Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Pollen

by Jeff Noon

cover  

After buying this I felt a bit conned. Nothing on the cover indicates that this is the follow-up to Vurt, and it should be mentioned. I haven't read Vurt yet, and I feel the story would have made more sense to begin with if I had.

Set in Manchester in the not-too-distant future, the world of Pollen slides from the familiarity of The Beatles to utter strangeness. Due to some previous calamity the outskirts have become a no-go area populated by zombies. Other creatures of this world include dog people, shadow people, cyborgs and the Vurt people who are part dream. And just as in dreams, there are no limits to what is possible in this book. Nor does this weird fantasy seem to have any meaning to begin with.

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.

Book Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Books

  Fantasy
 

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Read more about Jeff Noon

Comments

Steve Tara     10th June, 2005 10:03am

I thought this book was an excellent insight into the machinations of a dystopian world that Noon brilliantly presents to the reader through a mosaic of grunge, mythology. The story could be viewed as the aligorical onset of a collapsing patriarchal paradigm, formerly known as 'The Grand Narrative'. This brilliant post-modernist work reveals more than just the wonderful relationships between Boda-Belinda and her Charrie-a tender affirmation to accepting 'The Other' through AI and extends itself to the slick Black Cab driver dogboy lover who is sacrificed to Persephone to bring in the new order, but whose new order? I'm sure if we think about the kinds of globalisation systems that might be offered in place of that presented thus far; this story has something to say between the lines for the astute reader.

Re-post-modernity its call for new icons archetypes etc, history is re-told re-constituted and something new arises from the chaos that in the end isn't really as much chaos, but a gestating complexity leading to an affinity that perhaps will re-write the ultimate hive maps to be in the main a more positive reality than that Columbas might imagine. Persephone is the paradox; she represents perhaps the all-pervasive pre-occupation with youth and the young in popular culture - the death of innocence and childhood? Sexuality and creativity within the novel are explicit, yet mythological and disarmed by the archetypal undercurrents and the other lliterary motifs; the scene where Persephone is encased within a container in the morgue is like the classic vampire story- she who is death and life, yet cannot live in our world as nature rejects her amongst the many fascinating subjects dealt with in the narrative.The questions and musings in Pollen are wrestled with by contemporary anthropologists and social theorists alike. Noon shows how life and death within the human psyche and indeed the physical world must come to an understanding, a comprimise. Demeter and Persephony are nature unbound crying out to humanity to allow them a place in the 'global village' currently strangling them both, and to survive the mother and daughter within Sybil - Belinda our awakening post-patriarchal post-feminist consciousness must face John Barleycorn and defeat Columbas. The story is us all, to take Noon's novel to a literary plane, to create a new paradigm where gendre, identity, race and culture are no longer mutually antagonistic and the shadow beetle can have its place. In Pollen, this is played out in the dark and humorous parody of the text.

Sybil Jones-Belinda are the vehicles for a new future, the children to be born hold the key to the future of the world Noon has created. Perhaps the new affinity weft starts with them?

Steve Tara honors student Latrobe University Melbourne Australia June 2006

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