Noir

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Overview

In his acclaimed novels Dr. Adder, The Glass Hammer, and the Blade Runner books, K.W. Jeter masterfully re-created the grim and gritty world of Ridley Scott's classic science fiction film masterpiece.  Now Jeter returns with a startling and stylish new vision of the future as only he could imagine it, a dark and disturbing universe that can be described with one word...  

Welcome to the Pacific Rim, the new center of the civilized world.  As the ...

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Overview

In his acclaimed novels Dr. Adder, The Glass Hammer, and the Blade Runner books, K.W. Jeter masterfully re-created the grim and gritty world of Ridley Scott's classic science fiction film masterpiece.  Now Jeter returns with a startling and stylish new vision of the future as only he could imagine it, a dark and disturbing universe that can be described with one word...  

Welcome to the Pacific Rim, the new center of the civilized world.  As the rest of the planet sinks toward economic and social disaster, the cities on the coast have become a neon-lit, high-tech paradise.  Chief among them is Los Angeles, a sparkling metropolis attracting lost souls from across a shattered continent.  

But beneath the sleek surface lies a labyrinthine underground feeding on the darkest human desires.  Here the wealthy seek forbidden thrills through an anonymous on-line computer system that makes use of prowlers—masked simulations of human users programmed to delve into the most taboo of the hard-core sexual underworld and bring back exotic and erotic experiences to their safeguarded users.  For most people, the prowlers are a way to indulge in their wildest sexual fantasies.  But for others, they are something far more dangerous.

When a young executive of one of the world's most powerful corporations is found brutally slain, a retired ex-cop is called in to find his missing prowler.  The corporation believes the young man's prowler is still "alive" and they want it found, but they don't care to reveal why.

McNihil was an information cop forced into early retirement.  He knows he is walking straight into a trap, but he has no choice.  He must descend into the noir underground, his only companion a ruthless female operative named November who has a desperate agenda of her own.  Together they will uncover a web of evil far more extensive than McNihil ever imagined...a vast conspiracy that threatens to blur forever the line between the sane safety of the daylight world and the dark, dangerous world of noir.

Noir is K.W. Jeter at his very best, a dazzling and inventive futuristic drama of mystery, menace, and sexual terror set in a society of glitter and sinister darkness in which no one can be trusted and everything is far worse than it seems.  

...Here wealthy men and women seek forbidden thrills through a system that enables them to indulge safely and anonymously in their wildest fantasies through the use of computerized simulations known as prowlers. Then a young executive at one of the world's most powerful corporations is brutally slain and an ex-information cop named McNihil is called in to find the dead man's still "living" prowler.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Jeter is an exhilarating writer who always seems to have another rabbit to pull out of his hat....[He] accomplishes his goal of updating the genre, and he does so with commendable energy and imagination."
The New York Times Book Review

"A master of dark visions, Jeter delivers his most...ambitious book to date....an SF equivalent, perhaps, of The Name of the Rose."
Publishers Weekly

"Impressive."
Locus

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A master of dark visions, Jeter (Blade Runner: Replicant Night) delivers his most difficult and intellectually ambitious novel to date. In a near-future world where the poor are entirely disenfranchised and white-collar employees live and work themselves to death in tiny, randomly assigned cubicles, the super-wealthy seek vicarious, perverse, cybernetically enhanced thrills on the streets of Los Angeles. Repulsed by the era he's forced to live in, McNihil, a retired cop with a violent past, has had his eyes surgically altered so that he sees everything through a computer-generated overlay that simulates the black-and-white world of the hard-boiled detective films of the 1930s. When Harrisch, an executive with a powerful multinational corporation, tries to hire him to solve a murder and track down the deceased's missing "prowler," a computerized simulation of the dead man, McNihil refuses, only to find himself blackmailed into compliance. Aided by a gutsy young operative named November, McNihil uncovers a complex web of lies and violence, a world where nothing is what it seems and even the dead have power. Jeter is a fine prose stylist, but some will find his knotted, intensely metaphoric language slow going. Equally problematic is his tendency to assume in his reader a sophisticated knowledge of the conventions of both the noir thrillers of the 1930s and contemporary cyberpunk SF. Frequently, his characters seem to operate in an evocative semi-vacuum, the facts needed to explain the plot having been mysteriously elided from the narrative. This is a difficult, eccentric and rewarding novel, an SF equivalent, perhaps, of The Name of the Rose. (Nov.)
Gerald Jonas
. . .[I]n general Jeter accomplishes his goal of updating the genre, and he does so with commendable energy and imagination. -- The New York Times Book Review
Tom Piccirilli
A richly textured novel that combines expert characterization, a highly refined narrative voice, and fascinating high-tech insights of a heinous age, K. W. Jeter's Noir, is a provocative portrayal of a society on the rim of devastation. After authoring two Blade Runner novels The Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human, Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night), Jeter became widely acknowledged not only as a successor of Philip K. Dick but also as the heir to Ridley Scott's "The Blade Runner" vision, the filmed version of Dick's classic novella" Do Androids Dream Electric ? Although extremely flattering, the parallels here are unfair and confining to Jeter, in that Noir demonstrates the author's own singularly original and fiercely atmospheric style, which uses a lyrical language to further underscore the bleak ugliness of a future Los Angeles.

