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Gun, with Occasional Music | [Jonathan Lethem]

Gun, with Occasional Music

Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems - not the least of which are the rabbit in his waiting room and the trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is an ominous place where evolved animals function as members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage. In this brave new world, Metcalf has been shadowing the wife of an affluent doctor, perhaps falling a little in love with her at the same time.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Legend has it that, while they were working on the script for The Big Sleep, William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett had to phone Raymond Chandler to clarify who killed a particular character; Chandler eventually admitted that even he couldn't work that one out, and let the scriptwriters decide for themselves. In even the most celebrated hard-boiled noir, then, clarity of plot is secondary to atmosphere, tone, and those particularly allusive metaphors — the more overblown, the better. Jonathan Lethem's Gun with Occasional Music (actually the author's first published novel, though newly released here on audio) is no exception — in fact, it takes these noir traditions to their illogical extreme by locating the plot in a surreal near-future where current societal trends are reflected in a funhouse mirror. Animals are "evolved" and take on human characteristics while remaining second-class members of society, babies are given growth hormones to "develop" quickly, radio news is broadcast in the form of abstract music, people's karma levels are monitored by a points-system, and, in a brilliant stroke, the only people allowed to ask direct questions are investigators (called "inquisitors"), so the gumshoe's verbal dexterity and panache takes on a heightened significance that heralds Lethem's career as a literary wunderkind.

Narrator Nick Sullivan serves this dialogue well, and has great fun with the accumulation of wisecracks. Lines like "The Bay View was a vacation spot for people vacating from their husbands and wives" are delivered with perfect timing, fitting for the kind of deadpan one-liners that are stock in trade of gumshoe narratives. If he perhaps emphasises the comic and cartoon at the expense of the story's darker undertones, then it is compensated by his well-drawn cast of characters, including a lugubrious villain and a tough-guy kangaroo hoodlum.

Although not as substantial as Lethem's two masterpieces, Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude, Gun with Occasional Music clearly sets forth the author's predilection for genre-bending, being somewhere between Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick — perhaps with a touch of Who Framed Roger Rabbit thrown in. —Dafydd Phillips

Publisher's Summary

Gumshoe Conrad Metcalf has problems - not the least of which are the rabbit in his waiting room and the trigger-happy kangaroo on his tail. Near-future Oakland is an ominous place where evolved animals function as members of society, the police monitor citizens by their karma levels, and mind-numbing drugs such as Forgettol and Acceptol are all the rage.

In this brave new world, Metcalf has been shadowing the wife of an affluent doctor, perhaps falling a little in love with her at the same time. But when the doctor turns up dead, our amiable investigator finds himself caught in the crossfire in a futuristic world that is both funny - and not so funny.

©1994 Jonathan Lethem; (P)2009 BBC Audio

What the Critics Say

"This colorful first novel is a fast and lively read, full of humorous visions and outlandish predicaments." (Publishers Weekly)
"[A] sparkling pastiche of Chandleresque detective fiction displaced to an almost comical postmodern landscape." (Booklist)
"Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's vision...an audaciously assured first novel." (Newsweek)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.5 (87 )
5 star
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3.7 (62 )
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3.6 (63 )
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 04-18-12
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 04-18-12 Member Since 2011

    A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.

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    "SF SLAMS into a hard-boiled, noir pulp!"

    Science fiction slams into a hard-boiled, noir pulp (imagine 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' written by Chandler and directed by David Lynch'). Fun, quick and in parts even close to brilliant.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    crazybatcow East Coast, Canada 11-11-13
    crazybatcow East Coast, Canada 11-11-13 Member Since 2007

    I like Jack Reacher style characters regardless of setting. Put them in outer space, in modern America, in a military setting, on an alien planet... no worries. Book has non moralistic vigilante-justice? Sign me up! (oh, I read urban fantasy, soft and hard sci-fi, trashy vampire and zombie novels too)

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    "Noir detective novel meets alternative future..."

    This book was in my library for a very long time... I think I thought it was a different kind of book than it actually was. It is billed as a noir-detective type novel, but I would have to say that it is equally an alternative future/sci-fi type novel.

