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Marîd Audran #1

When Gravity Fails

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In a decadent world of cheap pleasures and easy death, Marid Audrian has kept his independence the hard way. Still, like everything else in the Budayeen, he’s available…for a price.

For a new kind of killer roams the streets of the Arab ghetto, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. And Marid Audrian has been made an offer he can’t refuse.

The 200-year-old “godfather” of the Budayeen’s underworld has enlisted Marid as his instrument of vengeance. But first Marid must undergo the most sophisticated of surgical implants before he dares to confront a killer who carries the power of every psychopath since the beginning of time.

Wry, savage, and unignorable, When Gravity Fails was hailed as a classic by Effinger’s fellow SF writers on its original publication in 1987, and the sequence of “Marid Audrian” novels it begins were the culmination of his career.

288 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 1986

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George Alec Effinger

200 books196 followers

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5 stars
2,103 (29%)
4 stars
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3 stars
1,673 (23%)
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1 star
127 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 554 reviews
Profile Image for carol..
1,516 reviews7,719 followers
June 11, 2017
I don't even. This book engrossed me, sucked me in, took me to the seediest bar in town, plied me with cheap booze and left without even a kiss. Set in a debaucherous, dangerous slum in a futuristic Muslim country where the tricks might be all-girl, ex-boy or something in between, with more pill popping than Charlie Sheen on a bender, you've got to be a bit open-minded to take the ride on this one.

Think hard-boiled noir, crossed with A Scanner Darkly and filled in around the edges with Richard K Morgan's Altered Carbon.


A Hugo and Nebula nominee deserving of its nominations. Four and a half stars, rounding up, because I'm still thinking about it and tempted to re-read.
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews762 followers
December 14, 2015
Cross posted at Outlaw Reviews and at Shelf Inflicted

In the 22nd century, the fiercely independent Marîd Audran is living in a dangerous middle-eastern city in the Budayeen. It is a rich, fascinating and diverse world where people can easily have their brains wired for “moddies”, plastic cartridges with different personality types, from fictional characters to celebrities, that are inserted directly into the skull and “daddies”, smaller add-ons that are inserted next to the moddies to enhance certain skills, like the ability to converse in other languages, and to depress certain physical and mental functions, like hunger, thirst or fear.

Marîd, son of a Frenchman and an Algerian prostitute, is proud of the fact that his brain is not wired, but instead relies on drugs and alcohol to alter his mood.

The story begins in Chiriga’s nightclub, where Marîd is supposed to meet a client from Reconstructed Russia, a Mr. Bogatyrev, who is looking for his son who was missing for three years. After Marîd receives a packet of money, holotapes, and a complete dossier of his son, a woman screams, a modified James Bond is waving a pistol, Marîd investigates and then returns to his table to find his client took a bullet in the chest.

The shooting becomes a police matter until Marîd’s acquaintances start dying off, one by one. Despite his distrust of the police, he is forced to work with them and then forced by Friedlander Bey, the city’s “Godfather” to undergo modification in order to more easily find the murderer.

This was a fun, gritty, and thought-provoking science fiction story with lots of great ideas about personality modification, knowledge enhancement and ease of changing genders that could be a very real possibility in our future. Some international intrigue caused the story to drag a little and the mystery to fall flat. I loved Marîd’s independence and honesty, though I fear that now he is under Friedlander Bey's control the things I like about him will change dramatically in the next book. I also loved the relationship between Marîd and Yasmin, his fully modified girlfriend who was not born a girl and can’t manage to be on time for anything, even after paying a $50 fine to the owner of the nightclub where she works when she is just a minute late.

I just wished the author used the same loving care in writing a satisfying conclusion as he did in creating this fascinating world.

