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'Vurt' by Jeff Noon

I actually read the sequel ‘Pollen’ a few years ago, but I had never had a chance to read the rest of the universe.

The reviews said they were two very different books, and that’s certainly true. ’Vurt’ has many of the now cliche-cyberpunk tropes, and is one of those works that definitely feels like it was made on drugs (the main action takes place over a month, and reads like one long trip). It flips back and forth between the main action, and the protagonists history.

The protagonist is Scribble, a young 20-something looking for his lover/sister Desdemona, who was lost in the dream-world of the Vurt. He does this by hanging around with the Stash Riders: Beetle, abusive leader; Bridget, Beetle’s psychic girlfriend, Mandy, the new girl whose Desdemona’s replacement with a fetish for violence; and the Thing from Outer Space, a blob that Scribble hopes to exchange for Desdemona.

In the course of exploring the Vurt through illegal feathers, the Stash Riders get chased by Murdoch, a vindictive cop, and caught up between the plots of Tanshaka, an escaped being of the Vurt, and the Game Cat, another mysterious exile. Not to mention a lot of other people. In the end Scribble manages to free Desdemona, not before losing most of his acquaintances and making a permanent sacrifice. No real closure to the ending, if that’s what you’re looking for.

I suppose the book was a marvel at the time it first came out, but frankly those tropes have been used too many times now to feel fresh. I found most of the characters unsympathetic; I couldn’t even bring myself to care about Scribble and Desdemona’s abusive father (although that certainly explains quite a bit about Scribble’s relationship with Beetle) And if I had ever really wanted to experience a bad, psychotic breakdown, I could go out and get my own drugs.

In comparison to ‘Pollen’ it feels like Noon, came off his bender, looked at what he wrote, then tried to write the exact opposite. Instead of 20-something (not even a rebel, he’s too weak for that) drug addict, we have a middle-aged cop. Instead of a personal quest, we have a threat to the entire city. Instead of a dreamer, we see through the eyes of a ‘flightless’ one who is unable to dream at all. Instead of flipping back and forth from present and past, we see from the perspective of the cop, and her estranged daughter. Both books raise more questions about the environment than they answer, and both leave us feeling unfulfilled at the ending.