(awesome) book review: Gun, with Occasional Music, by Jonathan Lethem

The book is awesome, not the review.

beautifully done crime novel with a subtle-ish dose of Where Are We All Headed? I read it in 24 hours

I’m currently reading Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree, and he mentioned reading Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, which reminded how much several people I know loved Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, which in turn reminded me of a little science fiction (ish) novel that Lethem wrote back in 1994 which I had wanted to read. That’s the genealogy. I picked up the book last week, and I basically read it in the last 24 hours (while traveling from DC to Atlanta to Rio to Brasilia). It had me completely captivated.

A hard-boiled detective addicted to dope and flowery metaphors goes up against the institutional cops to solve a murder. And there’s a kangaroo with a gun. And a house that’s a hologram. And people getting frozen (think Han Solo at the end of The Empire Strikes Back). But before you stop, the beauty of Lethem’s novel is that it doesn’t feel like science fiction. It feels like a captivating crime noir novel. The reason is that Lethem reels you in at the first pages with the story and the character, and only bit by bit, over time, do you realize that the world is different from our own (right now). (One problem with much science fiction and fantasy is that it requires such a massive investment to start the book: the planet of what? the what-reorganizing matter machine? huh?) And the science fiction elements all feel relevant: the walking, talking animals are the result of artificial evolution processes, and everyone is taking to dope to forget their lives (think a gritty Brave New World). The crime story itself has the requisite zillion twists and turns, and Lethem leads us right up to an impressively surprising finale.

Note: Lots of strong language, a fair amount of violent, and some sexual content.

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