on January 31, 2001
Not simply *for* mallrats, but written by an author who sees mall culture as the image-addled zeitgeist of our time.... This is Pokemon on acid: trite, superficial, maddeningly cute, but with a punk-slacker edge of Dickian terror-tactics and Burroughsian phantasmagoria.
Remember that episode of *The Simpsons* when Bart goes into convulsions after overloading on Japanese anime'? Well, *Vurt* comes on rather like a tripped-out anime' sequence, except the audience it seems to be targeting (ADD-suffering skaters, ravers, and assorted slackers) usually don't bother to read novels in the first place. Noon has a lot in common with fellow cyber-solipsist Richard Calder, their styles overinfluenced by film, television, and other visual media, making only a minimal attempt to suspend the reader's disbelief in a punk-poetic retinal wash of raver slang, drug-culture cliches, and slacker erotica. Whenever Noon's plot starts to snag, you can be sure that a drug-induced, hallucinatory *deus ex machina* will quickly follow (when the prospect of being an author actually becomes difficult, why, just have your characters pop a drug-feather into their mouth, and let the plastic parameters of an escapist freewrite do your work for you).
As young-adult SF, *Vurt* has its moments. Like the greatest cyberpunk, it makes a case for Virtuality corrupting the reality-principle of our pat, right-angled, ergonomically designed meat culture. The various Game Cat commentaries with their exgeses on the use and abuse of "feathers" are invariably funny and cute, but the narrative on which they seem to comment is only a pale simulacra of Burroughs, Dick, Gibson, Shirley, Rucker, and their ubiquitous successors. Dip into this novel at any page, and one will find what appears to be an edgy, parodic, cheery, stylish, hamster-cute parable on the pitfalls of virtual-reality, moreover the culture of addicts and enforcers who slink in its pixelated shadows. But taken at a stretch, the book quickly becomes a tired re-re-rehash of outmoded concepts, weakened further by tone-deaf characterization and who-cares plotting.
At the very least (you may argue), *Vurt* manages to distinguish itself from the morass of mass-market SF that continues to mock and invalidate the Genre, but alas, its characters are pre-adolescent, its plot is torpid, its dialogue is obnoxious (with a few brilliant exceptions), its premise unoriginal, and were it not for the occasional lyrical flair of Noon's cheeky smartass narrator, the book would be about as necessary as Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker cycle, and far less edifying. As the *The New Yorker* reviewer said of Noon's novel, this is "the mainstreaming of cyberpunk." A grotesque betrayal to say the least.
To put it another way, those who think *Snow Crash* and *Amnesia Moon* are the Great American Novels of our time will eat this novel up. Those with more self-esteem will look to more challenging authors for their SF fix.
on July 8, 2004
VURT is an average attempt at mimicking the style of the cyberpunk genre using a different set of reality obfuscating techniques. Instead of Cyberspace we have the world of VURT, which one enters via an hallucinogenic drug applied by sticking a feather on the back of the tongue. There really is very little new or innovative in VURT, other than the drug. After reading it, I had a "been there, done that" reaction. The prose style and dark vision of the future come right out of the cyberpunk genre (this prose style or dark world is not unique to cyberpunk either). The attempt at an existentialist obfuscation of reality is also similar to that of cyberpunk and again there is nothing particularly new or unique. Finally, the story itself is not all that compelling. Never does the reader really feel they know Desdemonia, the lover, whose loss and attempted recovery fuel the entire drama.
Overall, a rather mediocre novel.