    It does have the Chandler-esque tone to it: making it on the dark side, and the action is short and succinct. It is not particularly violent or graphic, but has an over-arching depression about it. (i.e. you won't find a feel-good sensation at the end).

    There is significant drug use - in fact, this is the component that sets the novel out as alternative future-ish... drug use has been legalized, and, even more disturbingly, made customizable for users. In fact, it changes society completely at the end - and it adds a layer of bleakness to the story, while still remaining believable. If you look at it quickly, you might think the drug use was just this detectives' booze (after all, don't all noir detectives have addictions?), but I think it was actually the component that carved out this world: the very world became the way it is in the novel because of this drug 'reality'. And the ending of the novel wouldn't have worked without it.

    I have read elsewhere that the novel was a commentary on the state of individual detachment from/in the world, and I suppose that could be an accurate description. Except that I didn't read it for social insights or moral issues; I read it for simple enjoyment. Fortunately it delivered. Sure, you can read all sorts of stuff into it, but you don't have to, and I think the book stands well as a futuristic noir.

    The narration is good. There is violence, but it is not graphic. There is no sex. I will be looking for more books by this author.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darryl Cedar Rapids, IA, United States 07-27-13
    Darryl Cedar Rapids, IA, United States 07-27-13 Member Since 2005
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    "quirky SF detective story"

    this is very much a Chandler "Big Sleep" type story but channeled through Pynchon and PK Dick. very good, and though the narrator could have been a bit more world weary noirish, or a bit more comic like Michael Kramer's narration for Westlake, (you really need to get Kramer's Dortmunder recordings on Audible) he does a good job. interested in Lethem's Chronocity now.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rhett CHAPEL HILL, NC, United States 03-18-13
    Rhett CHAPEL HILL, NC, United States 03-18-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Gun, with Occasional Music"
    Any additional comments?

    What happens if you take the classic noir detective story and put it into an American future characterized by perverse pleasure? You get this novel.

    First the positive. If you like a traditional tough-guy detective story told in the first person, this has got that. It’s even set in the Bay Area and incorporates all of the necessary elements, damsels in distress, a seductress, tough guys jawing at one another, a morally flawed main character, etc. In fact, early on in the book I thought that I would rate it fairly high simply because Jonathan Lethem had done such a tremendous job of matching the trope. I was particularly taken with his deft touch on the snappy tough-guy repartee, if this were a movie there would be many quotable lines.

    That said, I found it a little lacking at points. Frankly there were a few points where the book just lost my attention. These points seemed to be primarily where he left the main detective plot line and immersed the reader in world building. More importantly, I could never quite figure out how the world Lethem created served the story. For instance, you can expect the main character in this type of novel to hit the bottle or have an addiction, but everyone had an addiction and I’m still wondering how, other than occasionally making some people harder to question, that served the story. Another example of this was a series of genetically mutated animals. They were an interesting set of characters to play with and read about, but I can’t say that I felt like they added depth to the plot in anyway, which I see as a strong negative in a murder mystery. There was also a backdrop of Karma Points, which when it was first introduced I thought was an interesting concept, but it just never seemed to go anywhere intriguing.

    As I think this through, it seems to me that the writer must have wanted to write a noir detective story, which is cool. Then he decided to place the story in a really funky world and the problem is that the world doesn’t end up facilitating the story, it came off to me as simply arbitrary.

    Don’t get me wrong because of the strong first-person narration and appropriate incorporation of the genre’s tropes, it is an entertaining read. It just falls a little flat in the end. My official rating for this is 3.5 stars, but since most sites won’t let you do half a star I’ll click the three star button because I simply do not feel strongly enough about it to make it four stars.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    sherry Kirkland, WA, United States 12-13-12
    sherry Kirkland, WA, United States 12-13-12 Member Since 2004
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    "Such a clever idea but that's all"

    There's no denying the quality of Lethem's writing. His mimicry of the hard-boiled, Raymond Chandler type, simile-swinging detective is spot on. The novel's concept is clever and engaging--at first. After the first surprise of discovering the old-fashioned PI juxtaposed with a dystopian society, I found the story gets old, the characters are trite and undeveloped, and I got bored.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    danni Sointula, BC, Canada 06-20-10
    danni Sointula, BC, Canada 06-20-10 Member Since 2010
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    "all about style"

    As with all Lethem's books, it's not the story that entertains, it's the writing. His books are all an interesting turn of phrase.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Oshawa, Ontario, Canada 01-30-13
    John Oshawa, Ontario, Canada 01-30-13 Member Since 2001
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    "Well, it was certainly interesting..."
    Any additional comments?

