RetroPop: Grim_Noir Revisits George Alec Effinger and The Audran Sequence, 30 Years Later…

George Alec Effinger should have been a god among Geeks.

There: I said it.

He was everything we are and everything we aspire to be. In a different time and different place, the tribe of Geekdom would have considered him up there with Asimov and Heinlein.

George was a short, stout, slowly-balding man. His closest friends nicknamed him “Piglet” and it stuck. Those friends included Harlan Ellison, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Silverberg.

He was born, just after World War II, in Cleveland, Ohio to an absentee father and a mother whose friends were mostly hookers and strippers. He had chronic vision and bowel problems and was 70% deaf most of his life.

But he was smart. Smart enough to get into Yale – twice. As a student, he dreamed of becoming a doctor. He had to drop out of Yale both times, for various reasons. Medicine’s loss would be Literature’s gain…

He wrote a comic for Fantagraphics about two astronauts reaching the edge of the universe, only to discover a society based on a New Jersey shore town (thirty years before Jersey Shore, I might add). He also wrote novelizations of The Planet of the Apes television series and adapted The Zork Chronicles into a novel (some of you may need to ask your parents what Zork was). Trust me, these things alone should have cemented the name George Alec Effinger into a pedestal in pop culture history.

George bounced around the sci-fi literary scenes in New York City and L.A. before settling in New Orleans. He loved the city and its fluidly-gendered denizens. The Crescent City, however, did not seem to love him back: Under Louisiana law, he almost lost all of his copyrights to a hospital during a bankruptcy hearing. Another time, the N.O.P.D. failed to do anything when a friend of George’s, a post-op transsexual prostitute named Amber, was beaten to death and thrown off her own balcony.

Enter Marid Audran and the Budayeen:

Fuel by an overwhelming sense of frustration and moral indignation, George began writing When Gravity Fails as an excuse to release his demons. It would become one of the grandest exercises in ambitious world building since Frank Herbert’s Dune.

This is a future where the Arab world is a technological superpower and the formerly United States have been fragmented into smaller fiefdoms, such as “Neuvo Tejas” and the “Federated States of New England.” (Yup, George foresaw Red and Blue states twenty years before Dub-ya was elected.) Before the internet had even fully congealed, When Gravity Fails predicted that all technology would reach a point of “Rule 34.”

George’s barely-veiled alter-ego, Marid Audran, is a small-time wheeler-dealer working in “The Budayeen” (think Casablanca meets The French Quarter meets Greenwich Village) in an unidentified North African metropolis. His character is a slightly-drug-addled, casually-practicing Muslim, Algerian ex-patriot. His views on heroism and cowardice are just the other side of Jim Rockford’s. And, oh yeah, his on-again/off-again girlfriend was not born “genetically female.” And those are just the beginning of the reasons why this wickedly off-kilter detective noir universe will never get TV or film rights optioned…

More is the pity. THIS is what Blade Runner wants to be when it grows up. (And I say that with the upmost respect for Philip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford AND Blade Runner.)

This vision of the 22nd Century is a world where the ultimate grey area technology is cybernetic brain modifications that can rewrite your neural network as easily as HTML uses computer code. Once your brain has been “wired,” an external access port allows you to jack-in personality “Moddies” (modules that alter or completely change your personality into another) and “Daddies” (add-on chip sets that give you specific skill sets, such as a foreign language or accounting expertise).

A series of brutal murders soon begins to sweep through the Budayeen, and Audran is almost executed by Friedlander Bey, the criminal godfather/unofficial vizier of the Budayeen. Bey is an interesting mix of cunning with ruthlessness and Islamic zealotry with the illegal. Bey first considers Audran to be the killer, then upon Audran proving his innocence, Bey maneuvers Audran to become his investigator.

Even worse, Audran is made to subject himself to cutting edge, partly experimental cybernetic modifications. Audran has not had his brain wired previously and he dreads the thought of “losing his real self” to the “moddies”.

While he tries to remain untouched by the world of Freidlander Bey, the killings in the Budayeen begin to hit closer and closer to home for Audran. With no distinct M.O., Audran’s clumsy investigations soon make it clear that the killer or killers are using illegal “moddies” templated from some of the most feared and bestial serial killers throughout history.

A lot of people are down on reading science fiction novels these days because by the time a manuscript is edited, printed and/or distributed, technology has already moved onward to someplace different. The ideas in a novel are somehow rendered quaint or even miss the mark entirely.

However…

Thirty years after it was originally published, George Alec Effinger’s Audran Sequence (When Gravity Fails, A Fire In The Sun, The Exile Kiss, and Budayeen Nights) is STILL ahead of its time. The writing is sharp and goes straight at the gut, like a turbo-charged razorblade. It inspired a computer game (Circuit’s Edge) and The Budayeen was used as an entire supplement for the Cyperpunk 2020 Role-Playing Game system.

The bad news is that George died in 2002, shortly after his 55th birthday. There will never be another Audran novel in the sequence. I mourn that fact every time I re-read one of these books.

The good news is that I am revisiting this underrated masterpiece because these works are very easily available: For the technocrats among us, each of the Marid Audran novels are being released for e-Readers. Even better for the rest of us, because these novels have been released in digital version, the print version of the collected Audran Sequence can currently be picked up for about five bucks from most online retailers.

* GRIM_NOIR is:  A) Mad, B) Bad, C) Dangerous to Know, D) Now with 50% More Follow @Grim_Noir on Twitter

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1 Comment to “RetroPop: Grim_Noir Revisits George Alec Effinger and The Audran Sequence, 30 Years Later…”

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  1. Carl Rosenberg says:

    I was glad to see this tribute to George Alec Effinger, and I’m saddened by his early death. I rather liked his Planet of the Apes novelizations (even though I understand he wrote them mainly to pay for his enormous medical bills), since I read them at an age when I loved everything connected with the Planet of the Apes movies and TV series. I understand he also wrote a novel, What Entropy Means to Me, which is a fascinating title. I’ve always wanted to read it, but have never been able to find it.

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