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When Gravity Fails

Marid Audran Trilogy, Book 1
Narrated by: Jonathan Davis
Series: Marid Audran, Book 1
Length: 11 hrs and 51 mins
4 out of 5 stars (425 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In a decadent world of cheap pleasures and easy death, Marid Audrian has kept his independence the hard way. Still, like everything else in the Budayeen, he's available for a price.

For a new kind of killer roams the streets of the Arab ghetto, a madman whose bootlegged personality cartridges range from a sinister James Bond to a sadistic disemboweler named Khan. And Marid Audrian has been made an offer he can't refuse.The 200-year-old godfather of the Budayeen's underworld has enlisted Marid as his instrument of vengeance. But first Marid must undergo the most sophisticated of surgical implants before he dares to confront a killer who carries the power of every psychopath since the beginning of time.

Wry, savage, and unignorable, When Gravity Fails was hailed as a classic by Effinger's fellow SF writers on its original publication in 1987, and the sequence of Marid Audrian novels it begins were the culmination of his career.

©1987 George Alec Effinger (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Fast, cool, clever, beautifully written, absolutely authoritative. A kind of cyberpunk Raymond Chandler book with dashes of Roger Zelazny, Ian Fleming, and Scheherezade - but altogether original." (Robert Silverberg)
"Ingenious, layered, sophisticated, and consistently bloodcurdling, When Gravity Fails kept me awake long after I had finished reading it." (Spider Robinson)
"[Y]ou people are cheating yourselves if you don't forego food and rent to pick up on Effinger's work. Now, this time, will you for pete's sake listen to me and buy When Gravity Fails? It's as crazy as a spider on ice skates, plain old terrific; and if you don't pay attention I'll have to get tough with you!" (Harlan Ellison)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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

Neuromancer in the Middle East

This is another noir cyberpunk story with a reluctant hero who works for people he swore he'd never work for, doing things he swore he'd never do. If you've read "Neuromancer" or "Altered Carbon", you've read "When Gravity Fails". Just replace future-Tokyo or future-San Francisco with future-Damascus. (Actually, the city is never actually named: it could just as easily be Beirut or Amman or Jerusalem or Cairo.) While this was a good story, I'm thinking it was nominated for a Hugo and Nebula in 1988 because "Whoa, dude! Cyberpunk! In the Middle East! Like, everyone's Muslim!"

Aside from that novelty factor, When Gravity Fails serves up what you expect in a cyberpunk novel: digital personalities, downloaded brain modifications, surgically altered bodies, fractured nation-states, and lots of crime and grit and whores.

Marid Audrian is a Moroccan son of a prostitute who's your fairly standard noir protagonist: he hangs out in the Budayeen, an Arab ghetto in an unnamed Middle Eastern city, and his friends, lovers, and business associates are all grifters, bartenders, prostitutes, various-shades-of-dirty cops, street hustlers, just trying to get by, preying on rich tourists and their fellow citizens alike.

Marid gets dragged into a convoluted plot involving a serial killer who initially uses a James Bond persona, which was a mildly clever touch. Since he begins the story stating his abhorrence of having his brain modified, we know he's going to wind up chipped and jacked to the max.

The action scenes are fast-paced and well-written and the technology blends smoothly with the Middle Eastern setting. The "mystery" is a bit of a let-down, as I was expecting something more clever and twisted, but it ultimately made sense, and why should the real killer be some shocking Big Reveal instead of just another grimy scumbag?

Effinger's handling of Middle Eastern culture from a first-person POV did not, I think, exoticize it too much. Marid, while not devout himself, sees Arab culture and Islam as the default, so if he's sometimes critical or even mocking of it, it's no more so than an agnostic American who's not above taking shots at American culture and Christianity.

There are a lot of sex-changed characters in the book, including Marid's girlfriend. I wouldn't say it's particularly sensitive to trans people (there are the usual jokes about "You didn't know she used to be a man?"), but they seem to be accepted like everyone else. When Gravity Fails was probably pretty progressive for 1988. The "Whores! Whores! Whores!" sensibility is pretty de rigueur for cyberpunk. (That said, if you want cyberpunk that's not full of whores and nipply breasts, try Neal Stephenson or Hannu Rajaniemi.)

