When Gravity Fails
George Alec Effinger, 1987

the twenty-ninth book in the visitor recommendation series;
suggested by Peter Berman

More sci-fi from you sci-fi-lovin' so-and-so's.  As a history buff, what usually interests me most about sci-fi is the implied history leading up to the future a given work presents.  They say life comes at you fast — but how fast?  Over here you've got an author in 2004 writing about a 2019 in which people's brains are being reformatted to access the Internet telepathically; over there you've got a filmmaker in 1973 making the daring claim that by 2022, electronics might have advanced to the point that video arcade games could conceivably become popular.  When Gravity Fails presents us with the world of 2175, a few years after the USSR has finally broken up into several smaller countries and Germany has at long last reunited.  Among the cutting-edge technological advances of the 22nd century are automated teller machines that allow the people of the future to retrieve their cash even when the banks are closed, and cellular telephones that you can speak into as you walk down the street and then fold up and put in your pocket.  On the cultural front, there have apparently been no developments in the past two hundred years, because all cultural references are to the 20th century.  Oh, and body modification has reached the point that a person who has maintained the same sex since birth is a rare find, and most people have sockets in their heads that allow them to insert cartridges that will install prerecorded personalities into their brains.

The book doesn't actually seem to be about this technology, though.  There is some thematic potential in the notion of plug-in personalities, some commentary the author could weave into the story about how they reflect the different roles we adopt in day-to-day life, but from what I could tell, in this book they were just a plot device.  I said that this was sci-fi, but perhaps even more than that, it's one of those mystery/thriller things, with the protagonist trying to track down a brutal killer without getting offed himself, etc.  Not really my sort of thing.  But I have gathered that the real draw for most readers is the geographical setting: the Budayeen, a bad neighborhood in an unspecified corner of the Arab world.  A lot of scenes revolve around the way even hostile conversations are couched in elaborate, ritualized courtesies.  This is pretty interesting, but still not enough to give me more to say about this book than these pretty sad-looking two paragraphs.  Sorry!

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