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Claude Lalumiere's Fantastic Fiction
Budayeen Nights

by George Alec Effinger

(Golden Gryphon Press, $24.95, 235 pages, hardcover; published in September 2003.)

In the late 1980s, cyberpunk--the science-fiction subgenre du jour--had taken the cover scanworld by storm, and William Gibson, John Shirley, and Bruce Sterling were its buzz authors. Not to diminish those writers' impressive accomplishments, but the 1980s cyberpunk book that, for me, blew everything else away was George Alec Effinger's When Gravity Fails, a hardboiled noir adventure set in the Budayeen, a district of vice and corruption in the midst of an unnamed Muslim, Middle Eastern city.

The novel made Effinger's name after a decade and a half of toil in the science-fiction trenches. Two excellent sequels followed. Both delved deeper into Effinger's sensually realized future, never satisfied with retracing the steps of the previous volumes. Two additional novels were planned, but Effinger's health prevented him from continuing, and the author eventually died in 2002 with the series left incomplete.

However, Effinger had written several stories in the same setting as When Gravity Fails, and all of these, including a few previously unpublished ones, are gathered together in Budayeen Nights.

The Budayeen is a vividly imagined setting where devout Islam, cyberpunk technology, class politics, transgendered sexuality, and organized crime mingle tensely. There's not a bad story in this book, although the best selections are those that feature the protagonist of the novels, the street-punk-turned-underworld-detective Marîd Audran.

As Effinger's ex-wife, author Barbara Hambly, reveals in the various story introductions, the flavour of the Budayeen was largely inspired by Effinger's beloved New Orleans--a love that is palpable in Effinger's every sentence--and Audran himself is an alter ego of Effinger. Nevertheless, the author is merciless with Audran, with his failings, his vulnerabilities, and his limitations.

Budayeen Nights is a seductive mosaic, empathically beautiful, painfully tender, excitingly imaginative, and deeply personal.

Originally published in
The Montreal Gazette, Saturday, 23 August 2003.

Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction is a series of
capsule reviews first published in the Saturday Books
section of The Montreal Gazette.

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