Another review from Interzone, 2006. Another novel I barely recollect.
The Exile Kiss
George Alec Effinger Orb, 320pp $14.95 pb
This is the third of George Alec Effinger’s novels about Marîd Audran, half Berber half French, a small-time finder and fixer who has become, much to his own surprise, right-hand man to the powerful Friedlander Bey (Papa), watching over his many interests in the Budayeen. Effinger’s trilogy (the earlier volumes are When Gravity Fails and A Fire in the Sun) is often described as being ‘cyberpunk’. However, his stories are not as overtly preoccupied with appearance and technology as Gibson’s early novels. The familiar tropes of body and brain modification persist, but more as an unremarkable part of everyday life. Not everyone has them, not everyone wants them. Audran reluctantly receives a brain implant in the first novel, and begins to employ personality modules and information add-ons as part of his work, but with some caution. However, on the whole, Effinger’s characters show little sign of faddish enslavement to the latest cultural fashion. Instead, they are driven by more old-fashioned appetites: lust, greed, the desire for power.
In the first two novels Audran rarely travelled away from the familiar streets of the Budayeen, the Arab ghetto that Effinger brings to bustling life, but The Exile Kiss opens with Audran and his boss being ‘exiled’ for a murder they did not commit, ‘exiled’ being a legal euphemism for their being dumped far out in the Empty Quarter of the desert and then left to perish. There seems to be little in common between the desert and the ghetto, but Audran applies the lessons he learns among the Bedu who rescue him and Papa, as he attempts to flush out the real murderer, and find the person who framed them. His experiences in the desert transform Audran in other ways. His social conscience has already been awakened and he has begun to re-adopt the Muslim practices he abandoned as a young man. Here, however, Effinger skilfully depicts his growing awareness of his responsibilities to others, particularly to the growing ‘family’ of dependents that his new position brings with it. In the end, it is the portrait of Marîd Audran, coming to terms with himself and his culture, that stays with the reader, that and Effinger’s vivid creation of a future society whose very ordinariness is what makes it seem so plausible.