The Chocolate and Peanut Butter of Noir and Speculative Fiction

I’ve been listening to the CrimeWav podcast for a while now, so when I was at Mysterious Galaxy (a store who’s very existence validates the desire for the mixing of genres I’m going to get around to mentioning in a second here) I picked up a signed copy of Seth Harwood’s Jack Wakes Up. That bookstore isn’t the first time I found myself surrounded by both speculative fiction and crime/mystery/noir. I’ve been running into these genres all swirled together in the same book:

  • Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
  • – The tapestry on which the hard boiled action takes place is a far future space opera peppered with many of my favorite SFnal tropes, but the core mystery and the voice is pure noir. The other books in this series are less pure mystery, but the hard boiled voice remains.

  • Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword by Tee Morris
  • – A dwarf plucked out of your traditional high fantasy realm into 1930′s Chicago becomes a Private Eye. Spectacular genre muddling here with a mystery that integrates tropes from high fantasy, noir and mobster lore. The sequel, Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Pitcher’s Pendant is on my to read list. Tee Morris also podcasts.

  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
  • – I’ve not yet read this Hugo Winner, but I understand that it fits perfectly into this list, with the speculative fiction element deriving from an alternate history where the State of Israel was founded in Alaska.

  • The Sword Edged Blond by Alex Bledsoe
  • – Looks like a hard boiled private eye in a sword and sorcery setting. Tobias Buckell mentioned this the yesterday, and that was probably the final impetus for writing this post.

  • Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
  • – I’m far from clear on the details, but I’m pretty sure this will fit solidly on this list. I believe this takes place in the same setting as City of Saints and Madmen, but it’s possible I’m totally confused. An audio recording of the first chapter foreshadows a podcast.

  • The City & The City by China Mieville
  • – My mom cut out a book review of this and sent it to me. She’s often prescient in her understanding of my tastes, as I’ve been eyeing both Mieville and this book in particular for a while. Google reveals that everyone is talking about this book, but as usual I was most excited to hear about the novel’s big idea in the author’s own words. I reviewed The City & The City 9/5/09

  • Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland
  • – CSI with Demons. What’s not to love.

I’d have to say that it looks like a great time to be a lover of these two broad genres. What are some of your favorite mixtures of noir and speculative fiction?


In ongoing new weird coverage, Tim Pratt posted about his first and most recent stories being available online at the moment. I read 53rd Annual Mantis Homecoming Dance and I find no trouble classifying it New Weird.


and back to the list, updates as I encounter them follow:

  • Gun With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
  • – this was suggested in the comments below.

  • Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner’s
  • – Zombie noir – as I mentioned below, there’s a free preview of Nekropolis at the Angry Robot site if you want a taste.

  • Necropath by Eric Brown
  • – After reading reviewing this, it’s unquestionably noir – Brooding ex-cop attempts to solve a string of murders while coming to terms with his shadowy past. Technologically enhanced telepathy, FTL space ships, and aliens solidify it’s inclusion on this particular list.

  • Snake Agent by Liz Williams
  • – I’d heard references to the Inspector Chen novels in the past, but when I heard a review of this on Dragon Page Cover to Cover, I had to add it to the list. The other great thing about this review is that it pointed at the next entry in this list.

  • Sweet Silver Blues (Garrett, P.I.) by Glenn Cook
  • – the reviewer of Snake Agent mentioned Glenn Cook’s Garrett, P.I. novels. This is the first of 12 novels following Garrett, a private investigator in a fantasy setting.

  • Chandler: Stories & Early Novels
  • – I don’t think Raymond Chandler wrote any SFF, but since he’s sort of the granddaddy of noir, I’m including him here. I picked up this recently and was quite pleased with my first Library of America volume. The second Chandler volume Raymond Chandler: Later Novels and Other Writings is on my wishlist.

  • Exit Funtopia (or The Long Orbit) by Mick Farren
  • – mentioned in a post about labor in SFF over at Genreville.

~ by mentatjack on July 2, 2009.

25 Responses to “The Chocolate and Peanut Butter of Noir and Speculative Fiction”

  1. What about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (detective fiction meets science fiction)? Not recent, I know, but still a classic and one of my favorites.

    Oh and a good mixture of alternate history and detective mystery, in much the same vein as Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, is Jo Walton’s Farthing series (consists of Farthin, Ha’Penny, and Half A Crown). I don’t know if that’s the proper name for the series, but it’s good stuff.

    I’m sure there are many others that I have forgotten, but so be it!

    • Thanks! Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Blade Runner together pretty much define what you expect from a mix of Science Ficiton and Noir. I’d heard of the Jo Walton books you mentioned, but didn’t realize they were in this vein. Again, thanks for your suggestions.

  2. Yes! Blade Runner is completely what you’re talking about and a fantastic movie to boot! But of course you know that. Altered Carbon is also a favorite of mine: a total blend of future sci-fi and the classic Chandler set up.

