Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

1989: A Fire in the Sun (Effinger, George Alec)

Its occasional flaw almost characterizes it in itself (4/5)
From September 26, 2010

Whereas Gravity Fails (Book One of the Marîd Audran trilogy) was a rather generic exposé of gritty life in a gritty Arab city, Fire in the Sun is a detailed depiction of the mafia-esque underworld controlling the streets, the businesses, the law enforcement and, ultimately, the peoples' lives. Effinger has seemingly fine-tuned the broader plot theme to hone in on the natural spectrum which the Budayeen intrinsically offers. There are less bar scenes yet more one-on-one scenes, there is less drug use yet an increase in moddie (modification which control mood, emotion and personality) and daddie (modifications which allow the user peripheral ability) usage, and there is less detailed grit yet there is a finer resolution of the once familiar sleaze in the Budayeen.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Marîd Audran has become everything he once despised. Not so long ago, he was a hustler in the Budayeen--an Arabian ghetto in a Blakanized future Earth. Back then there were times he didn't have the money to buy himself a drink. But her had his independence. And he had his integrity.

Now Marîd lives in the vast homeof Friedlander Bey, "godfather" of the Budayeen, a man whose power stretches across a shattered, crumbling world. During the day Marîd works as a policeman... and as Bey's personal envoy to the plice. His new position has brought him money and power, both of which he would abandon in a moment is only he could return to a life of neither owning nor being owned. But that, unfortunately, is not among his options.

It is also, at the moment, not an issue. For something dark and dangerous is afoot. Someone is purposely sending the entire city into chaos. Helping a mutilator of children to avoid arest. Setting a bloodthirsty killer loose to murder Marîd's partner. Murdering prostitutes and savaging their remains. There are hints that the hand of Abu Adil is involve. And Abu Adil is the one man in the city whose power rivels that of Friedlander Bey."

When Gravity Fails left the reader at a spacious conclusion ripe to be written into a sequel. I had a mix of impressions from Gravity (blatant, unabashed grittiness at the cost of some finer prose versus the uniqueness of the environment) and felt that Effinger had a difficult task ahead of himself to write a decent sequel (as most books are prone to this same failure). But even in the opening pages of Fire, I was struck by the maturity of the writing and the true attempt to weave pivotal character development throughout the already richly woven tapestry from Gravity. Most of Fire is a gradual increase in design entropy; interactions become entwined, the cast becomes embroiled in strife, and naturally Madríd Audran must sift through the complexity of the mafia-esque underworld to reveal to himself the true scope of the delicateness of the interdependency.

But one flaw through the novel is also one found in Gravity: that of randomly dropped-in scenes with nonessential characters, which find themselves quickly out of the limelight and never referred to again in the greater context of the plot. It's almost as if Effinger has a set of supporting cast and also a stash of silly inhabitants which add nothing but comic relief.

Speaking of comic relief, I found myself giggling (umm, maybe grinning widely while silently chuckling to myself) during some scenes when Madríd Audran displays a keen wit where Effinger lets loose his exceptional observational skills. One part had me literally guffaw aloud: "[...] her lips looked like she bought them first and forgot to put them in the refrigerator while she shopped for the rest of her face." (12) Lovely piece of description that is! There are a number of gems like this which had me close my eyes to visualize Effinger's unique talent of textural conveyance.

With a rich cast, detailed social interworking, impressive cityscape, and unique inclusion of the moddies and daddies, Fire in the Sun is like a boxer with a steady stream of jabs, continually keeping you alert to the nuances of change. Only during the occasional changes do you realize that the steadiness isn't as steady as you once thought, but you continue to think to yourself that regardless of the tempo change, you can still regard this piece of sci-fi as one and in itself! Its flaws almost characterize it (almost, almost)! However much I'd love to procure the third book in the trilogy, Exile Kiss, I haven't been able to find a convenient copy to purchase anywhere.


  1. Very much agree, a case where the sequel was greatly improved over the first book. I didn't mind Gravity but thought it was a bit weak and shallow; maybe my expectations soared too far from possibility when I heard "Arabian cyberpunk detective." Fire more than made up for the first book's failings. I still need to read the third book; they re-released the trilogy (plus a collection of stories) a few years ago.

  2. As I was reading this review from two years ago and seeing how much others liked Gravity, I thought to myself that perhaps I need to reread them both when I eventually, cross-my-finger, procure the third book. But your statement supports my notion that, yes, book one was a small failure on the expectation front.

    Guiltily, this is one of my favorite covers in my collection!