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When Gravity Fails
By George Alec Effinger

Discussed April 2016

Buy When Gravity Fails from


  • Marid Audran
  • Yasmin
  • Nikki/Crown Prince Nikolai
  • Papa/Friedlander Bey
  • Hassan
  • Lt. Okking
  • Bond/Khan
  • The characters of the Budayeen (Chiriga, Kabuki Sisters, Etc)


  1. Did you finish the book? If not, how far did you get?
  2. Did you like it? Why or why not?
  3. The book has elements of many genres – science fiction, mystery, political thriller – how would you characterize the book?
  4. What other works/authors/stories did you think of as you read the book?
  5. The Budayeen, the location where the story takes place, plays a significant role in the story itself – yet is never quite placed in a real city that we can identify. Do you think that was an intentional choice on the part of Effinger? Why?
  6. Marid is a flawed man in a flawed society. He exists both inside and outside many “worlds” as the story begins – the world of his faith, the world of technology – yet the one world he was firmly “in” at the beginning (the world of the Budayeen) he ends up being completely outside of at the end. What makes Marid an effective... or ineffective... focus for the story? Do you feel we see a fair representation of the world seeing it through his eyes?
  7. We see many characters who are ostensibly good, yet have done horrible things – Marid and Papa for example – does this make the world of the Budayeen a world of moral relativism? Are they truly good men?
  8. The Muslim religion, faith and culture play a significant role in the story and for the protagonist Marid who, as he faces his own mortality, twrestles with his own history with his faith. How well did you think Effinger handled the use of the Muslim elements of the story? Do you think this story would be told differently today in our post Desert Storm/9-11/ISIL world? Would this story have worked without it being based in a Muslim community? What other genre works with significant Muslim elements have you read/encountered and how did this compare?
  9. There's a surprising amount of LGBT content in When Gravity Fails considering the book was published in 1987. How well did you think the book handled that content?
  10. In particular there's a significant amount of transgender related content with characters like Yasmin and Nikki/Nikolai and others. While a number of future-based-society books had elements of “switch gender at will” in them by 1987 – few if any genre works were actually dealing with the idea of transition as a gender identity element. Did you think Effinger handled this element well?
  11. The mystery and investigation at the heart of the books turns out to have a couple of layers of causation – a political/espionage element and a personal power play element – what did you think of the pacing of the investigation and mystery and how well did you think the mystery aspect was handled? Were you surprised at all by the identities of the killer(s) and the reasons behind their acts?
  12. A number of the murders were caused by an individual wearing a temporary personality chip – a moddie – that essentially caused the wearer to become someone else. From a moral and criminal justice perspective, what are the repercussions of this type of technology and how do you think crimes committed while under “moddie” influence would be handled in our society?
  13. Drugs play a significant role in Marid's life. While he refuses to gain the enhancements offered by technology (until forced) because he fears what they would do to him – he seems to have no problems allowing pharmaceutical enhancements to have their way with him. What did you think of this dichotomy?
  14. Would you read more books in Effinger's world of the Budayeen?

Additional Books

  • A Fire In the Sun
  • The Exile Kiss
  • Budayeen Nights (includes the existing chapters of the unfinished 4th novel “Word of Night”)

Also See

  • Circuit's Edge – a 1989 Infocom game set in the world of the Budayeen, with Marid as the PC
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