Profile Image for Beverly.
785 reviews279 followers
October 6, 2018
Okay, I read this because it was a cyberpunk book and I needed it to complete my Pop Sugar 2018 Reading Challenge. I left this category towards the end because I hate this genre; however this was tremendously good. It is set in a future Moslem city in which everyone is Moslem, although not all are practising. In the Budayeen area of the city, criminals prowl the streets and drugs, prostitution and murder are rampant. Our hero is a minor thug and druggie who unlike the majority of the city's denizens does not partake of the moddies or daddys that everyone else indulges in. Moddies change your personality completely by plugging into your brain and daddys do things like enable you to speak a foreign language. All this sounds terrible, but believe me this is a fun, whiz-bang thriller.

Effinger knows what he's doing and delivers a great story with an anti-hero who grows on you and a lot of scurrilous characters who don't and a real, crummy, miserable, hot as hell world to contain them.

The only reason I wouldn't give this a better rating is because this world is a misogynistic world in which the gals are there for sex or serving drinks only and most of the women in it are actually men who have been surgically modified. This was written in the 1980s, but it is still not as dated as a lot of sci-fi is from earlier eras.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,911 followers
February 8, 2017
Dirty, gritty, morally ambiguous cyberpunk with a bit of a biopunk feel, too, but more than anything, this was a solid detective fiction.

Was it satisfying to see the one man who'd never let himself get modded fall down the dark hole for the sake of either saving his girl or getting revenge or, just possibly, stopping a horrible killer? Hell yeah.

This came out back in '87 and it was nominated for the hugo for good reason. It's very detailed, full of great cultural stuff, and the concept of personality modding and its execution here, with both the good and the really dark side included, was really great.

I mean, where else can you get a thoroughly Muslim town and a half Muslim/half French main character in the future to casually accept the fact that men and women can change genders whenever they want fairly cheaply? How about taking a ride along a personality path as a great hero or a great villain? Heck, someone here had modded themselves to be James Bond and even bought the snazzy suits to go along with his head-mod. It's a lifestyle choice.

Our MC had a pathological fear of all that crazy shit, and if his life wasn't going all crazy with his crazy disappeared chick, he'd never have found himself diving into the really deep end and losing everything he ever thought he valued. Once you go down the road of the detective, it's very hard to ever come back. Sometimes it's your choice, and sometimes the choices are just made for you.

Truly, this is a great noir cyberpunk.
Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews658 followers
May 19, 2014
When Gravity Fails was pretty good, without ever quite achieving greatness. I enjoyed it, but the pieces never entirely came together and swept me away. It was, however, part of my ongoing project to read all the Hugo nominees for novels. It's going to take a while.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Jokoloyo.
449 reviews269 followers
September 9, 2016
This is a noir cyberpunk with a fresh setting, in a Muslim country at 22nd century. I found the characters could be better (in personality, to grab reader's sympathy), and the plot story could use more conflicts at early chapters.

Now the fun part. I love the world-building of this story. It is a unique approach in English science fiction (for SF published at 1988), but at the same time I feel the Muslim setting in the novel is rather familiar with my life, (unlike if I read a life of characters at a colony on Mars). I found some dark humors in this story are lighten the story a bit. Maybe because I live in a nation with majority Muslim people so I see some of the Muslim setting as hilarious, bravely said jokes.

I am looking forward to read the rest of the series, especially due to world-building sake.
Profile Image for Erik.
338 reviews261 followers
July 15, 2019
As King of this Text-Box, my first action is to proclaim this review's title to be When the Back Cover of When Gravity Fails Fails.

So here’s what’s on the back cover:
In a decadent world of cheap pleasures and easy death, Marid Audran has kept his independence the hard way. Still, like everything else in the Budayeen, he’s available… for a price.

For a new kind of killer roams the streets of the Arab ghetto, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. And Marid Audran has been made an offer he can’t refuse.

The two-hundred-year-old “godfather” of the Budayeen’s underworld has enlisted Marid as his instrument of vengeance. But first Marid must undergo the most sophisticated of surgical implants before he dares to confront a killer who carries the power of every psychopath since the beginning of time.

