orleans where the author was known to hang out quite a bit. he caught the sleazy feel of the area and the internal desperation of the charachters caught in it. The Cyber elements may seem a little trope now, but he was the first one to develop a lot of these concepts.
What about Jonathan Davis’s performance did you like?
He has great range. Each character was distinct and unique. he also really caught the feeling and emotional content of the book.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Just the overall desperation of the main character. He isn't the standard sci fi/fantasy superhero. He is very flawed and often goes and gets drunk or high rather than deal with his issues.
Any additional comments?
This is a must have as I said in the header.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
This is a well-paced cyberpunk novel, with lots of tension as the lead character, Audran, tries to solve a series of murders in an Arab ghetto. There were enough twists and turns to stop me figuring out ?whodunnit? before the end, and I also liked the descriptions of the technology involved.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Marîd Audran is painfully slow at working out this fairly simple mystery and the Islam motif is a little off in this literary love in which tries to be sexy and deep but only stumbles upon profundity occasionally, seemingly by accident. Finished it and got the sequal immediately though so it can't be that bad.
Performance is less than ideal as John Davis over-dramatises to the point of mis-reading. Additionally suffers from a forced Arabic accent which at times verges on the excruciating.