George Alec Effinger, Budayeen Nights (Golden Gryphon, 2003)

Curse whatever gods you believe in for taking George Alec Effinger from us far too soon. And curse them if you will for making him suffer for most of his life in pain far more severe than you want to even imagine. He deserved better, much better, as he was without doubt one of the most brilliant writers that ever graced our presence.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, he died in New Orleans at the age of fifty-five after suffering from health problems for much of his life. He was married, mid-1970s to mid-1980s, to artist Beverly Effinger, and for a few years shortly before his death to fellow science fiction author Barbara Hambly, who does the introduction to Budayeen Nights. He was a part of the Clarion class of 1970 and had three stories in the first Clarion anthology. His first published story was 'The Eight-Thirty to Nine Slot' in Fantastic in 1971. During his early career as a writer, he also published under a variety of pseudonyms, something that many writers have done for centuries.

His first novel, What Entropy Means to Me, published in 1972, was nominated for the Nebula Award, and only lost to Robert Silverberg's A Time of Changes. But he had his greatest success, perhaps, with the trilogy of MarÓd Audran novels set in a richly imagined 21st century Middle East, with cybernetic implants and modules allowing individuals to change their personalities or bodies. Effinger has said that these novels are really set in a thinly veiled New Orleans, telling the fictionalised stories of the transvestites, drug addicts, and other people he knew in that city. The three published novels were When Gravity Fails (1987), A Fire in the Sun (1989), and The Exile Kiss (1991). It was rumored that he had written a fourth novel in this series, but it was said that legal issues prevented its publication. As you see from the e-mail below from Marty Halpern, Golden Gryphon Editor, that novel never actually existed, so three brilliant novels plus the material in Budayeen Nights is all that remains of this strange and wonderful universe!

Eventually Effinger's extremely poor health resulted in costly medical bills which he was unable to pay. A lawsuit by one hospital tied up the rights to all of his books and characters, causing a dearth of Effinger material. Eventually the suit was dropped, and Effinger regained the rights to all of his intellectual property. What we have here is a rare event indeed as, with the exception of an excerpt from A Fire in the Sun, this is a collection of previously uncollected material set in that fantastical universe. I was so impressed by this that I asked Marty Halpern, Editor of Golden Gryphon Press, to give me a telling of how Budayeen Nights came to be. Here is his answer . . . .

I greatly appreciate your interest in George Alec Effinger's Budayeen Nights. How this collection came about is quite a lengthy story in and of itself, so please bear with me.

Golden Gryphon Press now gets more author submissions than we could ever publish, but back in the late summer/early fall of 2001 that wasn't the case, and I was actively searching for authors to publish. I've always been a huge fan of George Alec Effinger's work, particularly the Marîd Audran/Budayeen novels: When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss . I frequented some of the sf/fantasy newsgroups on Usenet at the time and discovered that, even after all the years since the publication of The Exile Kiss (1991), George's last novel, and Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson: The Complete Stories (1993), George's last collection, readers/fans were still chatting about his work. I also discovered that George would, on occasion, post a message himself to a few select Usenet groups. In this way I obtained his email address.

I then composed a lengthy email to George, in which I introduced myself and Golden Gryphon Press, expressed my interest in a collection of his short stories, possibly more than one volume — and due to the popularity of his Budayeen novels, I suggested that the first volume should be a collection of his Budayeen stories. I can't quote specific periods of time and dates because all those emails are on my home computer while I am here at work, but I did receive a brief response from George within a couple weeks. He expressed interest in a collection, or collections, of his work, and he also expressed great sadness that he had so many stories and yet all of his work was currently out of print. He was open to pretty much any idea I had that would place his work back in print. I responded immediately, but it was probably more than a month before I received his next response. And the tone of that response, well, it was as if we hadn't previously communicated. I felt that I needed to reintroduce myself and Golden Gryphon Press somewhat, and explain my interest in his work once again. This type of email response continued over the next few months. Then at one point, toward the end of 2001, George informed me that he was losing his Internet access and he wasn't sure when he would be able to get back in touch. I believe it was in February 2002 that I heard from him once again — at which point we again began our communications. What I learned later, after his passing, was that during the fall/winter of 2001, George spent quite a bit of time in and out of rehab, overcoming an addiction to pain killers as a result of the stomach ailment he had been dealing with throughout most of his adult life.

