Adventures in Reading

Bookworms’ Carnival: Vurt by Jeff Noon
“Awake you know that dreams exist. Inside a dream you think the dream is reality. Inside a dream you have no knowledge of the waking world.” From the “Game Cat” in Jeff Noon’s Vurt.

Thanks to a friendly suggestion from Mys Ebrel, I actually utilized the campus library to track down a copy of (what seems to be) the nearly impossible to find Vurt by Jeff Noon. Floating throughout Manchester, England, Vurt is an at times barely legal cyber drug ingested by tickling the back of the throat with one of a range of Vurt feathers. This designer drug delivers an interactive virtual reality or collective dreaming experience that can be a sweet lullaby or a deadly experiment. Devastatingly for Scribble, he loses his beloved sister Desdemona inside of the exquisite and peculiar Vurt Curious Yellow and lives to get her back.

Vurt is a rich novel that finds a unique crevice somewhere between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Blade Runner. Noon has a blunt and punctuated writing style that delivers the murkier sides of the novel perfectly, and he easily oscillates this style into spasms of color and fancy to juxtapose the drug sequences. Scribble’s crowd are fellow Vurt users known as the Stash Riders and Noon provides them with a complex relationships that develop the novel through their interactions and slang filled dialog. And unlike some created slang that can be even debilitating to a story, Noon blends and mixes a language that remains easily read and understood. In retrospect it’s surprising how little physical detail is used in the awake world and how strategically the Stash Riders’ relationships move the plot.

Inserted between many of the chapters are articles from Game Cat magazine written by the Game Cat, a master gamer of the virtual worlds, himself. These short and fulfilling essays allow Noon to succinctly suspend the reader’s disbelief without having to divulge tedious world construction details that would interrupt the plot. These descriptions dip into the world of Vurt but easily expand to explain the “impure” people of Vurt’s world including robo-, shadow- and dog- people.

I hesitate to say that there were too many subplots as Vurt was the first book written in what would later become known as the Vurt Sequence. But there’s a lot to consume in the first book from the incestuous relationship of Scribble and Desdemona, the meta layers of Vurt, the socioeconomics of Vurt’s Manchester, the alien “Thing” that arrives in Desdemona’s place, and particularly the dogpeople (and general idea of pure versus impure people) that become increasingly important in the second half of the novel. The only other irritating aspect of the book was the poor spell check. This is not usually something that bothers me but when an author is creating new words it increases the disruptive quality of the mistake.

Otherwise I swallowed this book whole. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Vurt as much as I did but I had to persuade myself into setting it down half way through to process the 200 pages I had just read. The only really bad thing about this book: it can be tricky to locate a copy but it’s worth it!

Also my review on Jeff Noon’s Pollen.