    Thanks much for picking up a copy of JWU and for starting this conversation! I hope you enjoy the book!

    More to come in CrimeWAV, my own feed, and on!!

    Seth

    • I keep this blog MOSTLY about speculative fiction, but I try to work in CrimeWAV mentions whenever possible as I’m a massive fan of the podcast! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. [...] Harwood, who I follow because the CrimeWav podcast he produces, commented on my Noir and Speculative Fiction post last week. Via twitter, he let me know about his signing today, so I headed out to Mysteries [...]

  4. [...] fiction, post apocalyptic, steam punk, war novel. That’s a ton of sub-genres. I posted about noir and speculative ficiton and upon further thought that combination is even more pervasive than I’d considered. [...]

  5. [...] Quarantine just arrived, and the first sentence hooked me. “Only my most paranoid clients phone me in my sleep.” Immediately I’m assuming I’ve got some Noir on my hands, and because it’s Egan, I’m betting I’ll have another book to add to my Speculative Fiction Noir List. [...]

  6. Jonathan Lethem’s wonderful Gun With Occasional Music definitely hits this, oddly and wonderfully, on the nose. Looking forward to looking through this list!

  7. Double thumbs-up for the Lethem, which is extraordinary. The Chabon is great too, an old fashioned detective novel set in a fascinating alternate history. I’d also point to a brand new book, albeit reworked from an older novella – Tim Waggoner’s Nekropolis, which is a zombie detective in a city of undead, vampires, and so on. Could be cheesy, but Waggoner knows his noir and pulp intimately and instead it really comes to life, as it were.

    • Nekropolis looks like a fun read and the publisher Angry Robot is an imprint I’ve been keeping my eye on. There’s a free preview of Nekropolis at the Angry Robot site if you want a taste.

  8. [...] The Chocolate and Peanut Butter of Noir and Speculative Fiction ? MentatJack (SF,Fantasy,Noir,Book,N… [...]

  9. [...] is science fiction noir. It’s the first book in a trilogy and it’s told in the 3rd person with viewpoint [...]

  10. [...] last bit before I get to work. I’ve added a few books to my Noir and Speculative Fiction post and there will be a few more updates to come as I continue exploring this genre [...]

  11. [...] into a world that we recognize as ours. As I’ve been examining the connection between noir and speculative fiction, I’ve been noticing that mystery and seedy underbelly elements of noir are pretty much [...]

  12. [...] on the Noir and Speculative Fiction trend, I just received an ARC of Finch. Now I have to decide if I start that or The City and The [...]

  13. There’s a decent sized excerpt of Finch online now.

    Chandler did write a little fantasy stuff – not very good.

    The Sword-Edged Blonde is ok, nothing to rush out to get.

    Andrew Vachss, however, don’t think it is possible to get more hardboiled than he is – and he has a short sequence of SF stories. Also wrote a Batman novel. Then there’s Hellboym and Grimjack.

    The Snake Agent books aren’t hardboiled. Not Williams’ style at all, as far as I can tell.

    The hardest boiled bloke you are missing is Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt.

    As to the very best mixer of them other that isn’t Richard Morgan – Leigh Brackett.

    Northwest Smith.

    Crazy stuff like Robert E. Howard’s Skull Face.

    Then there’s Neuromancer and a whole cyberpunk Strain. Hardwired, Dervish is Digital, Lucent Carbon, stories like that.

    Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos.

    Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny.

    Chasm City and The Prefect, Alastair Reynolds.

    A fair swathe of Lucius Shepard.

    The reverse of Chandler, Lewis Shiner is someone that has written a handful of detective stories.

    Gridlinked and the other Cormac books by Neal Asher.

    Couple of Egan stories, The Caress, etc.

    A few Laumers.

    Peter F. Hamilton’s Greg Mandel books.

    Laird Barron, mostly.

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch has some, being a crime writer as well. Retrieval Artist, The Silence, etc.

    F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack, if you like.

    Gareth L. Powell, The Last Reef.

  14. [...] favorite part about that one is my bookmark. And I pimp my Noir and Speculative Fiction [...]

  15. Warren Hammond’s Kop/Ex-Kop and short stories are 100% deliberately this, too.

  16. This isn’t the best example of the project, but here’s the Noir TagShadow. It intersects fairly nicely with my list and the comments.

  17. [...] he’d written serious fantasy and at least one science fiction book. One of the comments on my speculative fiction and noir post pointed me to his Garret PI novels, the first of which is Sweet Silver Blues. The series has grown [...]

  18. [...] is unquestionably noir and unquestionably speculative fiction (I’ve been fixated on this combination recently). One of the book’s many mysteries for me as a reader was what speculative fiction [...]

  19. [...] and Chris were gracious book store hosts. They chatted with me about Noir in Speculative Fiction. Turns out io9 has also been fascinated by noir in fantasy of late. They entertained my spiel about [...]

  20. [...] wrote this post in July. Here’s a list of all the speculative fiction books with noir elements I read this [...]

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