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It's genuinely obscene that these novels aren't still available in mass market editions. These are three of the most entertaining novels I've ever read -- and, yeah, I've read a bunch.
Effinger blends science fiction and the hard-boiled detective novel seamlessly and more effectively than anyone else who's attempted it, then sets the whole thing in one of the most interesting and unusual worlds you can imagine. We've seen the futures of Los Angeles and Tokyo more times than any of us can count -- but what about the future of the Middle East? The Budayeen, the sleazy setting of these novels, is a place you've never been before in any form, and it's a place you'll wish you could visit in real life -- even if you could end up with a knife in your back.
These are just great novels. The only thing more disappointing than the fact that Bantam Spectra let them slip out of print is the fact that Effinger stopped at three, when Marid Audran and his world were still so rich and intriguing.
One last thing, though: Don't call 'em cyberpunk. First off, they ain't -- and second, Effinger reportedly hates that.
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What really sets the game above the rest however, is the incredibly rich universe that White Wolf has created. It's possible to play just about any type of sci-fi game you want from Blade Runner film-noir, Aliens-style horror, Star Trek-quests into the unknown, to Star Wars-style space opera. The supplemental books and adventures are also top notch. If you're looking for adaptable sci-fi, Trinity is it.
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Audran's stubborn refusal to wire his brain is what sets him apart from more of the other denizens of the "Budayeen" (old city--think casbah), he prefers to alter his mental state through heavy drinking and drug use. Most of his days are spent sleeping off hangovers and then drifting through the red-light district, sitting around with friends and series of bartenders. However, when a series of seemingly unrelated murders attracts the attention of Freidlander Bey (the local godfather figure), he is prodded into investigating the murders and coming up with answers. Audran's interactions with Freidlander Bey masterfully capture the elaborate verbal dances and coffee ritual that accompany traditional Arab business dealings. Unfortunately, once Audran is hooked, the plot starts to betray the great setting and characters Effinger has established.
It's established that the murderer is using some sort of bootlegged module to assist in committing their crimes. Therefore, in a somewhat suspect leap of logic, it is decided that in order to track the murderer down, Audran will need to be wired with experimental brain implants. This narrative misstep not only abandons the one trait that made Audran unique, independent, and likeable, but also pushes the technology to the fore of the story at the expense of character. Once this is done, the mystery is solved relatively quickly, and in a rather pedestrian way. Of course, there's more to the mystery than a simple psychopath gone amok, but the whys are only partially convincing. It's still a great book, but the last third is a bit of a letdown after the amazing beginning.
All the characters are colourful and unforgettable. In the end, I felt like I was one of them, like I belonged to their community. It's really hard not to get involved personnally in this book (... the sign of a good book). The description of the Boudayin is amazing: it avoids most of the usual exotic cliches about North Africa (where I've never been to), but in the same time, the reader catches very quickly who does what and why, even if he's not familiar with arab civilization. In other words, Effinger plays intelligently with the western unconscious perception of this culture.
I think this novel may appeal to many sci-fi readers: the unexperienced readers will certainly appreciate the fast pace and the unusual setting; the more experienced readers will appreciate the numerous references and, in a way, the fidelity to the spirit of the golden age of SF.
The only problem I see with WGF is: what's next? Is this the end of a cycle or the beginning of another? Effinger seems to have reached his top with this book: the two sequels, written in 1989 and 1991, are in my opinion very inferior. I wish someone took up the gauntlet soon.
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The story starts with Marid in Algiers, searching for his mother and his roots. It doesn't quite work out as well as expected, and soon he's back in Cairo under the thumb of Friedlander Bey, working for the police, running around trying to figure out who's murdering little children and prostitutes. The killings may or may not be linked to Abu Adil, a rival to Friedlander Bey, but Marid doesn't really get going until an obviously corrupt officer keeps thwarting him and his reluctant partner gets killed. This element gets a little hokey, as his relationship with the partner goes through all the phases familiar to us from buddy-cop movies. The action gets a little convoluted as Marid bounces around, and the setting's novelty isn't as compelling as in the first book. Still, it's an interesting mix of Chandler and Dick, and if you like it, you should definitely check out Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music. Followed by The Exile Kiss.
