Gavin F (gavluvsga) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Gavin F

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Book #45: Automated Alice by Jeff Noon

Number of pages: 252

From the blurb on the back:
In the last years of his life, the fantasist, Lewis Carroll, wrote a third Alice book. This mysterious work was never published or even shown to anybody. It has only recently been discovered. Now, at last, the world can read of Automated Alice and her fabulous adventures in the future.

That's not quite true.
Automated Alice was in reality written by Zenith O'clock, the writer of wrongs. In the book he sends Alice through time, tumbling from the Victorian age to land in 1998, in Manchester, a small town in the North of England.

Oh dear, that's not at all right. This trequel to
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was written by Jeff Noon. Zenith O'clock is only a character invented by Jeff Noon and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely accidental. What Alice encounters in the automated future is mostly accidental too...a series of misadventures, even weirder than your dreams.

I picked this up many years ago when I was at University, as I found it intriguing. I had read the original Alice books when I was young and did not know for years that she was based on the real-life Alice Liddell.

This book provides a cyberpunk twist by having Alice time travel to a bizarre version of Manchester. The bizarreness mostly comes through the fact that in this version of 1998, a disease called "Newmonia" as turned people into human/animal hybrids. The Automated version of Alice is her doll, Celia, who looks like Alice and has turned into a kind of automaton (reading this again, I was reminded of the classic silent movie, "Metropolis").

Although this SEEMS like a kids' book, it really isn't, and I figured this out quite early on, because the main plot involves a series of gruesome murders, which Alice gets mixed up in. I noticed too that they had at least one double entendre that only adults would get (a rabbit shows up at one point, described as a "rampant rabbit").

This is mostly a good book, although I was unsure about the placement of cameos from Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (who wrote the Alice books under the name "Lewis Carroll"), and having Alice actually told about the books; it was almost like an act of breaking the fourth wall on a TV show. Also, the book probably didn't need the not particularly subtle references to Jeff Noon's other book, Vurt.

However, I loved the fact that the writing felt very faithful in style to the original books, and there was an appropriate amount of incredibly bizarre, trippy moments. It didn't quite reach the standard of the originals, but considering the quality of these, that was unlikely. I noticed a few pop culture references inserted, including a character called Quentin Tarantula.

Overall, this is a decent book; I've read other attempts at fan fiction based on classic books that made me cringe, but I found this to be something that I wanted to re-read. It's best to remember though, that this is definitely a book aimed at older readers, though; don't get it for your kids.

Next book: Legends (Edited by Robert Silverberg)
Tags: alternate history, animals, book review, british, crime fiction, cyberpunk, dark fantasy, dreaming, dystopia, fanfiction, fantasy, humor, literature history, modern classic, modern lit, murder mystery, mystery, period fiction (20th century), sci-fi, thriller, time travel, urban fantasy

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