I am currently doing research for my next novel, the first installment in a private detective mystery series set in a near-future America where many laws allow citizens to file lawsuits against those who violate these statutes. In these research reports, I summarize what I’m reading and how that book helped me think about my project. In this report: Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem.
Why I Read It:
This novel is consistently listed as one of the best examples of dystopian/sci-fi detective fiction. I wanted to see what aspects made it a standout in the genre.
What I Learned:
The hallmarks of hard-boiled detective fiction remain consistent whether the setting is 1930s Los Angeles or near-future Oakland: a scarred, stoic, dogged investigator, a corrupt society, a few potential—but ultimately doomed—romantic interests, and a bleak view of humanity with only a few redeeming characters.
My Biggest Takeaway:
The tone of this novel is consistent with what I envision for my series. I like the way Lethem drops in various elements of his imagined future society without giving us a blow-by-blow account of how that future came to be. But I prefer a stronger connection with, and critique of, contemporary society, à la dystopian classics like 1984 and Brave New World.
Who Would Like It:
Fans of hard-boiled detective fiction open to exploring different time periods and settings.