The sci-fi and fantasy aspects of the book, mainly involving the devices characters can plug into their brains to alter their behavior or sensory input, are imaginative and very good. Many of the character depictions are also quite good, for instance, Kmuzu, Audran's Christian slave, and the twisted Abu Adil, who uses something called Proxy Hell chips that you'll have to read about yourself. However, the plot and the world the book is set in are not 100% convincing. For instance, it remains very unclear why religion is such a big part of Effinger's world, with characters uttering Muslim expressions right and left but religion not integrated into their lives in any meaningful way. Another problem is that the first-person narrative contains many annoying banalities that don't fit with the main character's personality at all. He is supposedly a street-wise hitman and advisor to a powerful mob boss, but makes annoyingly obvious remarks and expresses absurdly simple-minded views on Islam and religion in general. Overall, however, I still recommend the book if you're looking for a good sci-fi read and don't have anything else on your list.
The premise behind the series is brilliant. It places the characters in a cyberpunkesque middle east landscape but rather than in the course of one book turning characters into world beating superheroes - the characters remain grounded in an often seedy but very consistent universe. There are real shades here of Phiip K Dick at his best. It may not be SF for juveniles (wish fulfillment if any is darker and a lot more adult).
People in this series spend much of their time doing very human things (evasion of reality & difficult questions through drink, drugs or media being the most common). These books certainly live up to one valuable SF trend of holding a mirror to current daily life.
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It's one of those books where you just keep turning the pages and before you know it your closing the back cover.
Really, if you want a refreshing fantasy novel, pick up Zork if you can find it. It's definately worth seeking out.
It's a journey through the great underground empire with intriguing characters and a good story-line (If you remember "Kill Troll with sword", you'll get an instant feel for this novel)!
I'd say pick this one up!
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Effinger, George Alec: "And Us, Too, I Guess", while written for this anthology, also appears in Effinger's collection _Irrational Numbers_. The viewpoint alternates between the 1st person narrative of Dr. Davis, a scientist, and the 3rd person narrative of Paul Moran, a factory worker.
Davis seeks to rebuild his career yet again after the latest of a series of catastrophes. In his own mind, at least, he's not responsible for any of the troubles that have befallen him - and in his secret heart, he admits that he enjoys disaster, if he can sit back and watch. Moran, on the other hand, would claim only one disaster - his unhappy marriage - but might be honest enough to admit his own contribution to the problem.
They seem to be a study in contrasts, save for the two points they have in common: dissatisfaction with their lots in life, and a passion for raising mollies (a breed of tropical fish). On the morning the story opens, both Davis and Moran find that all their pets have died in the night, with no visible cause of death. Upon seeking replacements, the hobbyists learn gradually that *all* mollies everywhere appear to have died that same night. Then a few days later, another species - an obscure fungus - is found extinct, and an ominous pattern of tragedy begins to unfold.
Dozois, Gardner R.: "Chains of the Sea", which also appears in Dozois' collection _The Visible Man_, is an SF story of the day aliens "invaded" Earth, and the story of a kid who retains the ability to see "the Other People" long after his friends have forgotten them. (They share the Earth, but in ways that most humans can't perceive, and that even the AIs who *really* run human civilization aren't really aware of - at first.)
The story alternates between 3rd-person views of the aliens' arrival, and of Tommy's problems. The alien landings thread is mostly to do with the AIs' handling of the issue. They've never bothered to inform their "owners" that they communicate almost instantaneously when they wish, with no regard to their "owners'" political disagreements. Tommy's thread ties up with this because the Other People, like the AIs and human governments, are preoccupied with the aliens' arrival.
The title is a metaphor from a story-within-the-story, made up by Tommy during his after-school games. Tommy himself is caught between his abusive father, the uncaring school system, and the mysterious activities of the Other People. "He knew now why Steve had said the dragon couldn't get away. It lived in the sea, so it couldn't get away by going up onto the land - that was impossible. It had to stay in the sea, it was restricted by that, it was chained by the sea..."
Alone of the trio, "Chains of the Sea" suffers from sub par copyediting, in the form of occasional spelling mistakes, and botched grammar during a flashback. Otherwise, it's an excellent story, my favourite of the three. For instance, the media near one of the landing sites gives it continuous coverage, even though they have nothing to say, and an attempted media blackout causes far more trouble than the initial coverage - including a rash of lawsuits. The only telltale sign of its 1973 composition date is a simile, describing distorted time perception "like 33 records played at 78 RPM".
Eklund, Gordon: "The Shrine of Sebastian", set far in the future, opens with a few paragraphs of quotation from a manuscript being written within the story: _The Book of Man_, a work that the robot Andrew hopes will rival the Bible in time to come. His less-than-objective opinion is that it's at least an equal, containing neither fiction nor parable but what actually happened millennia ago when Sebastian spake of his vision unto the people of Earth, guiding them to the great spaceships bound for a new world. As the story progresses, the reader can draw his or her own conclusions about the accuracy of Andrew's assessment of his work.
