5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2007
It seems that all I ever read these days is Jonathan Lethem and bizarro authors like Carlton Mellick III. The bizarro guys are pretty good and fun to read in a freaky surreal-ish kind of way, but they aren't master craftsmen of the written word. Lethem is. Gun, with Occasional Music is his first book, but probably the 7th I have read. After getting used to the style of his recent work I can really tell how strong his writing has become. He is an excellent author. Even with his first book, you can tell he is an excellent author. But he has definitely improved over time.
PROS: 1) If you like classic crime noir and weird science-fiction, you'll love this book. It is a mixture of those two. Basically, it is just your usual old time crime novel set in a future of mutants and intelligent anthropomorphic animals 2) The mystery unfolds quite nicely. Not only the mystery of the plot, but also the mystery surrounding this odd world Lethem has created. 3) Once you get into it you won't be able to put it down.
CONS: 1) While the writing is good, it is still pretty mediocre in comparison to any of his other works. 2) It was originally published by a sci-fi genre publisher, so it feels like run-of-the-mill genre fiction. So if you are a fan of the literary elements of Lethem's work more than the sci-fi elements you might be disappointed. 3) Though it was intentional, the characters are pretty cliche to that of classic detective stories. This might be a good thing or bad thing. Since I am not a fan of detective fiction, it was more of a con for me.
Overall, I give this book 4 stars. It is definitely worth reading. It's just not as good as most of Lethem's other work. I might have enjoyed it a bit better than As She Climbed Across The Table, but it wasn't as unique and smart as that book. Casual readers might like this one best, so start with here if you don't read a lot of literary fiction. Otherwise, start with Girl in Landscape or Motherless Brooklyn.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Excellent melange of hardboiled Raymond Chandleresque crime story with wild Philip K. Dick/William gibson futurist vision. The mystery follows an archetypical hardboiled Oakland PI as he doggedly pursues the truth in a seedy, labyrinthine case. In this dystopic vision of the future, only the police and PI's are allowed to ask questions and everyone carries a "karma" card which the police can add or deduct from as they see fit. Zero karma and you get sentenced-to years in cold storage. Genetic engineering has led to talking animals (who are definitely not first-class citizens) and bizarre gangsterish babies who have their own clubs! An awesome blend of genres which results in something all its own. If you like this, try William Gibson's Virtual Light too.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2001
This is probably my all time favorite book. This novel is pretty much what would happen if brave new world and any Raymond Chandler book got mixed up. Of course, that being said, you don't get stuck with Huxley's heavy handed moralizing about the future. And the main character, Conrad Metcalf, has a moral base that's a bit lower than Chandler's Philip Marlowe. But so far I haven't really mentioned anything you couldn't pick up off the back cover if you were in an offline bookstore. Gun with occasional music is a noir mystery set in an unrecognizable future- I can't even begin to plot a course between now and then. It's quite bizzare. Talking Animals, children replaced by accelerated growth babies (Trust me; I'm not up to explaining that one), flying antigrav pens, the musical news (no words on the radio), the pictorial news (no words in the newspaper), and a cute police officer named Catherine Teleprompter. I don't want to give too much away though. Another element I should add is that the likelihood that the title for Radiohead song Karma Police probably owes the phrase to this book-- people have a credit card of sorts with their karma point on them, which are modified up and down by the local law enforcement agents. There's a murder. It takes place in San Fransisco. There's a gorgous beraved wife. A kangaroo gangster a little fresh behind the ears. Oh, and you have to have a license to ask questions. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's deep, but not in a way to ruin the rest of your week. Check it out. Apparently none of my paragraph breaks went through.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2002
If you thought Motherless Brooklyn a superb novel you are likely to investigate Lethem territory further. This his first novel appealingly promised to combine the noir genre with science fiction but I was in for a disappointment.
Written with an ironic twist in classic Chandler style it is entertaining but the science fiction is not good. Control of society through drugs and karma credit cards plus the threat of being put in the freezer is not very original (and Ray Loriga’s Tokio Ya No Nos Quiere offered a far darker use of memory-deleting drugs). The cast of grotesque babyheads out of a Victorian fair on one hand, and evolved talking-and-working animals on the other, if amusing were as cartoon-like as Metcalf himself and required great doses of suspension of disbelief. As for the noir part, suffice to say that the mystery of the murder was not difficult to work out.
Don’t expect the deep humanity of Motherless Brooklyn, the novel does not linger in your mind at all after you have finished it. If anything, leave it for the beach.