Jeff Noon,
(Crown, 1993)

When I finished reading Jeff Noon's Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel Vurt on the subway ride into work recently, my reaction was, "ho hum." Vurt had been on my bookshelf for quite a while and many of the reasons I'd let it sit so long proved to be true. I've grown tired of '90s cyber-grunge trappings, hacker-types who manage to outsmart the best cops in town and the surplus of sex that makes Penthouse Forum look tame but ends up feeling like filler. That said, Noon has loads more style and literary ability than most of the Gibson clones I've encountered.

The big problem with Vurt, for me, is that I didn't buy into Noon's central premise -- that virtual beings can cross into the real world and real folks can get sucked into the Vurt. Noon provides no explanation for this transfer, which takes not just the mind but the body across the threshold. I did like Noon's use of chemical rather than technological virtual reality, but here again I felt that his approach was less rigorous than I wanted. I wasn't convinced by the notion of being able to edit a drug trip. Maybe I haven't done enough drugs.

In the end I would compare Vurt to Jonathan Letham's Gun, With Occasional Music. Both authors built strange, reasonably original worlds in which to tell their well-crafted stories. Both books felt as if the authors were trying a bit too hard. Yet both authors have shown that they have major potential. Unfortunately, Noon chose to return to the world of Vurt for his second novel, Pollen. If I didn't buy the world I don't think I'll buy the book.

[ by Gregg Thurlbeck ]
Rambles: 11 May 2002

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