WHAAAT?! Every psychopath since the beginning of time! Awesome! So this is a kickass detective vs killer noir, with a tough, morally grey badass as a protagonist. And this idea of personalities as software on like Nintendo cartridges! Genius! Like like like like what if maybe possibly Marid and this killer get into a high-stakes paper-rock-scissors game where they boot in different personalities to take advantage of the other’s currently slotted personality. Like, hey Marid boots in Sherlock Holmes! So killer boots in Professor Moriarty! And then Marid turns up the heat by booting in Hannibal Lecter! But then the killer tries to turn him by booting in, like, fucking Cleopatra! And won't this all serve as a wonderful pretext for some sci-fi style philosophical explorations of identity. Yeah, this is gonna be BadAss, with a B and an A so capital that I had to add this extra clause despite already capitalizing them in the first place.


I’ve taken the liberty of rewriting the back-cover to better reflect the reality of When Gravity Fails:
In a decadent world of fluid gender and body image, where literally every male-turned-female is a prostitute, Marid Audran is a loser with no real relationships, no real morals, & no real toughness, who spends the majority of his time (and ours) drug binging and sitting around in strip clubs, making banal comments about the artificiality of paid intimacy…

…for it is not until page 163 – over half way through the book – that Marid Audran is enlisted as the “godfather’s” instrument of vengeance and undergoes the most sophisticated of surgical implants, after which he promptly fails to use them and avoids confronting the killer who most certainly does not possess the power of every psychopath since the beginning of time.

There, much better. Well. Much more realistic, anyway.

Where’s the book promised on the back cover? I want to read that one!
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,862 reviews1,897 followers
December 22, 2020
I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked awful, but I always look awful in the mirror. I keep myself going with the firm belief that my real face is much better looking.

That is a very trenchant sentence. That is exactly what you're signing up for when you get this book. A rarity now, in the 1980s this book was a unicorn for dealing with Muslim culture in any way, and using near-future SF to highlight the way whites are colonizing the world was still cutting-edge stuff. Digging deeper into themes of identity with transgender characters, refugees from dying Europe, and pharmacological solutions that become terrible problems, the book prefigures the 21st century's obsessions. Readers of transgressive fiction need to rediscover what amazed us in the 1980s because it will amaze and delight you, too.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,685 followers
February 23, 2012
I've had this on a list of Sci-Fi books to read for quite a while, a list passed on to me by one of my favourite Profs, but it took a group read (thanks, Kim) to finally make me pick up the old, water-stained copy that's been sitting on my shelf.

I imagine I knew what to expect once upon a time, but that time was long gone and When Gravity Fails was full of fun cyberpunky surprises. I loved the easy, full acceptance of the transgendered in the contained culture of the Budayeen, especially the acceptance of it by our protagonist, Marîd Audran. His acceptance made it seem normal, barely worth mentioning, and I loved the comfort this engendered (sorry ... couldn't control myself there). Moreover, I thought George Alec Effinger offered one of the best visions of cyberpunk body alterations that I have ever read. "Daddies" designed to boost one's skills -- mostly for language, but for all sorts of other physical and mental skills -- "mods" to give you other personalities and experiences, and plenty of plastic surgery to reassign one's gender, reshape one's look, reinvent oneself. None of it went too far. All of it made sense to me.

At the nuts and bolts level, the story was a readable one (despite its familiarity). A gritty, noirish, underground mystery where the hard loner who moves teflon-coated through the dirty streets is sucked into a murder investigation to protect himself and the place (and people) he loves. We've seen it a squillion times before (and it rarely tires me). I liked it just fine and was all set to give When Gravity Fails three stars. Don't get me wrong, it was better than okay for most of the read, but it never compelled me to pick it up and read voraciously to the last page. It was mostly just a comfortable read -- the kind I'd pick up when my brain needs a rest.

But then Audran found his killers, and When Gravity Falls did things with Audran (freshly modified despite years of remaining free of augmentations) that I didn't expect. What he becomes, beyond his control or not, is a tale-changer, and the way those around him react is precisely as it should be.

