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Budayeen Nights
George Alec Effinger
Golden Gryphon Press, 235 pages

Budayeen Nights
George Alec Effinger
George Alec Effinger was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1947. He attended Yale University, where an organic chemistry course disabused him of the notion of becoming a doctor. He had the opportunity to meet many of his SF idols thanks to his first wife, who was Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm's babysitter. With their encouragement, he began writing science fiction in 1970. He published at least 20 novels and 6 collections of short fiction including When Gravity Fails and The Exile Kiss before his death in 2002. As well, he wrote two crime novels, Felicia and Shadow Money.

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SF Site Review: Schrödinger's Kitten

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Before 1987, George Alec Effinger was a moderately well-known SF writer, appreciated by his readers for his literary style and sense of humor. That changed with the publication of When Gravity Fails, a murder mystery set in a future Arabian city in which Effinger independently discovered that same mix of high-tech street-smarts and punk rock attitude that William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, and others were exploring under the banner of cyberpunk. When Gravity Fails was an electric shock of a novel, as intense a reading experience as anything in science fiction, and it brought Effinger much acclaim and a much larger audience. A five novel series was planned, but only two more volumes, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss, were completed before his death in 2002.

Budayeen Nights collects all the shorter works set in and around the fictional Budayeen, itself a reflection of Effinger's life in New Orleans and his fascination with the inhabitants of the French Quarter. The first story, "Schroedinger's Kitten," is probably also the best known. A young woman huddles in an alley, knife in hand, waiting to discover which life she will lead, as visions of possible futures pass through her mind. "Schroedinger's Kitten" won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and deservedly so, it's a classic of contemporary SF.

As readers of When Gravity Fails would expect, most of the stories in Budayeen Nights are concerned with the life Marid Audran. Marid's rise from street punk to de facto heir to the most powerful crime lord in the city is chronicled in the novels. In Budayeen Nights, we get a few more incidents that happen along the way. "Marid and the Trail of Blood" brings Audran face-to-face with a putative vampire. "Marid Throws a Party" would have been the first two chapters of the fourth Budayeen novel, and "The World As We Know it" gives us a glimpse of Marid later in his life. (In her introduction to the story, Barbara Hambly offers a clue as to the ultimate fate Effinger had planned for Marid and his benefactor, Friedlander Bey).

Marid Audran is one of the great characters in science fiction. The future Moslem culture in which he lives seems to have few connections with what remains of the West, and Marid lives at the edges of that culture. A major sub-plot of When Gravity Fails dealt with Marid's reluctance to undergo the cybernetic surgery that allows many of his friends to plug "moddies" containing information and even entire personalities into their own brains, and makes Marid appear somewhat old-fashioned and traditional. At the same time, his drug intake rivals that of Hunter S. Thompson in his Fear and Loathing persona. Marid is charming and vicious, smart and self-centered, redeemed by his continuing loyalty to his friends in the Budayeen even as he is being pulled away from them by Friedlander Bey's wealth and power.

Other characters from the novels also appear in Budayeen Nights. The most intriguing of these is "Slow, Slow Burn," featuring Honey Pilar, the actress whose pornographic moddies are the most popular on the planet. "Slow, Slow Burn" gives us a peek at Honey later in her career, as yet another man who thinks he is in charge of her life is shown otherwise.

The Budayeen novels are now sadly hard to find. Budayeen Nights is a chance for those who enjoy Effinger's Budayeen and the people who live there to visit that world again. And if you missed it the first time around, these stories are a wonderful introduction to one of the most memorable settings in SF and the characters, from Marid Audran to Chiriga the bartender to Bill the cab-driver, who bring it to life. Read and enjoy.

Copyright © 2003 by Greg L. Johnson

After a recent show in Milwaukee, reviewer Greg L. Johnson found himself wondering when that rumored Springsteen moddie was coming out. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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