But by February 2002, George appeared to be back in control of himself, and of his work. He responded regularly to my emails and we made a great deal of progress in our efforts to pull together this first collection. Again, I don't recall specific time periods without checking the actual emails, but within a month or so George emailed me a single MS Word document that contained five of the Budayeen stories; the file also had the book's title — Budayeen Nights — and his personal dedication for the book. After further email correspondence, he sent me the story 'Marîd and the Trail of Blood' from an anthology co-edited by Barbara Hambly and Martin H. Greenberg, along with another story, 'Marîd Throws a Party,' the first two chapters of the fourth Budayeen novel, Word of Night, still unwritten. One other story I had to scan in myself from its magazine appearance because George couldn't find a file version of the story. He had also planned to write introductions to each of the individual stories, and he asked his ex-wife, Barbara Hambly, to write the overall introduction to the collection, to which she agreed.

I then encouraged George to write a new Budayeen story that would be exclusive to the collection. George agreed, stating that for quite a long time he's had an idea for a story involving Marîd's brother (the two were separated from one another at a young age), who eventually became the leader of Algeria. George emailed me around the first week of April 2002 that he planned to begin this new story the following week, after he finished the current chapter of a new novel on which he was working.

April 26-28 was Nebula Awards weekend. When I awoke early Sunday morning, the 28th, I immediately dialed in to Locus Online to read who had won the Nebula Awards — and the first headline visible to me was the death of George Alec Effinger in the early morning of the 27th. I was in shock, as I had received my last email from him just about two and a half weeks earlier — he was happy, he was writing again, he had just sold a story to a new anthology, he was working on a new novel . . .

Barbara Hambly retrieved the story, 'The Plastic Pasha' — that he had started to write for Budayeen Nights — from George's computer after he died. Though only approximately 2000 words had been written at the time of his death, those words were tight, skillful, witty, and showed so much promise for what another grand story this one could have been. Since George was no longer with us to write those individual story introductions, Barbara wrote them in his place.

So, that's how Budayeen Nights came to be published. If you choose to quote me in Green Man Review, I would be most grateful if you would allow me to review the quotes first, not for content per se, but to allow me to confirm time frames and dates with the original email correspondence with George.

Thanks again for your time and patience with this wordy response. George deserves no less.

Cheers, and all best,

- marty

I'm going to assume at this point that you haven't read Effinger before, but are now interested in doing so. The question then becomes, is this both a good introduction to the Budayeen tales, and to Effinger in general? Oh, indeed it is! These stories are a wonderful introduction to one of the most memorable settings in literature, and the characters, particularly MarÓd Audran, are some of the most interesting — and troubled — characters you've ever met in fiction. Though not cyberpunk in any meaningful sense, anyone who liked William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy will find much that is fascinating here. The primary difference is, though Gibson's characters and setting have been copied over and over again in various forms since he first wrote Neuromancer in 1984, Effinger's decadent Arabic city has not, to my knowledge, ever been copied by anyone. So what you get here in Budayeen Nights and the three novels — which you will want to seek out on the Advanced Book Exchange as they are regrettably long out of print — is a world unlike any that you will encounter elsewhere.

At the heart of it is MarÓd Audran. The near future Moslem culture in which this vividly drawn character exists seems to be as isolated from Western culture as is Casablanca in the film of the same name, and MarÓd in turn lives at the edges of that culture within a walled city called the Budayeen. I find it interesting that the primary city on Dune was a walled city, and that the culture there was a bastardised version of a far future Arabic culture! Thieves, transsexuals, drug addicts, and corrupt officials are all part of the Budayeen — again making a remarkable resemblance to those who showed up in Rick's American Cafe in Casablanca.

A major subplot of the first Budayeen novel, When Gravity Fails, dealt with Marîd's strong reluctance to undergo the surgery that allows many inhabitants of the Budayeen to use moddies, cybernetic implants, that download entire personalities into their own consciousness. (Think the Borg in the Trek universe.) I can't stress strongly enough the effect the moddies have on this culture, i.e., one can be an S&M whore by plugging a moddie in, or solve crimes by using yet another moddie. They are as addictive as the tasp, a wire running current into the brain, was to Louis Wu in Larry Niven's Ringworld Engineers. And like the tasp, life without them appears to be pretty damn dull. MarÓd by contrast comes off as traditional.

