Tag Archives: British

On Jeff Noon’s “Vurt”

23 Aug
Take a look at Jeff Noon's Website, and make sure to pick a copy of Vurt from your local bookstore.

Take a look at Jeff Noon’s Website, and make sure to pick a copy of Vurt from your local bookstore.

Hello, my kittlings! Have you ever ridden the Vurt? Ridden that sweet, bloody, feathery, hallucinogenic descent into the twisted mind of Jeff Noon (not to be confused with the equally twisted mind of Jeff Koons)? Well, I just did, and oh, boy! What a trip!

From the first page, you’re thrust in over your head–kind of like the way some parents dunk their infant children in the pool, and supposedly it’s better this way because it’s like the amniotic fluids of the womb, and the little babies are just floating and confused but alright, and that’s what reading Vurt feels like. It’s sink or swim through a dangerous current of slang, drug paraphernalia and a terrifying landscape of the dystopic future, but there’s something utterly natural about Noon’s writing style. It’s cozily colloquial. It’s a stream of consciousness that’s easy to ride.

Vurt reads a lot like William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer and, “they” tell me, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (I’m afraid to say I haven’t read that cheery book yet), but it has influence of its own. Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was published the same year, and I see Noon’s alternate reality drug trip show up in Sci-Fi novels of the ’90s (like Greg Bear’s Slant), and go figure: everyone was still riding the decades-long popularity of heroin. Vurt is the heroin of Noon’s future Manchester.

No one can forget this creepy seen from Danny Boyle's film adaptation of Welsh's Trainspotting. So, imagine this scene and multiply its horror by five times. Now you've got Vurt.

No one can forget this creepy scene from Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Welsh’s Trainspotting. So, imagine this scene and multiply its horror by five times. Now you’ve got Vurt.

This is the story of Scribble–an unlikely hero, a young vagrant just trying to navigate through a world too painful to live in–and his Stash Riders–Scribble’s unlikely sidekicks, a team of damaged kids trying to escape the traumatic landscape by riding any high available, whether its Vaz, cortex jammers, the alcoholic Fetish, or vurt. Vurt, a shortening of “virtual,” comes in the form of color-coded feathers and transports its users into shared dreams, alternate realities with varying degrees of risk, pleasure, and pain. It’s into the rarest and most dangerous vurt, the English Voodoo, that Scribble loses his sister and lover Desdemona (yeah, allusion much?!). Were we speaking of allusion? Scribble follows in the footsteps of Orpheus as he descends into the hellish English Voodoo to retrieve his love. Noon wins me over with the complex, colorful characters that Scribble meets along his harrowing journey, but the even greater triumph is the story: age-old and still powerful, tragic and beautiful.

Lee O'Connor authored an aptly creepy comic adaption.

Lee O’Connor authored an aptly creepy comic adaptation.

Now I hate to ruin my reputation as a bad ass, but I’ve never tried hallucinogenic drugs. That being said, reading this book has got to be pretty close. I’m horrified as it is, so any curiosity I may have had has now been squelched. Thanks, Jeff! This trippy novel takes you to the brink with its strange language and alien landscapes, just barely recognizable human society. It immerses you in a world where shadowcops read your mind, robodogs mate with vurtmen, and the experiences inside the vurt are more tantalizing, more real, than experiences in the bland, grey world of the sober. People use the vurt world to escape their wretched lives, and the whole point is you don’t remember reality when you’re in the vurt. There is only the dream, the shared experience. Scribble is cursed with the haunting: he feels and hears echoes of reality during his trip. He’s jarred into context because of this. It ruins his fun but gives him unique perspective on a whole world that has everyone else beguiled.

Vurt is an adventure. It’s a novel that will suck you in and make you forget about reality, trap you in a world you would like to think of as your own. I think Noon is victorious. I think he achieved what I assume to be his goal. I’ll definitely be reading more of him, especially the other books in the Vurt series: Pollen, Automated Alice, and Nymphomation.

I leave you with these parting words of advice: watch out for yellow birds! These mofos will mess you up!

I leave you with these parting words of advice: watch out for yellow birds! These mofos will mess you up!

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On Haggard’s “She”

27 Jul

With all the self-consciousness and “Nature” worshipping and jollity that befits a late Victorian English novel, She tackles a familiar trope: men walk into jungle; men see amazing sights; men fall in love with exotic woman; men barely escape to tell the tale. But no matter how many times this trope is told and retold, I will come with my popcorn and my high expectations to enjoy the show.

There’s a lot about Victorian literature I find refreshing after a long stretch of modern and postmodern fiction. For one, novels of the time have yet to introduce the idea of the questionable narrator. I was waiting for that moment when I can say, “Ha! Caught you, you lying scum!” But good ol’ Horace Holly, our honest and faithful protagonist, is a straight shooter, and I don’t mean that as opposed to “Neil Patrick Harris with a gun” shooter, but Holly never strays from an honest depiction of the wonders he sees.

This is a gay shooter, the opposite type of shooter from our protagonist Horace Holly.

This format is a sign of Haggard’s times: Victorian England valued–above all–objectivity, and the public’s obsession with science and the scientific method allows for Holly to be the perfect narrator and allows Haggard to direct focus toward the plot.

Holly is a fellow at a prominent school in Cambridge and, as a young man, inherited a ward: a young child named Leo Vincey. It turns out (as these things so often turn out) that Leo is the progeny of a long, formidable heritage stemming from the long-lost love of She, or Hiya, or “She-who-must-be-obeyed,” or Ayesha. The two academics with their trusty servant Job set out to Africa to seek out answers to Leo’s cryptic clues to his origin, and in the deepest jungles and plains of Ethiopia they find a tribe of cannibals, ancient ruins, otherworldly fires, and She herself. Ayesha is gifted with incredibly long life, imperviousness to harm, and inhuman wisdom and beauty. She is the one who ate the apple and embodies fully all earthly Truth. And here in the jungle, Holly is every bit the English amateur anthropologist: he flings out conclusions based on his biased observations, praises the noble savages, then sits back and congratulates himself on learning something new.

Haggard doesn’t give us any surprises here, except for Holly’s growing devotion to Providence in light of Ayesha’s seductive but wicked materialism. Ayesha challenges Holly’s and young Leo’s stuffy English ideologies with her thousands of years of evolving philosophy: “… there is a strange square for thee to fit into thy circle of good and evil, oh Holly!” I’ll leave you readers to find out if Holly and Leo succumb or stick to their guns.

Here are a few favorite quotes from the novel, mostly coming from Ayesha:

“It is very curious to observe how the customs of mankind on this matter vary in different countries, making morality an affair of latitude, and what is right and proper in one place wrong and improper in another.” (Ayesha)

“Ah! if man would but see that hope is from within and not from without–that he himself must work out his own salvation!” (Ayesha)

“True, in uniting himself to this dread woman, he would place his life under the influence of a mysterious creature of evil tendencies, but then that would be likely enough to happen to him in any ordinary marriage.”

Also! I’m learning how to do polls! Here’s one.