Thursday, 18 February 2016

Automated Alice - Jeff Noon

Automated Alice is essentially Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in a cyberpunk universe. A little Victorian girl named Alice is bored with her humdrum existence, and is transported through a grandfather clock to the future, or at least to 1998, which was the future in 1996 when the novel was published. Once there she meets her Twin Twister, a life-size embodiment of her favourite doll Celia, who has been animated by an inventor and joins Alice on her quest to get home.

Alice is under suspicion for the famous Jigsaw Murders, in which the victims are found dismembered and stitched together in a nonsensical fashion. They are found with one jigsaw piece each, all of which are missing from Alice's jigsaw puzzle in the past. She and Celia decide that the only way to get home is to retrieve all of the missing puzzle pieces, while evading the clutches of the police.

In many ways Automated Alice feels like it ought to be a children's book – it's told in a matter-of-fact, childlike voice and even has wonderfully quirky full-page illustrations, as well as smaller doodles throughout. There are aspects, however, like the practical but detailed way in which the murder victims are described, that would be very much out of place in a children's book. Noon keeps the dreamlike feel of Carroll's original and applies it to his own, more modern universe found in Vurt and Pollen (and later Nymphomation) to create a very readable, but very unsettling, atmosphere.

The novel questions the boundaries of fantasy and reality in a way I'm sure Carroll would have approved of. Alice meets an authorial figure, Zenith O'Clock, who has a very existential conversation with her questioning whether she represents the Alice known in real life by Carroll, the Alice in the book he wrote, or another Alice entirely. A cameo appearance by Lewis Carroll himself increases the blurring of lines.

For those who have read Noon's other novels, Automated Alice offers some interesting theories about the background to the culture he's created which set Vurt, Pollen and Nymphomation in a different light.

Next up: The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

A Trail of Ink - Mel Starr

The third novel in the medieval mystery Hugh de Singleton series focuses on the mysterious theft of his friend John Wycliffe's entire collection of books. His investigations lead him to several different groups of possible suspects, and to multiple attempts on his life as he tries to uncover the truth and retrieve the books. At the same time, he must try to win his beloved Kate from the latest of her persistent suitors.

Like the previous novels, A Trail of Ink is so rich in detail, especially in little everyday things like food, clothes or furnishings. This gives a real depth to the story and makes it more than just a mystery set in the past. Starr blends intrigue, action and comedy together to create a very readable novel that really brings the period alive.

Next up: Automated Alice by Jeff Noon