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Gun, with occasional music [Paperback]

4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

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IT WAS THERE WHEN I WOKE UP, I SWEAR. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Noir, With Frequent Weirdness July 28 2003
"Gun, With Occasional Music" is my first Jonathan Lethem book, and it certainly won't be my last. Although reading just one of his books hardly ranks me as an expert on his career, I will say that this story about a private detective in a future, dystopian nightmare will probably be one of the most unusual experiences you'll ever have with a book (unless you make a habit of reading quirky, ultra bizarre fiction). Lethem must have been the product of a union between Raymond Chandler and William Burroughs, with genetic material donated by Dashiell Hammett and Aldous Huxley. That's the only way to describe this amazing blend of noir, science fiction, and political commentary. "Gun, With Occasional Music" is the type of book you introduce your friends to in order to see their reaction after they finish it.
Lethem's future is one in which I would not want to visit, let alone live in. For private investigator Conrad Metcalf, this nightmare is the only world he knows. What's so bad about this author's horrific visions? In the world of tomorrow, society is quite different from the world we know. For one thing, animals (rabbits, sheep, kangaroos, and cats) now walk upright, speak, commit crimes, and work. It's all a part of what authorities call "evolving," and it isn't just about the animals. Human infants take part in the hijinks as well, since society decided that it takes too long for people to grow up. The result is "babyheads," infants that speak, smoke, and drink thanks to massive infusions of growth hormones. As if that's not enough to cause you screaming fits, and apparently many of the people in this brave new world feel like screaming about it, the authorities provide "make," a drug used to modify behavior.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
One of my favoirte books of all time. I love Lethem's gooey mix of scifi and gumshoe fiction. Part satire, part surrealism, with a rapt attention to language, a highly personal style and an utterly unbridled imagination. A dream of a book and a total page-turner. If you can imagine a sultry blonde dame killing her sleeping husband by smothering him with a Magritte painting of dogs playing poker, you'll love it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, With Occasional Lapses Oct. 21 2003
Hats off to Jonathon Lethem for fashioning some hardboiled prose that nearly defies any genre with this tale of Conrad Metcalf, Private Inquisitor, not exactly hot on the trail of Celeste, the spouse of an affluent urologist ... but nothing -- and I mean absolutely nothing -- is quite what it seems.
Lethem clearly is channeling Chandler here, and, for that, he deserves much praise, as does much of the novel. Despite whether or not the reader can believe in a world where genetically-enhanced talking kangaroos can tote .45s for nefarious purposes, the power of tale is so overwhelmingly intoxicating that the reader has no choice to accept the peoples, places, and things as entirely plausible. In short, it fits in its own bizarre way, and Metcalf -- as the protagonist -- does his best, despite his own addictions, to keep himself and the plot moving at a pace where the reader has to keep up.
I did find a few sections of the book to be weighted down a bit by some obtuse humor, but, all-in-all, GUN, WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC (hang on until the end to understand what the title means) was nonetheless fascinating.
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Starting from the beginning, Gun, with Occasional Music is ostensibly a detective story in the traditional of Raymond Chandler. That short description is not quite apt, though--it's like saying Beck or Oasis is pop music in the tradition of the Beatles. There are some striking similarities in structure or theme, but the frills are quite different. Lethem's Los Angeles is filled with the products of evolution therapy-- animals that walk on two legs and mostly fill the menial roles (akin to Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind) and babyheads, children that have been treated to have adult mental abilities while their bodies still are those of their age. Drugs are legal, available from corner "makers", who can mix your preferred blend like today's tobacconist, from substances called Avoidol, Relaxol, Acceptol, Believol, and, especially, Addictol. People carry around "karma" cards, that contain a collection of points, earned by doing good deeds, and subtracted from when caught in a crime including being rude. Instead of CNN, there's the music news, where one tries to understand if something bad has occurred based on the amount of bassoons or bass in the orchestra. Newspapers are collections of uncaptioned pictures. And people, unless police or licensed private investigators, find it the ultimate in rudeness to ask or be asked a question. Conrad Metcalf may sound like Sam Spade, but the world in which he tries to exist is not conducive to his anti-establishment position.
The murder that Conrad attempts to solve is fairly straightforward, although Lethem does throw in a few really nice twists that fit with his world and the characters.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard-boiled weirdness
Lethem pulls off what should be the impossible: hard-boiled detective fiction in a future world of animals walking and talking, babies mutated into 'babyheads', state-sponsored... Read more
Published 7 months ago by productum
4.0 out of 5 stars Intersting premise
The novelty of the premise and the excellent writing got me hooked (lol) right from the start. I have never read this author before but would definitely again. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Bootsy Bass
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully Weird
My favourite of Lethem! This book is so out there, but in the best possible way. Lethem's imagination is fantastic, and I love the way he writes. Read more
Published 14 months ago by LauraSpaz
4.0 out of 5 stars accept-all. regret-all.
"Gun, with Occasional Music" is confusing at times; I never did figure out the "babyhead" thing. For the sin of obtuseness, "Gun" is docked one star. Read more
Published on July 22 2003 by Nels Lindberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Lethem nails the hardboiled voice
I'm reading this one right now, and I think I'm going to just love it. It's a witty sci-fi/mystery. Lethem's books are always interesting and usually funny, and I seem to be able... Read more
Published on Nov. 25 2002 by "jennykay"
3.0 out of 5 stars Blade Runner meets The long good-bye
How do you make an hard boiled Sci-fi story?Take a cynical but really golden-hearted (proportions of cynicism and goodness may vary) private-eye in less tan friendly terms whit the... Read more
Published on Sept. 8 2002 by Ventura Angelo
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Tell if You Will Like This Novel
Let me say that this is a fantastic novel, one of the most imaginative that I've read in some time. Its so good that anyone liking the following criteria should like this... Read more
Published on Sept. 1 2002 by Eric Vondy
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVING my Lethem
I swear to dogs that Jonathan Lethem MUST stare in the mirror at least once a day and scream "WOW!"
Thats what I say everytime I fall into one of his strangely psychotic yet... Read more
Published on May 18 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" goes "Back to the Future"
Lethem's first book is a real mixed bag. It has bright ideas and not-so-bright ideas, some of which he develops more than others, a shambles of a plot filled to the brim with... Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2002 by Alex
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