Six books written by Jeff Noon, each being a blend of SF, urban subculture and fairy tale, stem out of the author's wish to regenerate the spirit of Lewis Carroll in the British culture gone cynical. However, judging from his near-future escapades, Noon does not only reanimate Lewis Carroll, but also puts him into William Gibson's shoes and equips him with William Burrough's gun. And there is more in Noon's narrative disguise - in this writer's unique appearance you will also recognize the hard look of Orwell, the wry smile of Jonathan Swift and the good-humoured patronizing voice of Christian Andersen.
A fortune cookie of Noon's art is the story of the invisible watch which opens his collection of short fiction entitled Pixel Juice(1998). As a kid in junior school, the author's alter ego Noony did swaps with his classmate without a second thought: he traded his James Bond Aston Martin DB5 for the invisible watch. "Never, not for one second, did it puzzle me that you couldn't tell time by an invisible watch", writes Noon, adding that "the time was not important - it was the invisibility that got to me. The magic of it."
And the magic there was, just like in a fairy tale. The same as it was in the case of emperor's new clothes, magic abides in our strong belief that there is something more behind the invisibility. Magic is not just the uncanny joined with the inexplicable. Some fifty stories of Pixel Juice create the kind of magic which is moving one step beyond appearances. Noon creates alternative worlds of invisible genes, clones, bytes and sounds, and also a mixture of genres and dimensions which is noticeable in the title of the book. "Pixel Juice" could well stand for some kind of a "visual beverage" except from being a stage name of a DJ whose life story traces back to the Little Mermaid's. In both cases there is a sacrifice of one's talent. The Little Mermaid, just like Noony, trades her beautiful voice for a vague promise of a love surpassing all appearances. Conversely, Pixel Juice keeps the fatal gift of god she received: "out of her sleeve, out of her wrist, throbbed a bundle of flutterings, a cascade of life upwards and along and stretched out, making only the shapeof a hand." However, this futuristic Lorelei lures her fan both into killing her and revealing her secret, which makes him touch the boundary beyond which technology becomes the death to life instead of an improvement. The same goes for the computer program called Chromosoft Mirrors, which developed the "disable dream switch" owing to Elisa Gretchen, obviously a fairy tale character. As if too much technology given to a fairy tale heroine can kill the magic! After such a prospect of the future, the last story in the book becomes a gate of parodic and idyllic aspects of technology at which you either stop, or enter crawling on your knees. The invisible wristwatch vanishes at the very moment little Noony seeks through the fraud: there was nothing like emperor's new clothes or the invisible watch ever. Empirically speaking, that is true - but not true enough. Miracles exist, but they need not manifest. You only have to believe, as Fox Mulder would have it.
Pixel Juice is a mixture of literature, hypertext and music - actually a musical score of computer games in prose. Rhythm'n'words merge in the stories which are (r)evolving in cycles, with motives and characters recurring and developing. Although Noon juggles the idea of artificial intelligence (celeborgs, hyper-alice, etc.), he seems to be mostly intrigued by a sort of linguistic invention which relies heavily upon rhythm.
This article was in a slightly different form first presented under the title
Clad to Kill with Rhythm'n'style: Jeff N@@n feat. Pixel Juice
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