Sometimes bad endings can take something I love and make me hate it; it's nice to know that great endings can take something mediocre and make me love it too.
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books333 followers
July 28, 2013
There really is a noir-ish sameness to most cyberpunk novels. 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 whoring and Breasts! With Nipples! Described! 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.

I'm giving it 3.5 stars, rounding down because I've just read too many similar books.
Profile Image for Penny.
172 reviews344 followers
December 26, 2014
Brilliant story, great concept, intriguing characters. I really enjoyed this one. It's dark, edgy, and depicts a life lived hand to mouth in a rough neighbourhood where life is cheap and drugs and booze take the edge off. An unlikely hero, and a cast of characters that come and go the way you'd expect in a world of easy loyalties, you'd be surprised how much you come to care for the people living on the Street. The tech is interesting and makes you wonder what choices you'd make given the option.

I can't recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,830 reviews358 followers
April 25, 2016
A strange mixture of elements that I’ve seen in earlier science fiction--When Gravity Fails reminded me A LOT of Spider Robinson’s Mindkiller. Want to speak fluent German? Clip a German module into the jack in your head, and there it is in your brain, waiting for you to use it. Want to be someone cooler that you regularly are? There are personality modules available; just pop one in and you too can be James Bond (or a psychopathic serial killer). Want to go without sleep, hunger, or thirst? This too can be arranged, though you’ll pay for it later.

Marid Audran, the main character, is also a charismatic criminal, harking back to the days of the Gray Mouser (Lieber) or Slippery Jim diGriz (Harrison). But he has the drug habits that you’ll find in Philip K. Dick’s fiction. Plus, he’s a non-observant Muslim, making observations on his society reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s Dune series, but in a world that blends Dune and Neuromancer.

Surprisingly, there are an awful lot of transgender people in WGF. Lots of women who used to be men (although why they would make that change in a society where it seems that women can only hustle in bars or be prostitutes, I’m not sure). Even those who maintain their genetic gender go in for body modifications, changing their appearances drastically.

Add to this odd community a killer who is eliminating friends and associates of Marid, and we also have a murder mystery element. There’s a lot going on in this novel and it was engaging to read, but I just didn’t connect with the ending.

Book 220 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
494 reviews67 followers
July 6, 2020
Cyberpunk is not usually a subgenre I read much of, because often they make the mistake of trying to describe how it visually looks, instead of the feel of a dirty, trashy society alongside high tech. This book, however, never once described a glass building or a rain wet back alley, but conveyed perfectly the seediness from crime noir mixed with futuristic technology.

In this imagined, future Muslim city, people can upgrade themselves with add-ons, or daddies, to gain skills, and they can even become whole other characters or personalities by installing what they call moddies. Sex change is a frequent occurrance with no controversy, it's just as normal as any other body augmentation, which I found very interesting. The main character, Marid Audran, is perhaps the least self destructive of self destructive detectives I've encountered. He does take a lot of drugs, sure, but he has friends! Who likes him!

The crime plot is fairly simple, so even I, with my distinct lack of sleuthing abilities, was able to follow along. I liked the world and the characters a lot, and will probably read the next books in the series, even though Effinger didn't manage to finish the last novel before his death.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,517 reviews10.9k followers
February 18, 2010
4.5 to 5.0 stars. A fantastic novel. Smart, original and very well-written. A gritty, "noir" science fiction detective story that kept me interested all the way through. Highly recommended!!

Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1988)
Nominee: Nebula Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1988)
Nominee: Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1988)

Profile Image for Bill.
921 reviews298 followers
January 30, 2008
MUST-READ ALERT!! A lot of times the best novels will knock down the boundaries between genres. This one combines cyberpunk with crime fiction. It's set in the Middle East in the near future. Most people who can afford it have their heads socketed to accomodate moddies or daddies. These modules are as available as video tapes are today: moddies modify your personality while daddies offer a slew of options, such as blocking pain, virtual sex, etc.
As one of the blurbs on the cover states, "This is what cyberpunk will be when it grows up".

