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Gun, With Occasional Music

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  9,902 ratings  ·  1,021 reviews
Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems—there's a rabbit in his waiting room and a trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is a brave new world where evolved animals are members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage.
Metcalf has been shadowing Celeste, the wife of an
Paperback, 271 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Mariner Books (first published March 1994)
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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Glenn Russell

Zooming, fast-paced, hardboiled futuristic thriller with an edge that won’t say quits.

Gun, with Occasional Music - a mix of Raymond Chandler Big Sleep and Philip K. Dick Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the first novel by Brooklyn born Jonathan Lethem published in 1994 when the author was age thirty. Oh, what some writers would give to have this man’s talent.

The first-person narrator is a private eye by the name of Conrad Metcalf, a tough, handsome chap (what else?) who throw out wisecrack
Dan Schwent
When down and out private inquisitor Conrad Metcalf's last client turns up dead, Metcalf takes up the case to find out who killed him. Can he find the killer before he runs out of karma and winds up in the deep freeze?

If Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick spent an evening together doing hard drugs, this would be the book that would result. Lethem weaves together the sci-fi and noir elements together so tightly that an evolved kangaroo doesn't seem out of place after his first appearance.

The wor
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
My name is Conrad Metcalf, and I'm a private inquisitor. You knew that. You read it somewhere and it gave you hope. Let me tell you now that it'll cost you seven hundred dollars a day to keep that hope alive. What you'll get for that money won't be a new best friend. I'm as much of a pain in the ass to the people who pay me as I am to the guys I go up against. Most people walk out of my office knowing things about themselves they didn't want to know – unless they leave after my first little spe ...more
Aug 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The style and voice and plot are pure Raymond Chandler, set in a weird future of talking kangaroos and mind-altering drugs. It's a wild ride that's largely successful, though not as ambitious as other futuristic genre mash-ups (for example, China Mieville's The City and The City), in part because it hews pretty closely to a standard Chandler-esque plot and in part because the futuristic elements aren't quite as developed. Still, there are moments of sheer brilliance here. ...more
Sep 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: there were only a few flipper babies!
Recommended to Mariel by: I don't acceptol this book please give me some forgettol
Book, with constant boredom. Answers, with no questions. Questions, with no answers on the tips of tongues or inside cheeks (maybe ass cheeks). Music, with no tone. Gun, with no bullets. Who signed off on the license? Déjà vu that reminds of nothing. Is that the appeal of genres to remind of nothing and feel the welcoming coma with dreams that someone else plants there and you wake up before you can see anyone's faces? The eye from that book, the nose from this... "Make me look beautiful!" "But ...more
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
For the truly sick individuals that pay attention to my meanderings on Goodreads, you'll note that I frequently take notes as I'm reading. Except when I don't. And I didn't, much, while reading this. Why? Because 1) I was too engrossed in the story, 2) things happened so fast that I didn't have time to process them, and 3) I have no good way of actually conveying what I thought as I read.

So, "why", you ask "are you even writing this review, Forrest?" - because: Duty. You see, back in 2017, I vo
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
A first rate hard boiled detective story that throws in some intriguing elements of speculative fiction to create something special.

Starting out, it could just be another hard boiled detective story about a down and out PI on a murder case involving some sketchy characters and a crime syndicate. Yet, Lethem slowly peels back the layers on a world that grows ever more bizarre. Some of this could be considered window dressing - genetically "evolved" sentient animals and "babyheads"; inanimate obje
Mattia Ravasi
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Video review

Manages to offer some of the most unforgettable world-building I've ever read without pausing the action for more than a few words at a time. Offers an absurd dystopian future that's just absurd enough to be convincing. Fuses hardboiled with scifi as seamlessly as to be unfair. Rocks.
Sep 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: curious what Neal Stephenson sounds like covering Raymond Chandler?
In Gun, With Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem gives us science fiction's worthy successor to Raymond Chandler. Though this is the easy take-home message from nearly every quoted newspaper columnist, book jacket blurb, and miscellaneous reviewer -- they also all happen to be right. Even a cursory familiarity with Chandler's pulp noir will ring through with startling clarity to readers of this novel. The cadence of the narrative, the hard-boiled dialogue, the archetypal characters... Lethem's Con ...more
Feb 01, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Review, with occasional words, to come.
Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. His style is as cold as Hammett's, and the moral core as strong as Chandler's. And any book that says both "In Los Angeles it's illegal to know what you do for a living" and "Tell him next time he wants to talk to me, don't send a marsupial" should be in everyone's library.

