In Gun, with Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem gives us science fiction’s worthy successor to Raymond Chandler. Though this is the easy take-home message from nearly every quoted newspaper columnist, book jacket blurb, and miscellaneous reviewer — they also all happen to be right. Even a cursory familiarity with Chandler’s pulp noir will ring through with startling clarity to readers of this novel. The cadence of the narrative, the hard-boiled dialogue, the archetypal characters… Lethem’s Conrad Metcalf is a well-executed Philip Marlowe cover song with just a little bit of record scratching thrown into the background for texture.
On the other hand, those same columnist quotes, blurbs, and reviewers all seem to liken Lethem to Philip K. Dick. Personally: not seeing it. It’s a bit of a stretch, some optimistic name-dropping to match up Lethem’s mystery/noir heritage with some similarly classic science fiction antecedent. The ubiquitous drug use? Sure, okay — that’s a bit Dickian. A Möbius fold of reality unraveling around the narrator in some palpable and thoroughly eldritch fashion? Not so much. More than PKD, the scenes in this novel played out in my imagination as fearfully symmetrical to Cronenberg’s take on Burroughs‘ Naked Lunch — substitute Jim Henson-esque “evolved” animals for Mugwumps but otherwise that’s it, right down to Peter Weller as Conrad Metcalf.
Or maybe Punk’s review has got it down:
It’s Blade Runner meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Where was I? Oh right…
A part of me desires to do a chapter-by-chapter deconstruction of the text, to get all scholarly about it and run the blockade of Chandler’s lineage here. I want to look for the hidden significance of the doctors as urologists, to get semiotic on names like “Catherine Teleprompter” and “Danny Phoneblum”. But instead I’ll just give a positive nod. It’s a fun, noirish scifi romp with all the right moves and delivers slightly better than expectations.