Science fiction and fantasy
by Jeff Noon
The 1998 Alice ends up in is not our 1998, but some odd parallel one. Rather than a world filled with cars and computers there are iron horses and computermites. Modern inventions exist in a more figurative form. People of the future are also afflicted with a condition called Newmonia. This means that people and animals, or even people and objects, are joined in new and unusual forms. Jeff Noon is being characteristically weird, and Automated Alice makes even less sense than usual.
The Automated Alice of the title is Alice's doll, Celia, who grows to life-size and becomes a sort of cyborg. She helps Alice to escape from Miss Minus and the civil serpents, and from the police who believe she is responsible for the murders. There's lots of wordplay as Alice misunderstands the modern terminology. Jeff Noon's alter-ego in the book is Zenith O'clock, the "writer of wrongs", who writes books that the Crickets hate.
For all the imitation of Lewis Carroll's style, this book doesn't quite have the charm of his work. It's not certain to appeal to children because it can be confusingly absurd. It's not really cyberpunk either, although you might get that impression from Noon's other work. Reality is twisted, the cause and effect of conventional narrative is ignored, and the threads of the story meet loosely at best. Read this to your kids if you want to confuse them.
Jeff Noon is furiously inventive, and that elevates this book above a mere attempt to cash in on Carroll's name. But don't look here for social commentary or carefully crafted metaphor for the problems of progress. Automated Alice is not an especially serious book.
If you like this, try:Lost In A Good Book by Jasper Fforde
Literary detective Thursday has to work out why the world is about to end in a blob of pink goo, and rescue her new husband, who has been eradicated from time.The second in the Thursday Next series.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Fictional characters leap out of the page and start affecting reality in this literary adventure.
Alice In Wonderland by Tim Burton
An older Alice takes a detour down the rabbit hole in this adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic story.
Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Jeff Noon