Posted by : atcampbell | On : December 7, 1999

Noir by K. W. Jeter

Seven people attended this discussion, and another person submitted comments by e-mail. The book under consideration, Noir, is Jeter’s return to writing “serious SF” after several years writing books in Gene Roddenberry’s and Philip K. Dick’s universes. Noir is a hardboiled cyberpunk detective novel that recalls the edgier material Jeter wrote earlier in his career, including Dr. Adder and The Glass Hammer. Since Jeter will be one of the Guests of Honor at the upcoming World Fantasy Convention in Corpus Christi, we felt it was time we read one of his books.

We all found Jeter’s prose style to be strongly stylish. The first chapter is written in an elaborate stream-of-consciousness style that two of us liked and the rest barely muddled through. The rest of the book is written in a hardboiled Chandleresque style, which most of us found more accessible.

Reactions to the book were polarized by the readers’ gender. All of the men in our group finished the book and had generally good things to say about it. No woman had been able to reach page 50, and few of them saw any reason to read more.

Those who enjoyed the novel liked the hardboiled approach. We appreciated Jeter’s sincere attempt to create a black-and-white noir film within the medium of a novel. We liked several throwaway ideas in the book: hitmen “precertifying” a murder with the police, homeless people encased in turtle-like armored shells, and a Disney animated musical about Jack the Ripper. At the heart of the book is a long rant against intellectual property thieves, which we felt must be a personal issue for Jeter.

The people in our group who didn’t finish the book had a variety of things to dislike. They hated the treatment of women as sex objects. They found the main character (a detective named McNihil) unsympathetic. The villains were stereotypical “bad, puppy-kicking Nazis”. One person was particularly upset that all the villains were people who work in management, since her job is in management and she sympathizes with managers.

While our opinions of this book differed, we all agreed that Jeter created some memorable situations and images and that this story might make a decent film.

— A. T. Campbell, III