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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

Critic Reviews

"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 listeners say about Gun, with Occasional Music

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

14 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Utterly bonkers and not in a good way

Full disclosure: I couldn't stand even the first quarter of this book - I was dumped into an absurd, grim world with a bunch of characters I couldn't care less about and a murder mystery that meant nothing to me. I tried to hang in there, but the book was too much of a chore. I think a big problem was the huge gap between their world and ours - very little of it seemed like a world that could grow naturally, so there was nothing to believe in and no investment. Also, the main character has nothing to gain and everything to lose by taking the case, and he just didn't strike me as the kind of boy scout you need to be to do that; also, he was so laconic about everything that there was zero sense of stakes. It's too bad, because the world had several interesting ideas that, if presented alone against an otherwise normal backdrop, could have made for an intriguing story. The big mistake, IMO was the murder - the victim and the fall-guy are nobody to us, so the mystery means nothing. Again, it's too bad, because I read a plot summary, and the solution is kinda interesting and ironic; if I'd only had to sit through a short story to get there, it might have been a lot of fun.

Also, a personal peeve: "swapped nerve endings" is just jabbering nonsense. That's not how anything works. If they'd just physically swapped genitals, it'd have made more sense, though it still would have added zilch to the story. That kind of woolie thinking gets right up my nose.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

It’s quirky

But it’s a keeper. Not just a spoof, or that horror, the sci fi comedy. More like an exploration of the Marlowe mythos. It has humor but doesn’t beat you over the head with it. It’s read well, too.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

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 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • L
  • 08-12-21

Liked it, except for mild sexism

I was overlooking the misogyny because it was mild and sporadic, but at some point I was too tired of it to finish the story. The narrator was great. A female editor could have removed that crap.

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Well done my friend!!

He is such a fantastic author and they chose just the right narrator for the story!!

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Hard boiled detective in crazy town

Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music is a strange listen or at least cartoonish. The main character is a private eye or 'inquisitor' as detectives and other law enforcement personnel are known by. There's been a murder and a frame-up that no one other than the PI and the 'framee' care about. The strangeness comes from the universe in which the story takes place. While it has that Raymond Chandler feel, there is the added element of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Various animal species have been 'uplifted' to become functional members of society such as sheep and kangaroos. Then there is a form of evolved humans called 'babyheads' that retain a juvenile appearance, but function like adults. There are no police, but Inquisitors that function like Judge Dredds. Everyone has a 'karma' score which when it goes to zero, you go into the deep freeze for a while and the inquisitors can deduct on the spot and everyone is on some sort of drug therapy (Addictol, Acceptol, etc.) The plot is your basic hardboiled PI tale, although the 'hero' takes six years to solve the case due to a freeze period himself.

Lethem does a decent job of combining a classic detective story with all these other cartoonish elements. The universe in which all this takes place, however, makes no sense whatsoever and there's no attempt to offer an explanation. In fact, after the six year freeze, the society seems to have further declined along the lines of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin to the point where most people live on Forgettol and have been discouraged from ever asking questions. There's also a nerve swapping routine and the hero (male) spends the story with female sexual nerves due to a former girlfriend who left without re-swapping. It's unclear how this society can even exist. As far as the resolution of the original crime mystery, it all comes down to a bad dating app experience.

The narration is well done, with decent character distinction, including the uplifted creatures. The mood does effectively capture that necessary film noir feel for the plot.