Continuing with her excellent series of critical essays on classic works of science fiction for Tor.com, Jo Walton takes on one of my favorite novels: George Alec Effinger's super-hard-boiled, Middle Eastern cyberpunk novel When Gravity Fails. Effinger was the second real sf writer I ever met (the first being Edward Llewellyn, who came and spoke at the D&D day-camp I attended when I was 11 or 12); I was a gofer an the Ad Astra science fiction convention where he was guest of honor. He was so incredibly gracious and generous to the star-struck 15 year old who brought him his water and made sure he knew where the green room was that I immediately ran out and read all his books; the one that floored me was Gravity. Walton, it seems, agrees:
Effinger's writing on the word and sentence level is just beautiful, the voice is perfect, and remains so all the way through, and the way he wraps the theme around there is what he does in the whole book.
This was a book that couldn't have happened without cyberpunk, but which itself isn't cyberpunk. There are no hackers here, and almost no computers--though it feels reasonable for the Budayeen that there wouldn't be. Holoporn, yes, drugs to get you up or down, prostitutes of all genders and some in between, personality modules of anything from salesmen to serial killers via sex kittens, but no computers. The street is what comes from cyberpunk, and perhaps the neural wiring, a little. But what Effinger does with it, making it a North African street that really feels like something out of the future of another culture, is entirely his own. Effinger said the Budayeen was based on the French Quarter of New Orleans, where he lived, as much as it was based on anywhere, but it has the feel of a real place, grimy and edgy and run down and full of the wrong sort of bars.