This character develops, is one thing somewhat new: he loses his early self-consciousness about his metaphors, and eventually solidifies enough to end a chapter with the brilliant line: "It was time to stop fucking
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers who enjoy Thomas Pynchon, Raymond Chandler, Norbert Davis, Jack O'Connell, Philip K. Dick
The quotation from Newsweek's review of this novel that appears on the front cover is quite accurate: "Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's vision".

I was also reminded at times of Jack O' Connell's "Quinsigamond" series of futuristic crime thrillers: Word Made Flesh, Box Nine, Wireless (Quinsigamond #2), and The Skin Palace.

This novel is set in near-future Oakland.
The police investigators are known as "Inquisitors" and if you cross them, you'll have your karma card punched. Your ka
Jun 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
“Sometimes it’s better not to think in questions, but I can’t seem to get out of the habit.”
― Jonathan Lethem, Gun, With Occasional Music


Science fiction slams into a hard-boiled, noir pulp (imagine 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' written by Chandler and directed by David Lynch'). Fun, quick and in parts even close to brilliant. Lethem is one of those writers I'd stamp with "Most Likely To Disappoint Me". He has a ton of potential, but far too often I see that potential sizzle away. Most of that ener
Sep 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Sci-fi noir detective story. It's Blade Runner meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and exactly as goofy and dark as that sounds.

Conrad Metcalf is our narrator, a Private Inquisitor in a world where direct questions are considered rude and question marks are flashy punctuation. The story's filled with products of evolution therapy: talking kittens and mobster kangaroos, plus the mysterious babyheads -- toddlers with advanced intelligence that hang out in babyhead bars and babble their babyhead talk. I
The characters in this story mix their own special blends of drugs to give them just what they need to get through life. This book is its own special blend of sub-genres – mostly detective noir with a heavy dash of cyberpunk and a sprinkling of dystopia. I think it was missing some addictol though, because I never had trouble putting it down. I liked it more toward the beginning, but it started getting tedious around the middle. Toward the end things picked back up, but there were things that an ...more
Dec 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who like Raymond Chandler
Shelves: novels
somebody lent me this book because they know i love my noir, and the book pays off in that regard but the notion that this is science fiction or a successor to pkd is confusing to me -- the world lethem introduces us to has drugs coming out the wazoo, and there are evolved animals yes, but really? that all seems window dressing, a spin on what is primarily a detective story. lots of what i would consider the speculative elements don't actually seem to go anywhere -- why is text outlawed? what's ...more
Lauren Stoolfire
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Raymond Chandler meets Philip K. Dick? I didn't expect to like this odd near future neo-noir quite so much. If you like Blade Runner, The Big Sleep, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit you'll have to give this trippy novel a try. I'm going to have to read more sci-fi noir and Jonathan Lethem in the future.

Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Sci fi, maybe? Definitely noir. This is one of the most unusual and interesting books I've read . . . maybe ever. The only thing that comes close are the bizarro titles I've read this year, but this has the extra bonus of being three times the length of most of those books.

Conrad Metcalf, PI (Private Inquisitor), lives in a world where conversation is frowned upon, and asking questions is permitted only by professional Inquisitors. Everyone functions by using drugs (Forgettol, Acceptol, etc), an
Aug 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of sci-fi noir
In the same way non-inquisitors are not supposed to ask questions in this novel's setting, readers shouldn't ask too many questions, lest the thin facade Lethem built crash down and reveal his underdeveloped world building. Questions such as how society came to a point with such controlled media, freely available addictive drugs, evolved animals and "babyheads," and yet so few other technological advancements. Altered Carbon takes a similarly noir approach to science fiction, but Richard K. Morg ...more
Oct 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
"Gun, with Occasional Music" is the best kind of science fiction- you barely know it's science fiction at all. Every aspect of the world Lethem has created is in service of the plot, even the bits that seem overly goofy or derivative at first, not the other way around.

