When Gravity Fails
"He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world . . . . He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks--that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness." - Raymond Chandler, "The Simple Art of Murder"
In the 1980's a new sub genre of Science Fiction called "Cyberpunk" emerged. The name is derived from melding the words Cybernetics and punk, and it focuses on the effects on society and individuals of advanced computer technology, artificial intelligence, and bionic implants in an increasingly global culture, especially as seen in the struggles of streetwise, disaffected characters. George Alec Effinger produced one of the best novels of this type with When Gravity Fails. In it he combined elements of the noir detective mystery set in an indeterminate future somewhere in North Africa. With the addition of an elegant depiction of the widespread use of bionic implants he produced an intelligent and intriguing novel.
The culture of drugs is pervasive in the story - reminiscent of Huxley and his descendants, but it is the use of personality modules - "moddies" - and data modules - "daddies" - as bionic amplifications of individuals' brains - a sort of applied autonetics - that distinguishes the world imagined by the author. With this as the setting the protagonist detective Marid Audran, who has an independent and refreshingly honest personal code of justice, faces his greatest challenge when a string of bloody killings disrupt his urban habitat even to the extent of endangering his friends. The community in which he dwells is as iridescently colorful as it is decadent in a street-wise fashion whose futuristic setting is adumbrated by its resemblance to that of previous centuries. It is populated by eccentric characters; but it is his independence and rough-hewn charisma that makes Audran both a fascinating and likeable hero in spite of his major drug habit.
The author brings the culture of the futuristic "Budayeen" community to life with a vibrancy that hums and even crackles at times as the pressure to identify the source of the mysterious killings builds along with the homolgous danger to Audran's own life. The resulting suspense is exciting, but the story is deepened and made more significant by the moral choices and decisions that Audran must make, by himself, in order to solve the mystery behind the killings. The result is an exciting book that well deserves the accolades it received from the moment of its original publication.
When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger. Orb Books, 2005 (1987)