When Gravity Fails by George Alex Effinger


Mad Mountain Man
Jun 29, 2010
Scottish Highlands
Isn’t it strange the things that can sometimes unjustifiably put one off picking up a book to read? I’ve had When Gravity Fails on my list for a long time – I love SF, I love cyberpunk and I thoroughly enjoy a good noir crime thriller – so this book is ticking all my boxes and yet I kept passing it over. I’ve tried to figure out why and honestly I think it’s down to a title that just somehow felt a little stodgy to me and the author’s name that somehow felt the same. I just kept thinking: no, I just don’t fancy this. So finally I’ve read it and I loved it. Ho hum!

So science fiction and cyberpunk but not in the immersive frenetic mould of Gibson’s Neuromancer; yes, almost everyone is ‘wired’ so they can plug in ‘moddies’ (different personalities) and ‘daddies’ (add on abilities such a foreign languages) and dark sleazy clubs and bars abound as do significant quantities of drugs. So definitely cyberpunk but that’s mostly just the background; the noir crime atmosphere is much more the focus, making it far more similar to Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk trilogy. Whilst Arabesk has even less focus on the cyberpunk element it is similarly set in a Middle Eastern city with a protagonist who also finds himself obliged to turn detective. In fact I would be very surprised if Grimwood wasn’t hugely influenced by Effinger’s writing.

My single real complaint was what I can only describe as Effinger’s virtual obsession with sex changes. There were only a few female to male instances but almost every female character in the book seems to have been a male to female sex change. Okay so it was written back in 1987 but even back then I would have had a hard time suspending my disbelief in the face of so many of the cast being such. But unarguably that did much to enhance that dark noir underworld atmosphere that pervades the book from the first page to the last. The ending was for me also just a little unsatisfactory; I’m not saying I wanted a happily ever after finish but what I got was just a little too downbeat for my taste.

Still, When Gravity Fails is a very good book that has given me yet another series to work my way through!

4/5 stars

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