by Jeff Noon Doubleday pounds 15.99
Science fiction is fashionable again. The revival started in the early 1990s when dance music producers began to mix samples from Bladerunner and 2001 with their experimental beats. After four novels in which club culture is a motif and setting, Jeff Noon leads the British arm of this revival. Updating Philip K Dick, via William Gibson and Lewis Carroll, Noon sets his cyberfiction in a fantastically imagined futuristic Manchester, where humanity and technology have evolved and mutated. His latest release, , is a collection of 50 short stories that showcases the best aspects of his talents.
Robots with human mouths in their stomachs; a DJ with hands made of butterflies; virus-infected Marilyn Monroe celeborgs - Noon blends Orwellian satire with pure surrealism to create darkly humorous parables in which technology has developed at an exponential rate and fused with human desires. Adverts have a murderous life of their own, anti-theft devices become a fashion statement, and pimps are replaced by artificial humming-birds.
Where his novels sometimes have difficulty maintaining credible characterisations, the short story is the perfect form to accommodate Noon's hyperactive imagination. There are literally hundreds of ideas in and by keeping them separate, he demonstrates his versatility and gives each the space to shine. Furthermore, his confidence and competence with the form has allowed him to find room for some much-needed humour.
In "Chromosoft Mirrors (v.4.2)" a group of unfortunates discovers that the thought-recognition and feedback loop of the successor to Microsoft Windows can be used to capture their dreams on screen. The results of the "disable dream" switch are catastrophic. It took Wim Wenders nearly three hours to develop a similar idea in Until the End of the World. Noon goes further than Wenders did, adds an extra helping of wit and squeezes the whole lot into just three pages.
Noon's confidence in his material has allowed him to drop the gimmicky experiments in page layout that made sections of his novels resemble the results of an explosion in a typewriter factory. Thankfully his playful experimentation with language remains. When words don't exist to describe his visions, he is not afraid to make them up, and he is a master of the acronym. "From the book of Nymphomation" consists of a fragment of an ancient dictionary found in the ruins of Manchester, that gives definitions of "aphrodata", '"artifaecial", "aurafice", "biorgasm", and several other terms describing by-products of the marriage between technology, information and sex.
Updating William Burroughs's cut-up technique with the sensibilities of contemporary music producers and remixers, Noon takes his own stories and reworks them into inventive variations on a theme. Several tales have their own dub versions in which they are compressed into different forms - haiku, limerick, press release and so on. His influences are clear and, well aware that the remix is a valid and burgeoning artform, he is not afraid to namecheck his idols. "Pixel Dub Juice (sublimerix remix)" includes the stanza: "A robot in New York goes screwy / With a tongue in his tummy - how gooey / Mirrors receding / Books kill by reading / It's all nicked from Borges, Jorge Luis."
is a fantastic kaleidoscope of a book, demonstrating the wide range of Noon's vision and talents, encompassing a variety of styles, genres and voices. It is an excellent introduction to the surreal, confusing world of Jeff Noon, and paradoxically his best work yet.
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