The story is a slab of thick noir starring the every-P.I. Metcaff. Letham casts the heavy as an evolved kangaroo, and his world also features 3-foot tall evolved babies. While this could come off as "Disney Does Noir", there's ver
Jun 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gum-shoe Conrad Metcalf is a Private Inquisitor, once an Inquisitor (Police with wide ranging & draconian powers), who consolidate their power to completely control the populace at large. Their powers are such that media is rigidly controlled to the extent that newspapers carry photos only (no text) & even the photos promote the successes of the Inquisitors in keeping order, the cases real & imagined. The populace are further controlled by drugs, free of charge. Although there are variations on ...more
Leo Walsh
Sep 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I've never read Jonathan Lethem. He gets great accolades, and has a new book out. So while waiting for my library to buy his new book, I pulled "Guns With Occasional Music" down from the shelf. It read like a Sam Spade, so I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did. The story was a good, hard-boiled detective tale.

My problem with the book were varied. The big one was some silly science fiction concepts that, to me, made no sense. For instance, there are scientifically altered "evolved" kangaroos,
I see now what all the fuss is about. This is a fantastic book. The writing style blew me away. I really enjoyed it and found the humour particularly brilliant. The dystopian world Jonathan Lethem builds is presented so casually and is actually one of the most terrifying I've ever read of. Sure, many aspects of this world have been in other books, but not quite like this. And there's just something about how this is written that makes you laugh while a chill runs down your spine. It's really rat ...more
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this book, I really did. A nice little mixture of the standard down-on-his-luck detective story and the dystopian science fiction future setting, with some humor mixed in - what's not to like, right? Sadly, it turns out there isn't much I can say for it. Lethem gives us this cobbled-together society with evolved animals, "evolved" babies, this wonderful mixture of government-issue chemicals that pretty much everyone imbibes with regularity, and a karma-tracking system - but why? ...more
Like Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs, this is detective story set in scifi setting with some dystopian flavor (all descendent of Asimov's Baley-Olivaw)--that makes it part of the nerd-boiled sub-genre.

I suppose nerd-boiled fiction isn't really for me. It's got some cool ideas (articulate animals & infants, lotsa creative narcotics, Hindu ideas for law enforcement), but generally it appears that it solves dystopian fiction's universal problem of slick setting/stupid story by superimposing the standard de
May 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as part of my challenge to Read Around the World as documented in my blog:

This time I went to Oakland, California (where I was born!)

This, I think, is not the Oakland of my birth. It's an Oakland where you need a license to ask other people questions. It's an Oakland where drugs are not only legal, but de rigeur. It's an Oakland were "evolution therapy" has made not only intelligent animals, but also intelligent toddlers, or "babyheads". (Very cree
Apr 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
HOLY WOW! what a great book! Maybe not 5 stars but most definitely a solid 4 and a half. Don't have the time to expand on that right now but if you like weird, original noir like nothing else you've ever read, then pick this one up! So happy i already have another of his books, Amnesia Moon, which i'll be enjoying very soon! ...more
seb smith
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sci-fi
I can tell when an author doesn't care about sci-fi but uses it as a setting for some edgy reason. I can also tell when an author doesn't care about women. Both are true for this book. ...more
Aug 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Richard by:
This is a fun and quick read. But in the days after I finished it, I found that my impression took a bit of a dip as I pondered it, and it lost its four-star rating in the process.

But first, a curiosity: this is the second off-beat mystery novel set in Oakland that I've read recently. The other one, Swing: A Mystery by Rupert Holmes, isn't SciFi at all, but also involves a musical theme which is even more central to the plot.

As the blurb and other reviews have remarked, Gun, with Occasional
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2011
5 stars for me

I sat down with my old trustee Sony reader, ready to break dawn with the start of a new book. A new weird detective noir novel, think Dick Tracy set in an alt future. You have guns and bad guys, some music too, but you also have drugs galore and a cast that consists of a talking sheep, a crotchedy old detective ape, some evolved kitties and babies and a strong armed, short tempered  kangaroo named Joey Castle. It is a murder mystery that is told in the first person by our protagoni
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Jonathan Allen Lethem (born February 19, 1964) is an American novelist, essayist and short story writer.

His first novel, Gun, with Occasional Music, a genre work that mixed elements of science fiction and detective fiction, was published in 1994. It was followed by three more science fiction novels. In 1999, Lethem published Motherless Brooklyn, a National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel t

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