Like Neuromancer, When Gravity Fails is a book that might have been edgy and mind-blowing in the 80s, but now has nothing you haven't seen rolled out in mass production by Hollywood and dozens of SF imitators. This story about a street operator tracking down a serial killer in an unnamed futuristic Middle Eastern city is an entertaining enough read, but unless either cyberpunk or the Middle Eastern setting holds special appeal for you, it isn't something I'd recommend you go out of your way for.

28 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • Cliff
  • madison, MS, United States
  • 09-10-13

A must have series!

Would you consider the audio edition of When Gravity Fails to be better than the print version?

Both are top notch. I couldn't say one was better than the other.

What did you like best about this story?

This is one of the must read cyberpunk series. Mr. Effinger died too young as I would have like to see hum expand on this series. He has a unique fully formed world. It is arabic in nature but also loosely based on the French Quarter in New Orleans where the author was known to hang out quite a bit. he caught the sleazy feel of the area and the internal desperation of the charachters caught in it. The Cyber elements may seem a little trope now, but he was the first one to develop a lot of these concepts.

What about Jonathan Davis’s performance did you like?

He has great range. Each character was distinct and unique. he also really caught the feeling and emotional content of the book.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Just the overall desperation of the main character. He isn't the standard sci fi/fantasy superhero. He is very flawed and often goes and gets drunk or high rather than deal with his issues.

Any additional comments?

This is a must have as I said in the header.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • MR
  • 09-09-13

renewed aquaintence

Any additional comments?

I read this series several years ago and enjoyed them immensely. Recently I saw they were offered as audio-books and I took a chance - hoping they were as good as I recalled.

The voice actor is PERFECT for Marid - just the right blend of accent/age/humor. He manages to differentiate all the other voices/ethnicities of the book as well, so there aren't any moments of wondering "who said that".

So glad I gambled on this

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Brings Marid & the Budayeen to life, lots of fun

Loved it!! I have been waiting for any electronic versions of these, for me, definitive Effinger works. The story I already knew but Jonathan Davis did a wonderful job adding life to the characters. Actually Davis delivered voices very close to what was in my head each time I read the novels. If you like pulpy detective fiction, a taste of cyberpunk and the story taking place in an exotic (to us in the US anyway) part of the world you should enjoy this one a lot.

It's not an ordinary story there is drug use, mature subjects though tame dialog so know it's probably best to listen before deciding if it's for your kids. Depends on the kids. But the story is fun if let yourself get into things. And also it's a nice light read or listen, so I consider it sort of escapist material for those days when I just want to get away from news and the world. ;)

It is also refreshing to read a non-negative story with Muslim society as a plot mechanism. Granted these were written several decades ago. But it's nice none the less.

I can't wait until next month when I can burn a credit on the next book.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Excellent narrator!

The story was so-so, but the world was good, and the narrator was excellent!

I'm disappointed that all of the women or trans women are vapid secondary characters. However since this is more of a mystery it can *almost* be excused, since mysteries don't rely on character development as much.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Riveting story, incredible narrator!

I'm enjoying every word of this interesting story and it is narrated so well by Jonathan Davis. I am looking forward to listening to books 2 and 3.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Extraordinary performance

I had read this book fifteen years ago and rediscovered it in audio.

First, the performance is plain amazing. Every accent is there ! It is a fantastic read.

Then, the story is truly good and deserved the awards it got. Small warning : this is not a cyber detective story like many other inspired by Hammet / Chandler. This is a Don story like Mario Puzo's Don. And it is really well implemented

Last, but not least, the oriental world is very well described, precise and documented. We are not used to read stories in this world, with more stories set up either in the US or oriental world. It's a welcome change :-)

have a look !

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Eric
  • Madison, WI, United States
  • 04-22-17

Great Cyberpunk

Would you listen to When Gravity Fails again? Why?

I was hesitant to listen based on some of the other reviews. Most of the negative reviews couldn't be more wrong, this is great science fiction that presents the gritty Cyberpunk noir world.

