After giving Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland electric shock treatment last year in Automated Alice, Jeff Noon’s new novel Nymphomation returns to the near-future Manchester of his first two books, Vurt and Pollen. While Automated Alice was an audacious exercise in seeing quite how far he could push reinventing a classic, Nymphomation sees Noon’s unique writing style hit its most frenetic peak on the cardiac monitor so far. Located somewhere between William Gibson and Philip K. Dick’s nightmare noir future visions, Noon brings a peculiarly English sensibility and a twisted sense of humour to the cyberpunk genre.
Nymphomation also adds deadly satire to Noon’s arsenal: the near future Manchester has become obsessed with the new citywide lottery game Domino Bones. Players purchase a handful of dominoes and every Friday night the winning numbers are illuminated on the body of the voluptuous figurehead of the game, Lady Luck. For the winner, it is unimaginable riches, for the loser another week to wait for the bones to fall again. But there is only one winner, The Company, who play the city’s fragile expectations with callous ease. For British readers, this will all sound uncomfortably familiar, especially as the excesses of the National Lottery are coming under increasing scrutiny.
Enough soapboxing: on with the story. A group of mathematics students are looking at the mind-numbing probabilities involved and searching for the hidden mysteries behind the game. they watch the game’s progress and slowly uncover the sinister realities behind the Domino mania. The Company is devouring Manchester because it has the nymphomation, the secret knowledge underlying the fame’s mechanics, by which information can make love to itself, producing more powerful information. Baby data. An evolutionary power which has the power to take over the city’s dreams…
Nymphomation is a dizzy ride through this near-future universe, like Bladerunner goes up North. But Noon doesn’t get so involved with portraying 1999 Manchester that he neglects his characters living within it – the group of students searching for the secret of the nymphomation are palpably human rather than being laser-toting hardboiled bastards from hell. Most of all, it’s Noon’s overdrive prose style that carries the reader through Nymphomation – the author seems to be unable to get his sentences out fast enough, continually playing with and subverting his own writing, exploiting every pun, allusion and innuendo that comes to mind. There’s even a parody of Jabberwocky chucked in there for good measure (“T’was nineish, and the slimy hordes did clack and gamble in the wave. All dotty were the game-parades, and the telebox did crave…”).
It’s a mutating, organic style that spreads across each page, feeding back on the story’s meshing of silicon and skin and showing Noon to be truly out on his own as a writer. After reading Nymphomation, a humble game of dominoes will never seem quite the same again.