McNihil is an ex-information cop recalled to duty by the powerful DynaZauber corporation, which wants McNihil to investigate the murder of a young executive, William Travelt. A number of senior execs, led by the inhumanly stoic Harrisch, inveigle McNihil into using his "talents" on the corpse: McNihil is capable of such close scrutiny that he's able to learn information by smelling or touching the skin of a dead man.

McNihil lives in a dual world; he views reality through modified, computer-enhanced eyes that filter everything through an overlay of '30s and '40s film noir. A beautiful "cube bunny" becomes Ida Lupino, and though McNihil prefers this movie-reality vision, he pays a heavy price -- he will never see the sunlight again.

Realizing that Harrisch and the other execs are all part of Travelt's murder, McNihil and a woman named November, who may or may not work for the corporation, learn that the conspiracy concerns "prowlers" -- computer-simulated replicants of wealthy individuals that are capable of experiencing the most extreme and taboo sexual circumstances without fear for their own true selves. November interviews at length McNihil's dead wife, who is one of the "indeadted" -- she lives on even though she has donated vital organs (including her corneas, which leaves her with little black X's in the center of her eyes). The dead wife gives cryptic, vague warnings that will soon come to pass. Eventually it becomes clear that Travelt's prowler still exists and knows every corporate secret Travelt himself knew. Now DynaZauber will stop at nothing to get it back.

In Noir, Jeter has created a black and bitter world of high technology that comprises the walking dead, online religion, and societal catastrophe. The lack of compassion or a true sense of community in the Gloss (Greater Los Angeles area) is disaffecting and disconcerting; McNihil's wife remains nameless, known only as "the dead wife" throughout the novel, and other secondary characters are called simply "the professional child" and "the big dark shape." This anonymity and lack of acknowledgment adds a sense of disquiet and unease that piles upon itself like the trash heaps and human refuse littering the streets.

With great ingenuity and proficient command of the milieu he has set, Jeter winds these elements together so subtly that the reader isn't completely aware that the diversified threads are twining together; Jeter forms a tightly knit tale of darkness, conspiracy, and dystopia that demonstrates how quickly life can become valueless when it is lost in an engine of profit. The disturbing mood and outstanding mixture of these characters and events is handled with poetic and adept precision of detail that makes this grim yet stimulating noir novel work so well as an awe-inspiring world of ominous darkness.
— Tom Piccirilli, bn.com

Kirkus Reviews
Another grimly dystopian, futuristic puzzler from the author of Blade Runner 2 (1995). By the mid-21st century, the California coast is one vast city known as the Gloss, where it's perfectly okay to murder illegal immigrants so long as you notify the police beforehand. A DynaZauber junior-exec, William Travelt, lies dead. Chief-exec Harrisch tries to persuade ex-Collection. Agency (information police) operative McNihil—-his name sets the mood of the book—-to investigate. But McNihil—-he's had his eyes modified so he sees everything through a computer overlay based on 1930s crime noir movies—-suspects a trap, and refuses. He talks things over with his dead wife (she's "indeadted," revivified so she can pay off the huge debts she left behind). He also learns that Travelt had a "prowler," an information-collecting computer simulation, that's disappeared along with a copy of everything that Travelt knew, including the corporate secret that Harrisch wants McNihil to recover. And McNihil's being followed by November, another operative indebted to DynaZauber. Eventually, of course, McNihil finds himself with no choice but to comply with the demands of Harrisch, whose real intention is to control everyone by manipulating the chemistry of addiction in the brain. Even if McNihil can figure things out, he'll have to be dead before he can defeat Harrisch. By turns impressive, knowing, heavy, strained, and suffocating. Overall, it doesn't add up to anything in particular, but it's an uncommon experience nonetheless.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553762860
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/1999
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 1,310,922
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

K.W. Jeter is one of the most respected SF writers working today.  He is the author of fourteen novels, including Dr. Adder, Wolf Flow, The Edge of Human, and Replicant Night.  He lives in Oregon.

