The cyberpunk novel, When Gravity Fails delivers in it’s vivid sense of place and atmosphere. It’s the 22nd century and while some technological advancements have altered life incredibly, there are still scummy, red light districts and plenty of nere do wellers to occupy it. The lived in vitality is probably due to the author’s personal experiences in the French Quarter of New Orleans that bears no small resemblance to the novel’s setting. In this case, the area is in the ascending Middle East (which has grown past the now fractionated West as a global power) and called Budayeen. It’s gated off from the rest of the region and home to our drug addicted semi-reluctant detective protagonist Audran.
This hard boiled, glamorized macho druggie persona was part of the my only issues with the book. I read lots of hard boiled genre books with equally questionable characters and even prefer to read about a severely flawed hero than the infallible type. Still, I tend to get understandably rubbed the wrong way by such characters when the author has no hint of humorous loathing, or at least eye rolling.
The plot is straight up noir, with little to distinguish itself aside from the plenty of modified prostitutes and crime lords and fictionalized technology. The idea mind modification is interesting and leads to added plot twists. Aside from body modifications that are no mystery to our modern world, Effinger imagines people wiring their minds for full personality modules (called “moddies”) while allows for James Bond and Nero Wolfe to make unexpected appearances. “Daddies” are like add ons which allow the user to have a certain skill while installed, like speaking an unknown language.
If you’re a fan of noir and cyberpunk, When Gravity Fails is perfect summer time fodder, if you’re unsure, it’s worth a try if you don’t mind grisly stuff.