In one sense, the story is linear, beginning on the day of Pope Maria's death, leaving her downtrodden husband Julian with two legacies: the title of Pope, and a command to bury her at the shrine of Sebastian. Why did such an arrogant, self-satisfied woman want to be laid to rest at the heart of a heretical movement? (The reader, of course, has additional mysteries to ponder, picking up clues on the state of this far future world from evidence in the story - no heavy-handed exposition. In fact, the story avoids exposition to the point that the reader may be left floundering through the unsavory incidents that befall Andrew and Julian. I greatly prefer the thread following Andrew's better-organized viewpoint to that following Julian's.)
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All the stories herein first appeared between 1973 - 1975; this collection first appeared in 1976. The only conjecture I can offer as to why it became hard to find in Effinger's lifetime is that while the stories are all excellent, they're mostly disquieting as well.
"And Us Too, I Guess" first appeared in the anthology _Chains of the Sea_. The viewpoint alternates between the 1st person narrative of Dr. Davis, a scientist, and the 3rd person narrative of Paul Moran, a factory worker. Both men have unsatisfactory lives. Davis is rebuilding his career - not for the first time - after a disaster (apparently) not of his own making. Moran, on the other hand, definitely has a hand in the making of his own disaster: his unsatisfactory marriage.
Neither man knows the other, but they share a common passion: breeding mollies, a particular breed of tropical fish. On the day the story opens, both find that all their pets have died - and upon seeking replacements, that *all* mollies everywhere appear to have died in a single night. Then a few days later, another species - an obscure fungus - is found dead, and an ominous pattern of tragedy begins to unfold.
"At the Bran Foundry" first appeared in _New Dimensions 3_. The annual Key Club outing - 18 teenagers with 2 fathers along, narrated by one of the boys - may first seem to have fantastic elements only in that 1) fathers, not mothers, are acting as chaperones, and 2) the kids are holding still for a tour of the Jennings Raisin Bran Corporation. But anomalies appear thick and fast as the lecture rolls on, both in the things we see, and those we don't.
"Biting Down Hard on Truth" first appeared in _Orbit 15_. Mac, Willie, and Sam (Sam's Willie's wife) are the three protagonists, as 3 of the many people in a giant institution whose purpose is unclear even to them, let alone the reader. It's hard to tell at first whether this is an alternate history - the religion is Mithraism, but modified to allow female participation - or the future. Jennings, the mysterious figure who coaches sports, leads religious rituals, and lectures on various military topics, appears to be the one constant in their lives - at first.
"Curtains" first appeared in _The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction_ (MFSF), August 1974, and appears to have the same setting as Lydectes (see below). Delta Company is a troupe (*not* troop) of soldiers on the battlefields of a future war arranged by the Representatives of Europe and North America, where "theater of war" takes on an entirely new spin, and a unit's reviews by the official critics are its first concern.
"Hard Times" first appeared in _Amazing Science Fiction_ in 1973. Justin, having applied for a lowly office position in Federal Services, is undergoing a battery of psychological tests, but he isn't filling out forms. Instead, a la the Matrix, each test puts him into a dreamworld he can't distinguish from reality - drugged so that he doesn't remember it's a test - to see how he reacts.
"How It Felt" first appeared in Universe 5. As the only person left with true feelings, Vivi is set apart. Her friends, however, are driven to appalling lengths to seek diversion, and often seek it by gauging *her* reaction to their actions. Today, however, she's attempting to create a more sophisticated veneer, and isn't providing her usual satisfactory responses.
"Lydectes: On the Nature of Sport" (1975) My first reaction: 'Hmm. The title sounds like a philosophical essay by a classical author; should I know the name?' As it happens, the text appears at first to be exactly that sort of essay - but it was found in a sealed capsule among some ruins on Wolf 359, Planet B, and for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, the dictator of North America found it important enough to forward to a colleague, with his own chatty annotation weaving in and out of the text - which also reveals that he and his colleagues are on the brink of war. (The essay, incidentally, is much more readable than Plato in English translation.)
"25 Crunch Split Right on Two" (MFSF, April 1975) MacDay's working life as a running back for the Cleveland Browns is spent translating such cryptic jargon into plays. But his coaches and fellow players don't know that what motivates him to try his hardest this year is that sometimes, when he's hit hard enough under just the right conditions (he's still working out what they are), he has flashbacks to a night five years ago: a night out with his wife, who died not long afterward. He'll pay whatever price he can even to see her again, but if he can change what happened...