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Read an Excerpt

One: Sex Burned a Wire

At that moment, as the blue spark of sex burned a wire through his tongue, the heavens rained fire.  At that moment, all the other moments rushed inside his head.  He turned from the kiss that filled his mouth, the hot copper taste of coded flesh, and fell against the glass; the window shivered with fear and mirrored his own ghost face back at him.

He knew what was happening outside the window.  That the fear was his alone, as much as the ghost and the kiss were; that the transit authorities had sent another drone aloft, over whatever city lapped around this building like a hectic gray ocean; that the Noh-flies had found the idiot projectile in their airspace—all air was theirs—and were busily devouring it, SCARF'd shards falling on the streets below and the face of anyone stupid enough to look up.  Mere coincidence, apocalyptic phenomena synch'd-up with the battery salt leaking through his teeth.

This must be how women feel, thought Travelt.

Not real women, but the women of ideal and dream.  Men's dreams, their dream of women's dreams.  He had felt himself go all weak at the knees, a kinesthetic cliché as much as the racing heart under his breastbone, when the soul kiss had started to eat him up.  He'd put his tongue in the other's mouth, as though his lips were the aggressor's, the conqueror's; he'd made the connection inside another's flesh, that point where electrode and neuron were one fated synapse—

And had been conquered in turn.  Battered and ravaged.  That dream of rape, in which the raped are dreaming still, in which the dreaming turn their faces upward and see their own faces above them, spread out on a luminous sky like the disintegrating airplanes above the ring of cities and the uncaring, dreaming ocean.  Where every hot bit of metal struck and hissed into steam, sharp as his own intake of breath, drifting into unlit depths and turning into adornment for dolphins' skeletons.

Calm down, Travelt told himself.  You're burning up.  The window sweated against his cheek.

Did the other sweat as well? His vision had blurred, everything that close out of focus, and he couldn't tell if the other's face was as wet and shining as his own felt.  The kiss hadn't ended, his tongue was still there, locked in bandwidth rapture; the room around him had defocused, the city beyond the window threatened to go any second.  Not that it mattered, not now.

No now; all then.  Memory and spasm; what had happened, what had been brought back to him.  What he tasted in the mercury pool of the other's tongue.  His own tongue lodged in the hinge of the other's throat, diving toward the other's heart, as though the secret that drove the sweat through his pores could be read there among the obscure saline atoms.

His legs had turned to gelatin, trembling with desires satiated and yet-hungry.  The other had to hold him up, its hands locked in his armpits, pinning him against the glass, the crumbs of the eaten drone sizzling transmuted gold on the other side, an inch from his liquefying spine.  His tongue in its mouth, their kiss, his senses and being penetrated by the inrush that left him limp and sweetly crucified.  Invisible stigmata blossomed in his palms and groin, the feedback of flesh distant in time and space.  The flesh that the other had touched, grasped and squeezed blood and lubricating mucus from, like overripe fruit trickling to the points of his elbows.  He felt that now, the other's gift to him, rape of him.

Slow down—Travelt murmured the subvocal command and plea.  Locked so tight in the other's embrace, its reflected image in the glass next to his, that he could feel the sympathetic flutter of its larynx.  As though his words had strummed the other's vocal cords like taut guitar strings, a chord of surrender and supplication.

It obeyed him, or seemed to; he knew the other's response was as synchronous and acausal as the heated shrapnel falling outside.  But the inrush slowed, torrent to stream, and separated into layers of incident and event, became an inventory of all that the other had gone out to seek and had brought back to him.  He had smelled it on the other's skinlike skin, that muscled substance that passed for its flesh.  When it had returned and let itself in to his cubapt, its key imbedded in its stained fingertips—he had smelled it then, as it had walked through one room after another and into this one with the high-luxury window overlooking the anonymous city below.  The mingled overlays of sweat and semen, stale cigarette smoke and endorphins breaking down to burning, dysfunctional molecules, the shards of the other's flight through a sunless sky.  Collagen derivatives, pharmaceuticals that tasted like metal and the perspiring of schizophrenics, virginal lipstick and Chernobyl mothers' milk, original sin and its photocopies—a wind from that other atmosphere, ten degrees lower than his own body temperature, had swept ahead of the other as it had strode toward him.

