Literature: Marid Audran
aka: When Gravity Fails
Business is business, and action is action.
— Unofficial motto of the Budayeen
The MarÓd Audran
series (sometimes known as the Budayeen
series) is a Cyberpunk
adventure by George Alec Effinger
, set in the late 22nd centurynote
has risen to dominate world politics. Most of the stories are set in the fictional middle-eastern Red Light District
called the Budayeen, which Anti-Hero
Audran calls home. The Budayeen is loosely based on the French Quarter of Effinger's own home town of New Orleans
. The series features cheap-and-easy brain plug-ins: "moddies", or personality modules, which have become one of the primary forms of entertainment, and "daddies", add-ons that provide specific skills like languages or technical expertise.
At the start of the series, Audran is a low-budget Private Detective
and part-time hustler, who lurks in the low dives of the Budayeen, scrounging what work he can. When a potential client, looking for his missing son, is killed in front of Audran, it begins a series of events that will change Audran's life and fortunes forever.
Full of sex, drugs, and violence, the series consists of three novels: When Gravity Fails
, A Fire in the Sun
, and The Exile Kiss
. A fourth novel, Word of Night
, was planned but never completed. The parts of it that were
written, as well as several short stories, are available in the collection Budayeen Nights
The series inspired a video game, Circuits Edge
, which stars Audran. There was also a Budayeen supplement to the tabletop role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2020
Tropes in this series include:
- Anti-Hero: Audran is a lazy, hard-drinking, pill-popping hustler whose best friends are mainly prostitutes and thieves. He does have an idealist streak, but he doesn't like to admit it (even though his friends all know), and covers it with cynicism.
- Attractive Bent Gender: The Easy Sex Change is commonplace, and Attractive Bent Gender is the rule more than the exception. To the point that it's considered noteworthy that one character, a German girl, is exceptionally attractive... despite the fact that she's just a "real girl!"
- Brain Computer Interface: Mainly used with the customized portable devices called "moddies" (personality overlays used for entertainment) and "daddies" (add-ons that provide specific skills, like languages or technical expertise). Many people have at least one moddy and a couple of daddy sockets in their head. The sockets can also be connected to more general-purpose computers and multi-player video games.
- The City Narrows: The Budayeen is a cross between this and a Red Light District. Tourists who ignore the warnings and decide they want to sample the delights offered by the Budayeen often leave in a body bag.
- Creator Provincialism: The books' main metropolis, the Budayeen, and its inhabitants, are patterned after the French Quarter of New Orleans, where Effinger lived. It's particularly clear in the characters' dialect, which will be familiar to New Orleanians or fans of A Confederacy of Dunces.
- Divided States of America: Though it doesn't impact the story directly, this is mentioned as one of the reasons that the Islamic world has risen to dominate world politics. Bill the cab driver was born in the nation of Deseret, centered around the former state of Utah.
- Disposable Sex Worker: In When Gravity Fails, when several prostitutes start turning up dead, Audran begins to suspect a Serial Killer, despite a complete lack of consistency in the methods of murder.
- The Don: "Papa" Friedlander Bay is a classic version, with a strong sense of honor, and strong religious beliefs—which don't stop him from having a hand in most of the organized illegal activities in and around the Budayeen.
- Electric Instant Gratification: Discussed and averted. When Audran gets a brain socket installed, his doctor explains that he's gotten an advanced version with some experimental features. One of the features he could have gotten was a direct wire to the pleasure center, but his patron decided that Audran would be too likely to abuse the privilege, so instead he got a wire to the pain center.
- Easy Sex Change: In this setting, sex changes, while expensive, are still easy and commonplace. Also quite effective, though not quite to the point of being a true Gender Bender treatment. Attractive Bent Gender is the norm, not the exception.
- Free-Love Future: Transsexual surgery is so common that sexual mores are thoroughly blurred. Anyone who insists on "pure" gender roles is likely to be considered kinky.
- Friend on the Force: Lt. Okking generally tolerates Audran, and sends cases his way when the police don't want to be bothered, but there might be enough money to interest Audran. Audran hates cops, but tolerates Okking.
- High Times Future: It's never made clear whether the drugs are actually legal, or if the cops simply don't care what people do to themselves in the Budayeen. Nevertheless, drugs flow like water in the series. Audran is constantly taking speed ("tri-phets") or opiates ("sunnies"), which doesn't always mix well with his heavy alcohol consumption. At one point, when he's given a ride in a police car back from the station, he buys some pills off the cop who is driving.
- Inside a Computer System: The series has a system where people meet in a Virtual Reality system, and can even have sex while in the system, and it's indistinguishable from the real thing. In one case, eight people lie down on the Virtual Reality couches, and only seven get up; one of the visitors figured a way to kill one of the others by causing their "soul" not to go back into the body, but to stay and effectively be purged when the machine was shut down.
- It's Personal: In When Gravity Fails, the killer leaves a message, written in the blood of his last victim, next to the corpse, saying, "Audran, you're next." Up until that point, Audran didn't even know the guy knew he existed. Suddenly, matters become much more urgent.
- Luke, I Might Be Your Father: When Audran finds that the man who was supposed to be his father died more than a year before he was born, and turns up evidence that suggests that crime boss Friedlander Bey might be his actual father, he travels to Algiers to question his mother, but she can neither confirm nor deny. It does help explain why the party in question has taken such an interest in his career, though.
- Mushroom Samba: Bill the cab driver has had one of his lungs replaced with a container of a powerful hallucinogen, which continuously drips into his system. When he drives, he constantly swerves to avoid obstacles no one else can see, and holds conversations with the demons in the front seat of his cab.
- Police Are Useless: Unless you have money or power. The police of the Budayeen are openly corrupt, and make no bones about it. When Audran ends up being forced to join the police for a while (very much against his will), he finds it hard to avoid becoming useless himself.
- Red Light District: The Budayeen is a cross between this and The City Narrows. Prostitution and drug dealing are rife, but tourists who dare venture in often don't make it out.
- Serial Killer: In When Gravity Fails, a mysterious serial killer is stalking the streets of the Budayeen. Mob Boss Friedlander Bey initially thinks Audran might be the killer. When he's finally convinced otherwise, he decides to use Audran to catch the killer.
- Shout Out: The title of the first novel, When Gravity Fails, is a reference to the Bob Dylan song, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (and has nothing to do with any actual physics). The second novel, A Fire in the Sun, is similarly a reference to Dylan's song, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue".
- Your Mind Makes It Real: In When Gravity Fails, eight people lie down at a Virtual Reality couch, and only seven get up. One of them figured a way to make one of the others fail to go back to their body, causing their "soul" to be purged when the machine shuts down.