Harold Ogle's Reviews > When Gravity Fails

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger
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Aug 20, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: sf, cyberpunk
Read in May, 1988 — I own a copy , read count: 3

More than anything, I've always loved the IDEA of this book: imagining a cyberpunk, dystopian North Africa of the future. It's much the same reason I enjoyed the idea of The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm: it's refreshing to see takes on science fiction through the lens of other cultures.

That said, I enjoyed this much more when I read it the first time as a teen, when my exposure to other cultures was more limited and I took the trappings of Islam and north African locations as really deep. On re-reading it a year or two ago, I was dismayed to realize that Effinger wrote what he knew, rather than anything authentic to his setting. That is to say, all of Effinger's Budayeen books are actually about his hometown of New Orleans with the names changed. That's why the characters are all smooth-talking druggies, gangsters, sex-changes, and/or prostitutes, all with a strangely definite cajun patois to their ostensibly Moroccan speech. They're like cartoons of New Orleans stereotypes, though I'm confident after reading a fair amount about the life and times of the author that many of the people he knew fit those stereotypes. It's a bit like watching the film The Godfather with everything unchanged (plot, dialogue, actors, performances, score) except with the names, locations and costumes of Feudal Japan. It'd still be a great film, but it wouldn't be even remotely convincing as Tokugawa-era. In much the same way, you have to almost ignore the embarrassing attempts to make this "feel" like a different place or time, and just accept it for an engaging detective thriller.

I say that because, despite the failure to evoke the setting, the story is good. Effinger was clearly inspired and influenced by both Hammett and Chandler, and he evokes their sorts of stories admirably here, in both tone and plot.
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