I was so saddened to hear of George's death in April 2002. I had exchanged emails with him a few years ago prior to that, and he seemed hopeful of his fourth novel of this series approaching publication. He didn't have a very pleasant life towards the end. Here's hoping all's not lost and we can
someday enjoy the as yet unpublished fourth Marid Audran installment. Rest in peace George, and thanks for the memories.
Profile Image for Toby.
829 reviews328 followers
March 10, 2013
When Gravity Fails is cyberpunk at its influential best written in a way that makes it accessible to everyone but like pretty much everything that came before Snow Crash is not as powerful as it once might have been.

This is the story of Marîd Audran, citizen of Budayeen, a dangerous enclave in a futuristic Middle Eastern city (think of Ankh Morpork's The Shades for example) filled with crooks and hustlers modified both physically and electronically thanks to advances in technology. Mod chips can be inserted in to brain ports to override your personality, daddie chips can give temporary access to information such as "I know kung fu," men can be surgically altered to become women from head to toe, women can be altered to become men and then dress in drag to become women again, it's a strange new world for an independent hustler to move through, even more so when you factor in the religious zealots and bullies that still rule with the iron fist of Islam and you have no faith yourself.

It is also the story of a crazed killer who moves unnoticed through the Budayeen thanks to his James Bond Mod chip and how the denizens react to the situation. Marîd is forced in to investigating by a criminal kingpin but it is less about the investigation and more how Marîd moves through the Budayeen trying to avoid his task. In this way Effinger paints a portrait of a believable future world that you quickly become immersed in with a shades of grey noir protagonist that you can't help but like.

Effinger, like all good cyberpunk writers seemed to, uses his story to question what it is that makes us human, the nature of reality and self and the purpose/futility of religion in a technologically advanced culture, this coupled with his hardboiled protagonist makes for an entertaining and thought provoking read without becoming too bogged down in the theology and philosophy of it all.

There's a scene featuring Nero Wolfe that had no place in the actual novel except as an amusing aside on the possibilities of the new technology and as a counterpoint to the obvious sexual and pornographic uses that had been posited at length previously. The denouement was a little flat and rushed but when considered in the context of the casual tone adopted throughout the book fits in fine. Expecting anything else would be akin to being disappointed when Terence Malick doesn't end his films with a thirty minute series of explosions and car chases.

These are minor points that shouldn't really detract from from what is essentially an excellent piece of popular fiction and a highlight of its genre.
Profile Image for David Katzman.
Author 3 books446 followers
June 24, 2017
When Gravity Fails failed to impress me. The press for this book acclaims it as one of the first sci fi "noir" stories, but to my mind it paled in comparison to the works of Jack Womack who wrote several compelling noir sci fi novels, including my favorite Ambient. As an attempt to tell a noir mystery, it was weak.

The only original aspect of this story was setting it in a futurist Arabic Muslim ghetto with transgender prostitution, drug-running and casual murder. Transgender is a subject of the book because in the future Effinger creates, the majority of people in the world have elected to perform various levels of surgery on themselves--brain plugins that can upgrade and alter all aspects of the mind (such as eliminating tiredness, increasing deductive reasoning or speeding reflexes) or overlay specific personas such as "James Bond," or porn stars or psychotic mass murderers. And along with these mind altering plug-ins, in this future, changing gender is apparently a simple procedure that is much more commonplace than it is today.

Beyond the setting of the story, the plot itself does not hold together well and the characters were shallow and mostly uninteresting. I found many of the social dynamics Effinger built into the world to be either contradictory, or they just didn't feel believable. In fact, there were many details that didn't hold together for me, and I couldn't suspend my disbelief. For example, in a world where the main character's friend could murder a pimp casually in a nightclub (and by the way, the prostitutes work in that very nightclub) and it's no big deal to anyone, including the police, it just made no sense that the main character would refuse to carry a weapon on him. As a noir, there was something lacking. The world was brutal and hard nosed yet many of the characters, including the main character, seemed at times naive.

