Automated Alice by Jeff Noon (1996)
Today we are going to dance. The party starts at noon sharp and is scheduled to end – if at all – well beyond each and every until of eternity.
‘Nothing can rhyme with an orange
Except the pocket on a kilt,
When a sporran is misspelled
To a sporrange with a lilt.
An orange can rhyme with nothing!
The people cry in ignorance:
Forgetting in their ignorrange
That words can be made to dance.’
Today we are going to dance. The party starts at noon sharp and is scheduled to end – if at all – well beyond each and every until of eternity. The club where the rave takes place, is the first piece of a far more voluminous conce(p/r)t held in store, coming in volumes of multidimensionality preceded by as yet unknown prefixes. Due to my involvement as a mere reading pupils and scribbling fingertips, it is still in progress, insatiably digressive, sometimes painfully regressive, tempting and taunting aggressively, all at once, all at twice, etc. I do not know yet where it would take me, me – a pair of eyes and a set of ten fingers – ogling and groping the shapes, the curves, the nuances of these glyphs o’ fun, devised by a man who always casts the shortest shadows and deploys the longest ellipses…
So here we are, standing in front of the club, whose walls conduct waves of muffled rhythmic thuds, making our insides wobble. We can enter without any bribery, flattery or other demeaning trickery. Everybody is on the bouncer’s list: lisping listeners, flustered flashers, grinchy graspers, flimsy floppers, faulty flautists, fitting stiffs, sniffy drifters, flawless outlaws, haughty naughties, doting nothings, and many more irksome in(k)som(a)nia(c)s. This endless list does not confine itself exclusively to people, however a little girl is calling the shots and shouting the calls from its top. She and her automated self. Stop being so perplexed – you must have met her before, her unreal incarnation, of course, while singing misspelled carols, doubled hither and tither! You do not remember? Then allow me to refresh your memory and introduce you to her anagrammed twin sister or, as I should put it correctly, nureal twin twister, as well as the rest of the feasting guests.
Let’s melt into the cacophonous thumping and the thundering din of the beat. Smoke machines causing severe outbursts of whooping cough. Never mind that, full steam ahead! Rapid flashes of strobes are stop-motioning the narrative ‘premises’. We immediately recall the ‘glitchless’ quality of Lewis Carroll’s previous wondrous and glassy ‘parties’. A boredom-stricken Alice is being ridden with drowsiness, awaiting another dull writing lesson with her Great Aunt Ermintrude. An unfinished jigsaw puzzle set depicting a zoo is lying around on the table, a few pieces missing, nowhere to be found. Alice has not done her homework on an ellipsis, but to make matters worse, she gets tricked by her aunt’s parrot called Whippoorwill (indeed an interesting species of name for a green-and-yellow-plumed PARROT) into letting him out of the cage. The colorful rascal, who speaks only in riddles, vanishes then inside the grandfather clock’s workings, only to be followed by agitated Alice…
The general outline of Noon’s ‘club’ is that of a well-zonked blend of lightweight mystery fiction and some playful ‘Carrollness’ for grown-ups, topped with a few touches of nonsense. Were we to get into details (not many of them to share; I will not strip you of the undeniable pleasure of checking them out all by yourselves), I would give you only the tiniest bits of the icing on a cake, those crumbs that are found mostly between none and some. Or maybe before noon and (in the) after-Noon? The ones that whet one’s appetite for the ‘Worderland’. For instance: Alice’s question about how to make Heaven-knows-what, hilarity of frequent mishearings (e.g. windscreen vipers, a beanery system), highly allusive characters (a trumpeter named Long Distance Davis who plays or, at least, tries to play his song called Miles Behind; a Spiderboy director called Quentin Tarantula, notorious for his extremely graphic, so-called “flutters”), genuine portmanteau inventions (auto-hearse – an automated horse used for the transportation of corpses), a dialog between Alice and another character, whose hishshing, shibilant, Sean-Connery-like shtyle of shpeaking amushingly dishtortsh the whole convershation and – one of the linguistic crème de la crèmes – the infiltration of the Central Librarinth of Manchester by our little protagonist and her automated alter ego. Not to mention Alice’s A-OD (almost-overdose) on wurms, the omnipresent aftermath of Newmonia epidemic and the leitmotif of the Jigsaw Murders…
Automated Alice is a remarkable piece of ‘soundscaping’ machinery. Its spin-off-ish, crescendo-like quality conveys top-notch fills to the radiant to(n/t)ality of boisterousness awaiting us in Noon’s next/previous novels. For as I might or might not have vaguely implied earlier on, the following text is the first result – out of four in total – of a certain prequelo-sequelling investigation of mine. Going backwards in time (let’s call this trip a “temporal prequeltion”), taking off from the most unobtrusive trequel of all times, Jeff Noon’s ‘univurtse’ has recently transformed its unassuming buds into cascading vines of fecund blooms for me (my, oh my, am I not spilling the beans right now?!)…
Shrugging off the tendency to obfuscate as much as possible: what is Automated Alice all about, taken as a first part of a much prolonged ‘after-Noon party’? As usual, I am not sure. It may have something to do with letters being in a state of ‘never’. The ‘never’ which neither curtails nor forbids, but somehow entails and predicts. It is the optimistic ‘never’, the ‘never’ of more than childlike beginnings, the ‘never’ of self-assurance which does not need any kind of assurance at all, because it has been protruding to our universe from somewhere where possibilities, which detest every kind of slavery (psychological, economical, sociological, metaphysical, even if it were as innocent as the above mentioned, marginally oppressive feeling of self-confidence), feed not on the consistency of being to change in general, but on the flux of potency to play, to invent, to wander and to wonder in the Worderland (and other lands too!). Going for a stroll in the Worderland enables other, possibly yet-to-come, ‘components’ of reality to blossom. That is why Automated Alice summons the very finest ‘scent’ of the neo-pantheistic vision of Multiverses to be born. Multiverses comprising not only verses, but also mash-ups of moving pictures, remixes of technological intrusions (whatever they might be), collages of imaginary speculations and other ‘unnamabilities’ of poly-futures. Never has the ‘never’ of letters come closer to our reality, never has it retained the lightness and timelessness of its immaculate possibilities (as opposed to, e.g. heavy linguistic stomps of Finnegans Wake which exhaust our forbearance for their untouchably brilliant yet overripe, mature unbearableness) than in Noon’s Automated Alice. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson would definitely shed a tear of infinite joy upon seeing his Alice once again so ‘carrollfully’ portrayed, being able to go forth and back in time with her to taste the foreboding fruits of her automated reverie along the way. Maybe he has already done that?… To find out, come with us, My Dear Reader, but please, do not forget to sport your after-Noon frock coat and a pollen counter. Why the latter? Jeff Noon and I are going to tell you. Soon.