    ...although, I'm not sure that I would say that it was good. Actually, I think the author may have written this book on a dare. At its heart, the book is a hard-boiled detective story. However, the author seems to go out of his way to insert the most bizarre and unbelievable events and characters into the story for no obvious purpose. As a result, his vision of the future often seems to be more of a joke on the reader than an actual place.

    For example, at one point the protagonist goes to visit another detective who had previously done some work on the case. Only the other detective is a monkey. No particular reason. It doesn't really add anything to the story. The detective is just a monkey.

    Maybe I'm missing the inner meaning of all the strangeness, but I doubt it. In the end, the plot was fine and characters were fine, but all the goofiness was just distracting.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Eric Brooklyn, NY, United States 01-24-13
    Eric Brooklyn, NY, United States 01-24-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Creative Dark Future Noir"

    The story is set in a retro future with land lines, phone books, and specialized cocaine. I loved the silliness and the satire, but it never reached beyond it's genre of noir. It would be fun if this was a series, but its not. It goes to show Lethem's ability to make you feel like there are many other stories to tell in this world, and he paints the picture quickly enough that you can step into it within the first hour.

    My favorite aspect of the world were the science experiments the government or powers that be were enacting on the population and how they were almost not vital to the story. Letham is able to use walking talking animals in place of Dick Tracy villains but describes each wrinkle the same way the comic strip did with lots of tiny lines.

    The narrator's performance is slow and simple for my taste and often had strange inflection. I think the story would have suited a subtle performance rather than the gum shoe cartoon voice that's used. As with many of noir titles in first person, the narrator's often have gruff voices that make their children and women character voices conjure images of men in drag with fake high pitched voices.

    All in all, good fun.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mesmer2011 Lake Tahoe, California, USA 12-26-12
    Mesmer2011 Lake Tahoe, California, USA 12-26-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Need a prequel and sequel"
    If you could sum up Gun, with Occasional Music in three words, what would they be?

    Hammet , Drugs and a Kangaroo


    Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

    Quaint amusing plot introducing science gone Wrong mutated animal characters it was extremely enjoyable listening to the wonderfully drawn caricatures of the inhabitants of this bay area bizarre family. It was not a story glorifying drugs but rather a scene of the future of psychopharmacology industry It was very well done and it's a shame that it's still not in a series run


    Which character – as performed by Nick Sullivan – was your favorite?

    The detective, the kangaroo ,the baby heads ,the gorilla and every last other one of the players


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I was in shock and awe at how close this came to my InVisioning of the future


    Any additional comments?

    Laythan should rearrange his priorities and write this in full series of fun and laughter

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bonnie Bellmore, NY, United States 11-28-12
    Bonnie Bellmore, NY, United States 11-28-12 Member Since 2001

    BJS

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    "Ramand Chandler in the 22nd century"
    If you could sum up Gun, with Occasional Music in three words, what would they be?

    Classic Private eye story set in a future where animals have been evolved into creatures that speak and do tasks that humans won't do any more.


    What did you like best about this story?

    How our hero Conrad Metcalf , not only deals with problems but with his addictions to legal drugs That is a part of the story and how he has his own personal blend.


    Which character – as performed by Nick Sullivan – was your favorite?

    Conrad Metcalf, he really pulled off all the character voices but you really felt Metcalf's angst.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    A few laughs and some extreme reactions to some brutal murders but all in all a really good story. Well worth what I paid for it. (got on sale and would still recommend) excellent urban future fantasy.


    Any additional comments?

    SPOILER; I would love to see a second book about this character after he get's out of the freeze, in the future.......I hope.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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