As a mystery story, there was no chance to really deduce anything. It was all revealed as we went along with no useful clues to the killer(s). Overall, can't recommend and won't read another by Effinger.
Profile Image for Monica.
583 reviews611 followers
July 27, 2016
Enjoyed it...surprisingly!! I listened to this book on Audible. This is a twisted tale of the future where personalities can be uploaded and changed at will. Emotions can be enhanced or dampened depending on the circumstance and gender is just something chosen on a whim. It's a very strange world made stranger by it's worldbuilding and backdrop of Muslim culture. I'm quite impressed. Effinger was very much ahead of his time. Nothing about this novel written in 1987 seemed the least bit dated. It's a novel that is about 70% worldbuilding and about 30% detective mystery. I didn't care about any of the characters and yet I really enjoyed the immersion into this strange world. The connection to Islam is tepid. It was so minimal that it ran the risk of being almost superfluous to the storyline. Overall this was a fascinating, quirky (but not cute or charming), very violent journey. Well worth my time.

4 Stars

Edited to add: I've read my fair share of violent novels this year (and a couple more in queue); but I didn't find this one quite so grotesque or the violence too gratuitous (yes there are exceptions to this very general statement). I'm thinking the reason is that I was not invested in any of the characters. I guess I popped a "Daddy" which dampened my feelings of compassion.

Profile Image for spikeINflorida.
151 reviews16 followers
September 26, 2018
An early cyberpunk near-future 'who-dunnit' novel nominated for a Nebula and Hugo in 1987 and 1988, respectively. Conjuring up images of BLADERUNNER, a pill-poppin detective investigates a series of savage murders thru the seedy streets of an uber kinky red light district. The scenes of drug induced madness reminded me of Hunter S. Thompson's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS...but in Cairo?
Profile Image for Harold Ogle.
309 reviews43 followers
August 20, 2012
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.
Profile Image for YouKneeK.
636 reviews75 followers
August 7, 2016
This book was different, in both good and bad ways. It’s a science fiction book in terms of its setting, but the story was really more of a murder mystery than anything else. It’s set in the Middle East, during the year 2172, and most of the story takes place in a ghetto area. Most of the characters at least pretend to follow the Islam religion, so there were a lot of references to that and it played a role in how the characters interacted with each other. I don’t know if this was portrayed realistically or not, but this was one of the ways in which the book was different in a good way. The ghetto aspect, on the other hand, made the setting kind of grim and unpleasant, and we don’t really see much beyond that small area to learn what life is like in the rest of the world, beyond a few hints about the political climate.

The main futuristic aspect of the setting is that most people have been surgically altered to give them the ability to hook up modifications to their brain that would either give them special knowledge or abilities, or which would give them an entirely different personality. The idea of gender has also become somewhat blurred, because sex change operations are apparently easy to obtain and quite effective. There seemed to be a disproportionate number of female prostitutes in this book who had been born as men. Aside from those things, technology seemed pretty close to what it was in 1987 when the book was written.

Our main character, Marîd, is one of few people who aren’t “wired” to use modifications. While I totally can’t blame him for not wanting to mess with his brain, he’s a drug addict who pops pills left and right, so it’s hard to identify with his anti-modification viewpoint when he’s already messing with his brain and undoubtedly doing plenty of permanent damage to it. Aside from that, Marîd is a decent guy who cares about his friends, but I never really warmed up to him or felt invested in any of his friendships. The story held my interest, but I didn’t care enough about the characters to care too much about what happened.

