Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Vurt, by Jeff Noon

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Yeah, sure! And the king was in his counting house, counting out his money. No doubt. Except that we'd just trashed a week's dripfeed on five lousy Blues and a single done-it-already Black. Sure, The Beetle could sell some low-level Vurt to a robo-crusty. Or maybe I could persuade Brid to sing some smoky songs in one of the locals, me on keyboards and decks, but the shadow-cops were everywhere. Most pubs had one, broadcasting from above the Vurtbox, shining inpho all over undesirables. Those inpho beams could match a face up to the Cop Banks in half a nanosec.
Winner of the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award, beating among others Ammonite by Nicola Griffith and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. I had not read it before; people seem to either love it or not love it, depending on how close to original publication they read it. It’s set in a near-future Manchester, where the protagonist and his friends are habitual consumers of Vurt - possibly a drug, possibly a virtual game, possibly both - which is absorbed by oral intake of feathers of different colours. The style draws both on Philip K. Dick and cyberpunk, with a bit of Hero’s Journey in there. I found it particularly interesting that the key figures are all crusties, a 1990s subculture that I had completely forgotten about until now. (Are there any still around? I see from Wikipedia that it meant something different in North America.)

I was not really blown away by the book, as so many readers clearly were when it first came out (including the Clarke judges, who in my view should have gone for Snow Crash). Cyberpunk isn’t really my subgenre, Dick did the Dickian bits better, the characterisation is rather flat, and in the set-up, the state rather implausibly seems to have little contact with the alternative scene of our protagonists (when in fact you’d expect police and welfare agencies at least to be keeping a wary eye and at worst to be complicit in the supply of dubious substances). I found it rather dragged, despite its relatively short length. I can see why some people liked it, but it didn’t really work for me. Still, if you like, you can get it here.

Next in my list of award-winning books is Larque on the Wing, by Nancy Springer.

Tags: bookblog 2018, sf: clarke award

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