What did you like best about this story?

The plot unfolds quickly, and while perhaps not completely unpredictable, take place in a middle eastern ghetto. The cultural variations are a wonder nuance to the Cyberpunk world.

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Davis’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I've never heard of this author before, but I'm going to listen to more of his books.

Any additional comments?

Do your self a favor - ignore the negative comments. Enjoy this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Noir Arab detective thriller

George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails is the first volume of his Marid Audran trilogy. Marid is a kind of private detective / investigator, but moreso an all around troubleshooter. He operates out of the Budayeen which is the seedier / dangerous part of town. He becomes drawn into a series of killings that he either witnesses or finds them and is hired by the local crime boss to figure it all out as business is starting to get affected. The full story is complex and convoluted.

While the mystery is engaging with a number of plot twists, the real draw of the tale is the futuristic scenario that is not so much dystopic as simply different. Set in the 22nd century, the major powers of globe have lost influence leaving the Arab world largely on its own. There is technological progress, but the rest of life seems business as usual. The most noticeable advancements are in the area of sex changes which are nearly routine and neural implants that allow for both instantaneous, but temporary language acquisition as well as wholesale personality changes.

The narration is well done with excellent character distinction and overall solid pacing.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Loved it, but wouldn't recommend to most women

A thrilling mix of Raymond Chandler, Casablanca, Blade Runner, Rex Stout, Ian Fleming, and other gritty sci fi... Altered Carbon, for example. I loved it, but I assume that not everyone would enjoy the cynical guy in strip clubs "male gaze" atmosphere, so it's not for everyone. it's a tale of seedy criminal nightlife within an arabic City. cynical cops. sex changes. powerful rich gangsters. personality implants. grotesque murders. I had a blast listening to it. pulp fiction. The reader was great.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anthony
  • 03-26-19

Narrator reads too slow

Great story. Listening at a little speeded up but still can't enjoy it as much as the printed version. Narrator does good voices but has affected a too laid back approach. Would probably be best read by a tough North African accent? I will not listen too next two in series but will purchase them for reading on kindle.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jeremy
  • 03-21-11

Whodunnit?

This is a well-paced cyberpunk novel, with lots of tension as the lead character, Audran, tries to solve a series of murders in an Arab ghetto. There were enough twists and turns to stop me figuring out ?whodunnit? before the end, and I also liked the descriptions of the technology involved.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • chris
  • 02-23-18

Mixed feelings

Marîd Audran is painfully slow at working out this fairly simple mystery and the Islam motif is a little off in this literary love in which tries to be sexy and deep but only stumbles upon profundity occasionally, seemingly by accident. Finished it and got the sequal immediately though so it can't be that bad.

Performance is less than ideal as John Davis over-dramatises to the point of mis-reading. Additionally suffers from a forced Arabic accent which at times verges on the excruciating.

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  • Simon
  • 06-02-15

Something New

Where does When Gravity Fails rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is one of the most absorbing books I have read combining innovation with new takes on old ideas and this sci-fi particularly thrives in the religious middle eastern setting.

What other book might you compare When Gravity Fails to, and why?

It is hard to pin this one down. There are echoes of 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (BladeRunner)?'; echoes of Asimov's Robots and many non-fantasy works. It is about an imperfect man forced to carry out someone else's mission.

Which character – as performed by Jonathan Davis – was your favourite?

Marid Audran. Totally bought into the emotion and the balance between his old life and the pressure to reform.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Hard to say, I was particularly struck by the fact that many people think the worst of the hero no matter how well intentioned.

Any additional comments?

Thoroughly enjoyed this and the sequel for the performance, the storytelling and the sense of a credible new world.

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  • Benjamin
  • 10-25-14

Vaguely SciFi with lots of sex-changing and drugs

Well written and well read. Great characters and wonderfully colourful world.
Way too much sexchanging and drug taking for me.
Narrative acceptable.
Worth a listen but only 3 out of 5.

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  • james
  • 01-15-19

such a great book

way ahead of its time with a unique feel, well worth downloading, really enjoyed it