This book is the first in a trilogy, but it tells a complete story while setting the stage for the next book. I wasn’t too crazy for how this particular story was wrapped up, and there was one particular bit that was a little horrifying. It left me debating whether to rate this 3 stars, as I’d originally intended, or 2.5. I decided to go with 3 since that’s a more accurate reflection of my overall enjoyment level. In any case, I didn’t enjoy this enough to want to read more of the series.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,051 reviews101 followers
May 12, 2020
This is a (bio-)cyberpunk detective noir novel set not in the US/Japan but the Middle East. It was nominated for both Hugo and Nebula after its publication in 1986. I read is as a part of monthly reading for May 2020 at Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group.

The protagonist is Marid Audrian, a man from Maghrib (Muslim Northern Africa) who works as a part-time sleuth in Budayeen and spends his life in alcohol and drugs. The initial scene sets the universe: two female tourists from the fragmented Europe (all big countries, including the USSR and USA fell apart) are accosted by none other than James Bond – a person wearing a moddy. A moddy is a short for personality module, which after being inserted in your brain makes you feel as if you are a character (like Bond above). Just like any invention, it is readily used for porn, and Budayeen is a place of sins, for just such (and other) modifications. Marid is proud that he never succumbed to inserting stuff in his head, he prefers to poison himself with chemical components.

There are several supposedly unrelated murders and Marid is hired by local mafia boss to investigate them. He has a personal grudge as well.

A very interesting and unusual setting. The story per se is more or less average detective noir, but set in a Muslim society and with a lot of sex workers, who are more often than not sex changes as well.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,610 reviews419 followers
April 3, 2013
-El “Noir” más clásico vestido de “Cyberpunk” poco convencional.-

Género. Ciencia-Ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. En una indeterminada ciudad árabe del siglo XXII, el Budayén es un barrio muy peligroso en el que los comportamientos están algo alejados de los mandamientos del Profeta pero donde la fe se respeta. Marîd Audran se mueve como pez en el agua en ese ambiente con cierta independencia, pero cuando un potencial cliente es asesinado ante sus ojos y más cadáveres empiezan a aparecer en el barrio las cosas comienzan a cambiar. Primer libro de la trilogía de Marîd Audran.

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Profile Image for Gerhard.
1,037 reviews515 followers
December 28, 2012
I live and work in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, and so any SF with a Middle Eastern flavour is of particular interest, such as the glorious Alif the Unseen. I stumbled across George Alec Effinger recently, not having read him before, and quickly devoured When Gravity Fails.

It is hard to think this was published in 1986, as it seems so topical and cutting-edge. Effinger should be more widely known and recognised for his impact on the genre, for it is clear that Marid Audran has left a long shadow: current books like Caliban's War all fall in that shadow.

This is very well written, the Middle Eastern setting is vivid and authentic, and I particularly loved the uncompromising ending.
Profile Image for Florin Pitea.
Author 41 books177 followers
September 25, 2022
Read this one back in 2000. I enjoyed it more on second reading. I blame Raymond Chandler.
Profile Image for Michael.
836 reviews612 followers
July 9, 2015
It’s been awhile since I’ve been so amerced into a science fiction world like this; I think the last time was with China Mieville’s The City and The City. The city of Budayeen something I’ve not experienced before, the blend of Middle Eastern culture and religion really bring this to life in a unique way. Marîd Audrian makes for a great protagonist; he is hard boiled, reminds me a lot of the private detectives in the pulp genres.

When Gravity Fails is a brilliant example of Tech Noir (so Science Fiction Noir) it has a twisted case for Marîd to investigate, which leads him on a fantastic adventure. It kind of reminds me a little of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher in the sense that it takes the best elements of the pulp genre and mixes it with a hard hitting protagonist in a will build speculative fiction world.

