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Noir

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

K. W. Jeter’s idea of blending, in his novel Noir, the conventions of dystopian science fiction with those of film noir is not one for which he would claim absolute originality. An important earlier instance is the film Blade Runner (1982), based on Philip K. Dick’s classic science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). The link between this film and Jeter’s novel is made clear, not only by Jeter’s avowed admiration for Dick’s work, but also by the fact that Jeter’s own reputation—a considerable one among devotees of cyberpunk and related kinds of science fiction—is based in part on his Blade Runner novels, The Edge of Human (1995) and Replicant Night (1996), both inspired primarily by the film, rather than by its literary source.

The challenge for Jeter in Noir, then, is to go beyond recycling already recycled material and to find new possibilities in the juxtaposition of genres. The key to this attempt is Jeter’s protagonist, McNihil, the information cop who is Jeter’s equivalent of the classic noir private eye. McNihil has undergone transplant surgery, as a result of which his perceptions take on the look of a noir thriller of the 1940’s and 1950’s (Think of 1944’s Double Indemnity, 1947’s Out of the Past, and 1958’s Touch of Evil). When he looks, for example, at a “cube bunny,” a quasi-prostitute, what he sees, in black and white at that, is a dead ringer for Ida Lupino, an icon of noir cinema.

Like many a noir hero before him, McNihil carries a burden of guilt from the failures and betrayals of his past. He is investigating the death of a young executive, while dealing with his suspicions about the people who are paying for the investigation. The moral isolation of a protagonist, who is himself deeply flawed, in an...

(The entire section is 461 words.)