He had turned from the window where he had stood waiting, turned upon the sense and smell of its arrival—no sound, it walked so softly, silent as that other world—and had seen the smear of blood on its brow, Cain-marked and Lilith-born, the great wisdom of indulgence in its idiot eyes.  Which had scanned and judged him, like the lenses of the watching security cameras at every corner of every building.  First from across the room, as he had felt the first tremors of fear move out from his gut, then inches away, then less than that as it had stood right in front of him.  The other's eyes had been round dark mirrors in which he had seen himself, perhaps more clearly than ever before.

That was then, just a few minutes ago—or perhaps only seconds.  In any death, even the smallest, there was no east or west or other measurement of time, no gauge of stars or the earth's rotation.  In this now, the inrush had slowed and become subject to inventory; he could sort one thing out from the next.  What the other had brought back to him.  The Christmas morning of the genitals, each bright ribbon-bow coming loose inside his head.

This is what he received from the other's kiss.  What he saw, felt, inhaled in acidic, mingled pheromones:

A vision of black-ink tattoos that slowly woke and shifted beneath a woman's skin, pale as unsunned cave fish, white as Bible pages, dimly phosphorescent;

The swarming of those tattoos, like decorative koi or human-eyed piranha, attracted by the shadow of a man's hand over the world in which they swam;

Their nuzzling beneath the palm laid on the woman's skin, their kisses' delineated teeth, the tingle of each electric microsurge, the release of musky encapsuled opiates, the blood warmth of a close-enough approximation of real human flesh;

All of these and more.  The pumped-up techly stuff and the straight old-fashioned, the redheaded idiot in the cave of wonders, the soft wet hand of normal coitus.  Normal as it gets.

Thought Travelt: I'll have to work on this.  Now he knew why people started doing this sort of thing.  What the attraction was.

Metal fingertips, disconnected from anything but rising tendrils of SCARF smoke, clicked against the window.  And fell, pieces of the Noh-eaten drone.  The larger pieces, of engine manifold and wing panels, would plummet next, fiery meteors sweeping the streets clean of any watchers.

He was falling as well, the connection between his tongue and the other's mouth broken, that blue spark snuffed by his pink-tinged saliva.  His jaws felt hot and vacant as the other, working off some consumer-protection coding, lowered him gently to the fleece carpet.

Shame, or something like it, turned his face away from the other's gaze above.  He couldn't bear to be seen, even by something empty and soulless as the autonomic truck that came every morning to change the building's air hoses.  Especially by something as empty as that, as empty as the other standing over him.  Judged by machines, by their hard flat scrutiny, the iris of an onrushing train.  Iris and inrush; the two words remained inside his head, like prophylactic debris washed up, pearlescent and luminous, on a moonlit beach.  Maybe that was how women felt as well; he didn't know.  No way he would.  He put his arm up across his face, as though shielding himself from the sun.

The name of the flower had left its image, an intricately petaled construction, in his memory.  Maybe one of the tattoos that the other had brought back to show him; he could almost see it opening in the white field of the woman's skin.  Opening the way flesh opened, the dew at the petal's edge a perfect magnifying lens.

I'm making that part up.  That part didn't happen, thought Travelt.  Or maybe it had; he didn't know.

The other watched him, waited for him, for whatever he might choose to do next.  The other was in that part of its operative cycle; it had gone and fetched, it had brought back, and now it waited.  With the flat empty gaze of coins, of metal that had been on fire and then extinguished, smoldering to cold lead.  He might stand back up on his trembling, bone-loosened legs, stand up and kiss the other again, insert part of himself into the other again, let the blue spark snap and sing piercingly high, into his throat and down along his spine, penetrated by the other and what it had brought him.  The iris, the eye and the flower, each opening, flesh opening, the mouths of the tattooed koi nibbling at the other's palm, the warmth of the dead-white flesh and skin, the ocean in which they swam .  .  .

It was all there.  Waiting for him.  Watching him.

I'll get better at this.  The first time, for anything, was the hardest.  He turned on his side, drawing his knees up against his chest.  Closing his eyes, so he wouldn't have to see.  Anything but what the other had brought home and bestowed upon him.

On his tear-wet cheek, he felt fire, heat through the window's glass.  The last of the drone plane fell from the sky and rolled its black smoke and insect swarm of sparks along the building's flank.

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