The world is gritty and the story is full of sex, drugs and murder, it offers a lot the think about in regards to the modifications and technology on offer in Budayeen; if you can chance every aspect of your body, mind and personality, would you do it and what are the side effects? I can’t wait to dive further into this world and see what Marîd gets up to in the next book. Recommended for fans of Science Fiction and pulp novels or even just fans of The Dresden Files; actually I would probably recommend it to anyone that wants to read a captivating book.
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,610 reviews419 followers
July 3, 2014
-El “Noir” más clásico vestido de “Cyberpunk” poco convencional.-

Género. Ciencia-Ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. En una indeterminada ciudad árabe del siglo XXII, el Budayén es un barrio muy peligroso en el que los comportamientos están algo alejados de los mandamientos del Profeta pero donde la fe se respeta. Marîd Audran se mueve como pez en el agua en ese ambiente con cierta independencia, pero cuando un potencial cliente es asesinado ante sus ojos y más cadáveres empiezan a aparecer en el barrio las cosas comienzan a cambiar. Primer libro de la trilogía de Marîd Audran.

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Profile Image for Kirsten .
1,584 reviews254 followers
September 2, 2015
Part Casablanca. Part Blade Runner. Part Raymond Chandler. All good!

Now, I normally don't like cyber punk or techno thrillers, but this book made that subgenre so much more. By concentrating on the plot and the characters and the setting, the techno speak and situations are played down as just a facet in a complex story.

One of my complaints with some science fiction authors is that they are so enamored with the technology and the physics that the actual story and characters suffer as a result. Mr. Effinger doesn't have that problem. I'd never heard of him before and this book was written in the 1980s! He is quite possibly one of the more overlooked authors in the science fiction field and that is a shame!
75 reviews
January 26, 2020
Great concept, a cyber punk set in a world where the middle east has risen to top dog while previously powerful Europe and America have fallen apart. The part that actually makes it cyberpunk, the "moddies" and "daddies" were very interesting as well.

However, aside from that it was a somewhat boringly by-the-book detective noir. The main character Marid had almost no personality aside from his independent streak and disdain for some of the currently popular high technology. But even that was never truly explored in any depth. We never learn much about the world at large, or even the larger city that the story takes place within. We never even get a lot of time devoted to the tech, something that no cyber punk story should neglect. This is a world where you not only can plug in an insert to make you faster, stronger, and speak any language, but you can plug in a person's *entire personality*, real or fictional. Marid only opts in once or twice during the novel, explaining this away with the dread he feels toward the technology. Unfortunately, we never quite learn why he despises its use in a world where people get wired in at ages as young as 13. While somewhat better in its representation, we also don't get nearly enough time exploring Marid's interaction with other people who use the tech in my opinion.

There are some interesting sexual aspects of the story. There doesn't seem to be much negative stigma to sex change operations, for example. And it is even used as a plot device at one point. But gender itself is mostly unexplored, and as in many bland detective stories I've read in the past, nearly every single female character is a prostitute. If a trans woman gets a sex change operation in this world, she is then automatically a prostitute, stripper, or escort as well. *yawn*

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this book I can only give it a 2/5. I might have bumped it up to a 2.5 if the system had let me.
Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,234 reviews69 followers
June 10, 2018
There is a lot of subtext here, and a lot of metaphor, and a lot that says that George Alec Effinger is a clever, savvy, modern science fiction writer. And I grabbed this book when I was not in the mood for subtext, and clever, and metaphor.

But that's okay; there's a lot of good story here on top of the sub stuff. Marîd Audran is big, tough, and lives by his wits without selling more of himself than he chooses in the Budayeen, a future decadent Arabic ghetto where pleasure is cheap and independence, rare. He enjoys his recreational drugs, but rejects the varieties of pleasure offered by the surgical implants that make it possible to take on vicariously the personality cartridge of another, a hero, a lover, an artist, whatever one might choose. But now Marîd is in trouble. A string of brutal and senseless murders enmesh him in a web of violence that brings him to the attention of Friedlander Bey, the centenarian godfather of crime in the Budayeen. Offered a position as Bey's agent, an offer that cannot be rejected, requiring the most sophisticated surgical implants, Marîd is made capable of battle with a strange and powerful killer, whom he must defeat or die trying. (adapted from the book jacket)

RATB. Monopoly. ¿SRC? (Yellow cover, at least!)
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