Cover of uncorrected proof
|Cover artist||Joe Magee|
|Media type||print (paperback and hardback), audiobook|
|ISBN||978-1-898051-03-9 (first edition, paperback)|
Vurt is a 1993 science fiction novel written by British author Jeff Noon. Both Noon and small publishing house Ringpull's debut novel, it went on to win the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award and was later listed in The Best Novels of the Nineties.
Vurt tells the story of Scribble and his "gang", the Stash Riders, as they search for his missing sister/lover Desdemona. The novel is set in an alternate version of Manchester, England, in which society has been shaped by Vurt, a hallucinogenic drug/shared alternate reality, accessed by sucking on colour-coded feathers. Through some (never explained) mechanism, the dreams, mythology, and imaginings of humanity have achieved objective reality in the Vurt and become "real".
Before the novel begins, Scribble and his sister-lover take a shared trip into a vurt called English Voodoo, but upon awakening Scribble finds his sister has been replaced by an amorphous blob that Mandy, a fellow Stash Rider, nicknames "The Thing from Outer Space". From that point on, Scribble is on a mission to find another copy of the rare and contraband Curious Yellow feather (found within English Voodoo), so that he can exchange The Thing for Desdemona.
- Scribble – the protagonist and first-person narrator.
- Desdemona – Scribble's sister and lover.
- Beetle – the driver, muscle and unofficial leader of the Stash Riders.
- Bridget – shadowgirl, fellow stash rider, Beetle's lover and powerful psychic.
- Mandy – the newest addition to the Stash Riders.
- The Thing From Outer Space – a creature from the Vurt-world, exchanged for Desdemona.
- Game Cat – the maestro, the near mythical being who knows and shares the inside info in his "Game Cat" periodical.
Literary significance and reception
Vurt achieved both critical and commercial success, attracting praise from the science fiction community as well as the literary arena. It has been stylistically compared to William Gibson's cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, as well as Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange.
In High Anxieties, a book exploring the modern concept of addiction, Scribble is used as an example of a character who has traded addiction for a chance at transcendence. Brodie et al. liken Scribble's incorporation of Vurt technology into his biological body as a metaphor for the revelation potentially gained through drug use. They point out that the exchange rate between the real and the Vurt is tempered by Hobart's Constant, or "H"—which is "not incidentally", Brodie argues, "slang for heroin."
The book has attracted criticism due to its implausible science and "wild and kaleidoscopic" yet unsatisfying plot. Entertainment Weekly felt Vurt was undeserving of receiving the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award, saying the book's "sentimental incest and adolescent self-congratulation...is never really startling or disturbing."
Allusions and references
Jeff Noon says Vurt originally began as an adaptation of Octave Mirbeau's The Torture Garden, an anti-authoritarian novel written at the turn of the 20th century. Noon, recently exposed to virtual reality technology by the magazine Mondo 2000, depicts the torture garden as a virtual world. Noon also credits Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces for inspiring the narrative structure of Vurt.
The character of Desdemona is based on the character of the same name from William Shakespeare's play Othello. The Curious Yellow feather is a possible allusion to the 1967 Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow), which uses non-linear narrative structures and postmodern techniques like the novel. It might also be a reference to computer worms (the Vurt is riddled with virtual reality serpents which propagate from game to game, like computer worms replicate themselves by hijacking computer programs).
Vurt has been described as a retelling of Orpheus' visit to the Underworld. Orpheus and Scribble are both poets and musicians, and each attempts to rescue their idealized lovers from an alternate reality. As Joan Gordon points out, cyberspace represents "the underside of the human condition" and therefore the journey to virtual reality is comparable to the mythic journey to commune with the dead. In addition, the myth of Orpheus, like Vurt, explores what it means to be human in relation to the non-human; Orpheus encountered the dead, and Scribble the virtual simulations created by computers.
Although Noon began the screenplay for the film version of Vurt in 2002, with Iain Softley scheduled to direct, he has since stated on his public website that "Of the Vurt film, all has gone silent at the moment. Don’t hold your breath."
20th anniversary edition
- Noon, Jeff, Where the Stories Come From, retrieved 2007-08-24
- "Arthur C. Clarke Award Listings", Locus, retrieved 2007-08-21
- Lesher 2002, pp. 95-96.
- Babcock, Jay (1996), High Noon, retrieved 2007-08-28
- Santala, Ismo (14 October 2003), Jeff Noon's Works
- Skow, John (Feb. 20, 1995), "Virtual Orange", Times Magazine, retrieved 2007-08-21
- Brodie and Redfield 2002, pp. 166-167.
- Wright, Rickey, You'll Have to Wade Through Noon's 'Vurt', retrieved 2007-08-21[dead link]
- "Vurt Review", Kirkus Reviews, 1994
- Klepp, L.S. (Feb 10, 1995), Book Review: Vurt, Entertainment Weekly, retrieved July 6, 2009
- Wiley, Brandon (unknown), Curious Yellow: The First Coordinated Worm Design
- Sawyer and Seed 2000, p. 196.
- Gordon 1990
- MacCracken 1998, p. 127.
- Noon, Jeff, Jeff's Update October 2002, retrieved 2007-08-24
- Noon, Jeff, Jeff's Update April 2005, retrieved 2007-08-24
- Vurt-The Theatre Remix, retrieved 01-04-2008
- Vurt 20th anniversary edition, retrieved 2013-04-17
- Brodie, Janet Farrell; with Marc Redfield (2002), High Anxieties: Cultural Studies in Addiction, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-22750-6
- Gordon, Joan (Feb. 1990), "Yin and Yang Duke It Out", Science-Fiction Eye 2.
- Lesher, Linda Parent (2002), The Best Novels of the Nineties: A Reader's Guide, McFarland & Company, ISBN 0-7864-0742-5, retrieved 2007-08-27
- MacCracken, Scott (1998), Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction, Manchester University Press, ISBN 0-7190-4759-5
- Sawyer, Andy; with David Seed (2000), Speaking Science Fiction: Dialogues and Interpretations, Liverpool University Press, ISBN 0-85323-834-0
- Vurt title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Jeff Noon - Vurt (20th Anniversary Edition) review