Friday, July 3, 2009
In the future of this sci-fi noir mystery, psychology has become a proselytized movement much like Jehovah's Witnesses are now. Most people are hooked on "make", a mind-numbing drug that is sniffed or injected with ingredients such as Forgettol and Addictol. And most importantly, animals and babies have evolved. They are both now talking, intelligent members of society.
Private investigator Conrad Metcalf, who lives in this futuristic Oakland, must investigate the murder of a certain Dr. Maynard Stanhunt. As it stands, a naive and dull Orton Angwine being held as the culprit by the Law or "The Office", but claims that he is being set-up. Metcalf must find who the real killer is while battling his own demons, which include a make addiction, a sexual nerve ending switch from the past, and an evolved kangaroo hitman named Joey on his heels.
Nothing too in-depth or involving, Lethem's novel could be finish in a day or two tops. The language is kept quite simple (especially in contrast to the works of Chabon or Rushdie. See below) and the narrative runs pretty smoothly. This, however, kind of throws me off on the sci-fi bit.....although that could be my own fault for expecting the genre to be one way. The term "sci-fi" makes me think of huge unknown words used to physically and biologically bring abstract concepts to life. The science in this novel is touched on a few times, sprinkled here and there in the sex nerve ending theme and the biologically evolved species, but it doesn't really have that "tech" or "geek" feel. And perhaps Lethem was purposefully avoiding this. That's fine, but I don't feel like there was much else there to justify fully classifying this in the sci-fi genre. More like a mystery story with a slant.
I also didn't feel too steep in the hard-edge, noir of it either, although that coloring of the novel's reality was certainly there. Metcalf was definitely the tough investigator that typically put himself in harm's way without much concern for anything but the truth, which in itself gets its drive from him wanting to keep his job and make a living. All of the characters were amoral: none totally representative of good or bad, just human (even the animals). These things can be affirmed on the noir checklist, but I never felt the true oppressive or anxious nature of murk and nihilism in Lethem's writing.
The characters, from the stiff Dr. Testafer, the hard-boiled Inquisitor Morganlander, the blunt and forceful kangaroo hitman Joey, the dazed-and-confused Pansy Greenleaf, the damsel-in-distress Celeste Stanhunt and the sexy Inquisitor Catherine Teleprompter are all drawn out in sufficient detail and clarity. They are interesting characters that motivate the book properly from start to finish. The plot follows out realistically, keeping my interest in the mystery as well as Metcalf's internal conflicts. Ultimately, the novel was not anything particular or special, but I would say that it does the job of entertaining.