Adventures in Reading

Bookworms’ Chronicle: 11th Edition

The 11th Edition of Bookworms’ Carnival is up and ready at Scooter Chronicles. This current edition of the carnival focuses on urban and contemporary fantasy a genre I sadly lacked much experience in until read Jeff Noon’s Vurt, but now my interest has been peaked in many of the other review titles listed. Please make sure to check it out.

If you are not familiar with the Bookworms’ Carnival, it receives a lot of momentum from Dewey. The next round will be hosted by Nymeth and will focus on fairy tales. It’s a lot of fun, please do participate, and this round I even won a free book of my choice!

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Pollen by Jeff Noon

I was so taken with Jeff Noon’s Vurt that I couldn’t wait to get started on the second book of the Vurt series Pollen. Pollen is another novel set in a futuristic Manchester, England and beyond the setting there is not much connection with Vurt. In Pollen, the cop Sybil Jones begins exploring a little too closely the murder of a half-dog, half-human cab driver named Coyote. His death leads Sybil on a case that uncovers bad cops, a cab company monopoly, a lost daughter, and a plan from a Vurt archetype that would ultimately allow the Vurt (a cyber dream reality) to consume reality.

Pollen is written in a much smoother and collected style than Vurt, but I was actually a bit disappointed by this. In Vurt the jerky writing style and interjected essays from the Gamer Cat allowed a rough and tumble feel to the reading. In Pollen Noon continues with a similar writing style and structure but allows a more fluid availability of information through Gumbo Ya Ya broadcasting over the airwaves. I do wonder between the more stinted flow of introductory material how if I would have been able to read Pollen without previously reading Vurt: I would definitely recommend starting with Vurt before diving into Pollen.

Pollen does begin to explore a more philosophical edge that utilizes the Persephone myth, and in that way actually was reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. From the Vurt dream world stories are told over and over when the Vurt is visited, but Pollen explores the actual existence of Vurt creatures. In this case, Persephone leaves the Vurt to begin hatching a plan of overlaying reality with a kind of Vurt heaven, which sounds marvelous in plan but none of it is real. Noon finds a fascinating way to intertwine virtual reality with old-fashioned Mother Nature.

Sex is something I didn’t mention when writing about Vurt, but in both novels Noon has an abundance of literal and figurative sex. He deals with sex and sexuality brashly and somewhat pornographically. The act of using a Vurt feather is equated with deep throating.

Pollen was definitely not as good as Vurt. Where I had to force myself away from Vurt, I had to force myself into finishing Pollen and nearly didn’t. Noon has created a complex world and where Vurt was very much a journey through Manchester, Pollen attempts to continue not only the Manchester journey but an introduction to the Vurt, which loses it’s abstract dream quality that was so well developed in Vurt.

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.