Cyberpunk Review » Vurt

July 9, 2006


Author: Jeff Noon

Year: 1996

Category: Cyberpunk Books

Vurt Book Cover


Overview: Vurt is the story of Scribble, a serious drug addict who lost his sister to drugs and his desparate attempt to get her back. Desdemona acts as a handy MacGuffin to drive Scribble’s exploration of himself and the readers exploration of a kind of weird future fantasy of Manchester (England).

Noon doesn’t seem to be too concerned about the Science component of his Science Fiction. The main element of Sci Fi that he uses here is the idea of creating a particular technology with particular rules and then extrapolating the way that society integrates those technologies into itself and, ultimately, takes them for granted. It’s that final element, societies ambivalance towards tech, that, along with a kind of virtual reality, qualifies this for consideration as cyberpunk. But the tech itself is completely implausable and the rules (as layed out by the GameCat in small, zine style, chapters), though consistantly adheared to, don’t make a great deal of sense. That’s not a criticism (at least, not to me). It all seems like a deliberate attempt to distance the book from the kind of tech fetishism (not to mention the quasi military motifs) that is common in traditional science fiction. Scribble’s world is a messed up, poverty strewn mess peopled with various inventive and atmposheric characters.

All of the five main classes of being (human, robo, dog, shadow and Vurt) mate with each other in unions that bear fruit. Mongrel Alsation-scouse popstars walk around on their hind legs as though they’re actually men.

Cops stalk the streets with a desparate corruption defined by disappointment and terrible pacts made with the best of intentions. Scribble escapes his world in a way that should be familar to any society anywhere in the world at any time in history; the use of the best drugs available. In Scribble’s world these are Vurt feathers. Using them transports your mind to a dreamworld in order to experience whatever dream is contained in that particular feather. The twist being that the world of the Vurt would seem to be in some ways a persistant alternate dimension in which things (and people) can be lost. The plot of the novel is simply the search for the various components necessry to get Desdemona back from the Vurt but it’s the journey and the things that are shown to you on the way that matter.

The Bottom Line: I don’t want to live in the world of Noon’s future Manchester, although I am aware that something very similar (at least in terms of poverty) already exists in our own time. I do recomend reading the book. You may not have read anything like it.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Influenced Books by David Gentle.


July 9, 2006

David Gentle said:

Sorry, I posted this without asking whether it was okay.

July 10, 2006

David Steele said:

Vurt was a doorway into a different way of thinking that nobody had ever been brave enough to try before. For me, it represented everything I’d ever wanted out of science fiction. it was sexy and surreal. It was dangerous and clever. I’ve given this book to people who have told me they’ve never read a book and it’s made avid converts out of them.
I can’t quite put my finger on why I love this story so much. All I can say is that it has touched me in a way that has never left me, and I’ve read a good few novels in my time. There is just something about the mix. the urgency of it, the streetwise pace. It’s not your usual sci-fi fare. this is a bad acid remix with the amps turned all the way up to eleven.
Blade runner meets trains spotting.
I owe this book a debt. It was this one novel that made me think I could get my own i-con story together. Maybe it isn’t the best book in the world, but then The Velvet Underground were not exactly the best band in the world but it’s said that everyone who listened to them went out and formed a guitar band.
Jeff couldn’t get this book out when he first wrote it. Nobody in the mainstream wanted to know. In the end it was taken up by a tiny little independent label called “ringpull press” who risked everything on a major print run. I’m so glad they had the guts to do so, or I’d never have had the joy of driving my beat up van through Rainy Old Madchester at night with just the gurgling of the Thing From Outer Space for company!
You can tell I’m a fan, can’t you? Sell your sister. Buy this book. Fair exchange.

July 14, 2006

s7awek said:

I’m not sure if this review, doesn’t spoil the major plot of this book. I don’t remember if the book mentions the feathers in conjunction with drugs. As far as I remember feathers are feathers from the beginning and they are not called drugs. But at some point this paralell is obvious, but you’ll spent some time with this book until you’ll figure that out. Which is the actual fun. Maybe until you finish it, like me. The text above is for me like a Matrix review that explains what the Matrix is about in the first sentence.

But maybe I overlooked some bit at the beginning of the book. Though I hope my critique of the critique is somehow helpful.

July 16, 2006

David Gentle said:

I’m always open to criticism.
It mentions Vurt being “the ultimate drug” in the back cover blurb of my addition though (Ringpull press). Obviously I don’t want to give too much away but at the same time on want to try to convey something of what the book is about.
Thanks for reading.

David Steele said:

Interestingly enough, the blurred line between drugs and virtual reality is never really considered in much detail in this story. Much like a person who watches TV all the time would not bother to wonder about how the signals get into the set.

The more you read about the Vurt universe, the more the feathers, vaz, Gamecat and a whoile bag full of other stuff starts to make sense. I almost think a new Jeff Noon reader should start with “Nymphomation”, which goes a very long way to explaining the truly mind blowing mathematical concepts at play.

So far there hasn’t been a Vurt story that hasn’t relied on new books to tie up loose ends, or to feed new loose ends into old stories. Nice trick when you can get away with it!

David Gentle said:

Sorry to be ignorant but is Pollen set before or after Vurt? I read it a few years ago and it just didn’t do much for me.

July 18, 2006

David Steele said:

To tell you the truth I really can’t remember exactly when it’s set in realtion to Vurt, but it’s based on a different character set anyway. I think it had a lot to say about the Fecundity war, and its resulting inter-mixing of species types. Oddly enough, now that I try and think about it I’m hard pushed to remember what it was about! Not exactly the best advertisement!
Oh well. If my best book is as good as his worst I’ll consider my time well spent.
I’ve just picked it up again now. Which is annoying because it means I won’t finish this chapter of my own for another week. *Sigh!

February 10, 2007

Rin said:

Pollen is set approximately twelve years after Vurt, I think. I actually read it last night. I won’t say how I know that, for those of you who haven’t read Pollen, but I’m pretty sure that this is the case. I know it is set after Vurt.

February 3, 2011

JJ said:

Certainly weird is the word that comes up when thinking about this novel. And certainly, I haven’t read anything like it. I am still not sure about recommending it. It’s entertaining, even amusing, but it’s been quite a slot finishing it…

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