Science fiction and fantasy
by Jeff Noon
Coyote is a cab driver, half man half dog. Whereas most drivers belong to the Xcabs and are linked up to a map system run by the mysterious Columbus, Coyote is a rogue driver. He is given a tip-off for a fare and picks up a girl in a dangerous and illegal zone. The girl is called Persephone, and she's not human. They drive past desperate zombies, dodge lorries speeding towards the cab and police checks, and arrive in the heart of Manchester.
Moments later a cop, Sibyl Jones, is called in to investigate Coyote's death. Jones has the power of Shadow, which means amongst other things that she can experience the last moments of the dead and dying. What she finds is highly unusual.
Meanwhile Coyote's girlfriend, Boda, goes on the run. She`s an Xcabber and her boss, Columbus, has just tried to have her killed. But because she is missing she is presumed to be Coyote`s murderer. A reward is offered for her capture, and it appears that there is nowhere safe for her to go.
Whilst all this is happening the pollen count begins to rise to unnatural levels. This leads to a lethal form of hay fever. In the grip of some madness, the people also start to lynch those who are immune to it.
Even though the central character is a policewoman, this is more than a basic detective story. Mixed in are some wild flights of fancy and a smattering of mythology, even a tip of the hat to Lewis Carroll. Although this opinion is under the science fiction and fantasy heading, the book doesn't conform to the stereotypes of either genre. This is its strength and also its main weakness, because it means that for most of the story it is difficult to find your bearings.
I did suspect Jeff Noon of using weirdness for the sake of weirdness. However it all comes together mid-way through when the connection between the pollen and the many different species of human is revealed. Just at that point it seems as though this is going to be a story with a coherent plot and all loose ends tied up. Unfortunately the moment of lucidity doesn't last.
There are a few too many strands to this storyline, and too many symbols. One example is the map, which crops up all over. Boda's entire body is tattooed with a map of Manchester. Maps are vital to the storyline and quite a few are featured. But it isn't made clear why they are important, and the way Noon keeps on about them they ought to at least be a metaphor for something.
Noon has a very fertile imagination, but he hasn`t managed to contain his vision and tie it all up neatly. The ending was a disappointment and left too many unanswered questions. The main villain didn't have much credibility, although it didn't help that he was a creature of dream. By this point the main characters were also stretching credibility, both in themselves and their actions, and doing things that it should not have been in their gutsy nature to do.
That said, Boda and Sibyl are sympathetic characters who sustained my interest. And the ending, whilst incomplete, comes with quite a twist.
If you're looking to read something out of the ordinary and can get your head around any amount of strangeness, you might enjoy this. To understand it better, though, I suggest you read Vurt first.
If you like this, try:Dreamers by Christian R. Bonawandt
You wake up, but are you still in a dream world?
Sylvow by Douglas Thompson
A brother and sister promise to look after the plants and animals. But does Mother Nature care to return the favour?
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
People attempt to make their lives bearable by taking Can-D. But when Palmer Eldritch returns with a new alien drug, the minds of the whole human race are at stake.
Review © Ros Jackson
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