Marty considers When Gravity Fails to be 'the most popular of the three, the best of the three [Budayeen novels], and perhaps the best novel that GAE wrote.' I would have to agree — this novel is as good as anything considered a classic in the field and a damn site better than many a book that has won major awards. (Marty went on to ask in a later email, 'Have you read The Wolves of Memory? George always believed this was his best novel. It stars his favorite character, Sandor Courane — a character who dies in most of the stories in which he is featured, and of course, he dies in this novel as well. It's a very powerful story, albeit sad and full of despair. You read this and then you really see how much of George himself is in the character.' I haven't read it, but will now seek it out.

When I asked Marty about the second and third Budayeen novels, he prefaced his response with a note that:

[t]he story 'MarÓd Changes His Mind' in Budayeen Nights is actually the first two chapters of A Fire in the Sun; George submitted the two chapters as a stand-alone story to Asimov's before the novel was published. So if you've read this lengthy story, then you have a feel for the direction of the second book.' He goes on, 'I have to admit that it's probably been ten years since I read all three of these books — and the memory ain't like it used to be . . . I've 'pinched' some blurbs on the books from various review websites . . . MarÓd has now become Friedlander Bey's right-hand man, and essentially Bey's heir. Marîd's transition from near-destitute scum to one of wealth and power is more than a little awkward for him, since he had always prided himself on his independence. Friedlander Bey reorders Marîd's world to separate him from his former friends and life by placing him on the police force (to look after Bey's interests personally), buying out and then giving him his friend Chiri's bar, and also providing him with a Christian slave. One can't really refuse gifts from Friedlander Bey! Thus, even more so than in the first book, MarÓd is the reluctant hero with a conscience of sorts. The story starts with MarÓd in Algiers, searching for his mother and his roots. It doesn't quite work out as well as expected, and soon he's back in the Budayeen, under the thumb of Friedlander Bey, working for the police, running around trying to figure out who's murdering little children and prostitutes. The killings may or may not be linked to Abu Adil, a rival to Friedlander Bey. An obviously corrupt officer keeps thwarting MarÓd, and his reluctant partner gets killed.

Of The Exile Kiss, he writes:

MarÓd Audran and his patron Friedlander Bey are framed for murder and sentenced to exile in Rub al-Khali in the Arabian Desert. As in real life, the Rub al-Khali ('The Empty Quarter') is a vast, uninhabited sea of sand, from which no one emerges alive. The bulk of the book takes place there, as they are rescued by a tribe of Bedouin and undergo deep self-examination. The change of setting makes for a nice difference from the previous two books, and there's a bit more character development as well. As is to be expected, the duo make it back to the Budayeen to unmask the person who set them up and exact vengeance. By the way, I believe the phrase 'The Exile Kiss' means 'adrift in the desert.'

What Budayeen Nights adds, in addition to the first two chapters of A Fire in the Sun, is more detail to what this city and its inhabitants are like. 'Schrodinger's Kitten' has similarities to a Larry Niven tale called 'All the Myriad Ways' in which all realities are possible. The protagonist of this tale has little say over which future version of her is real. Another chilling tale is 'Slow, Slow Burn,' about Honey Pilar, an actress whose pornographic moddies are overwhelmingly popular. Honey thinks she's in charge of her life, but this story suggests otherwise. (Do read the book's foreword by his second wife, Barbara Hambly, as it's the best look at George himself you'll ever read.) With the exception of 'MarÓd and the Trail of Blood' which was written for a vampire anthology — a trite idea if ever I heard one! — and feels far too much like a throwaway piece that doesn't fit here — everything here is excellent. And need I say that Golden Gryphon Press has done their usual superlative job of packaging these stories in a wonderfully designed and printed volume?

A second volume of tales by George Alec Effinger is, I hear, planned by Golden Gryphon. If it's anywhere near as good as this volume is, you and I will have a hell of a good reading experience on our hands when it comes out. The only question remaining is when is some smart publisher going to release the three Budayeen novels in the limited edition format they so richly deserve?

[Cat Eldridge]