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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Digital Leatherette

Steve Beard

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To purchase Digital Leatherette

Title: Digital Leatherette
Author: Steve Beard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 282 pages
Availability: Digital Leatherette
Digital Leatherette - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : brimful futuristic novel, with a variety of (often challenging) styles and stories

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The copy on the back cover of Digital Leatherette calls it "an ethno-technical London cypherpunk novel". Which seems to sum it up. And which is probably enough to send some readers scurrying away (though, come to think of it, any reader even picking up a book with a title like "Digital Leatherette" is probably open-minded enough -- in the fictional arena, at least -- to give ethno-technical cypherpunk fiction a go). Elsewhere Beard describes it simply as an "ambient novel", which may sound less intimidating but really isn't.
       So, Digital Leatherette is not a straightforward novel. It is futuristic fiction, short chapters that relate a variety of stories and information in a less than direct (or, alternately, very direct) style. Each is presented as being information provided to "ansa/angel" (an "imaginary intelligent agent", the cover-copy suggests), while the senders are a varied lot. From someone calling themselves Voodoo Ray, to reuters.com, fabber@fabber.co.uk, mole@oldbailey.co.uk, and alt.drug.tryptamines, among others, Beard mines the much more convoluted and knotted world wide web of the near-future (most of the novel is set in 2012 and 2013) for his material.
       The novel begins with an interview with Morrissey (of The Smiths) in Antarctica, where he is "preparing to entertain Her Majesty's troops at the Ukanian Combine's final imperial retreat." Yes, in 2012 British (Ukanian) glory isn't quite what it used to be. Other chapters provide scenes from Narrow Rooms (a Quentin Kalin film about John Dee, Edward Kelley, and Queen Elizabeth I), government memos showing that the international political situation is less than rosy, a variety of secret and not so secret plots and counter-plots, MUSHs (MultiUserSharedHallucinations), suggestions for virtual art events, and other documents, stories -- and even some psychocartography.
       It is virtual fiction, largely set in a virtual world, and it is a wild mix of messages and meanings. The styles do not always make for easy reading, with the technobabble that means to lend it all a ring of authenticity sometimes drowning out whatever there might be of a narrative. But there is some fun here too, some nice pieces and clever ideas -- from little touches like a reference to a footnote in a book by "j cornelius" (a nod to Michael Moorcock's hero), to the Dr. Who references, the use of London and British history, and various samplings from modern (and future) culture and government. And, behind it all, there is even some coherence: there are overlapping plot lines which vaguely sort themselves out (with a little effort on the reader's part).
       A list of credits at the end suggests influences and inspirations: J.G.Ballard is listed as Construction Co-ordinator, Iain Sinclair as Location Manager, Stewart Home as Stunt Driver, and William Gibson (who provides nice blurbs for both the front and back cover) is Executive Producer. The resulting book is, indeed, what you might expect with such a cast of influences.
       There is enough material in here that is worthwhile, and Beard's constant shifts and varied approaches keep reader's on their toes. Still, it's a challenging read and you should know what you are getting yourself into. Definitely not for everyone, but worth a try.

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Digital Leatherette: Reviews: Steve Beard:
  • Mappalujo - A writing game devised by Jeff Noon and Steve Beard
Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Steve Beard writes for numerous magazines.

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