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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Pixel Juice

Jeff Noon

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To purchase Pixel Juice

Title: Pixel Juice
Author: Jeff Noon
Genre: Stories
Written: 1998
Length: 350 pages
Availability: Pixel Juice - US
Pixel Juice - UK
Pixelsalat - Deutschland
  • Several of these stories previously appeared in publications including The Big Issue, The Guardian, and Waterstone's Diary 1997

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Our Assessment:

B+ : freewheeling, wide-ranging collection of stories -- a mixed but intriguing bag

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 6/5/2000 Alex Clark
The Times B+ 10/10/1998 Sean Coughlan

  From the Reviews:
  • "God knows what really goes on inside Noon's head -- and you almost certainly wouldn't want to be there yourself -- but in a way we're glad he writes it all down." - Alex Clark, The Guardian

  • "50 short stories, many only a few pages long and all stronger on atmosphere than narrative. (...) What anchors his free-wheeling imagination is the grounding of Noon's stories in Manchester's grainy streets. While his ideas take flight, the background is a morose constant, his psychedelic strangeness tempered by the steady drizzle on grey streets." - Sean Coughlan, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

Oh, there's weirdo perversions galore !
Guns, hookers and drugs by the score;
Critics should pan it,
They really should ban it,
Or at least put it front of the store

             - from Pixel Dub Juice (sublimerix remix)

       Pixel Juice packs considerable punch. Fifty stories in the one book, each as unpredictable as the next. Other than a general Mancunian setting -- practically everything happens in and around Manchester -- there is nothing that unifies the collection. There are various threads that run through various stories: characters that reappear (as there are also characters from, for example, Noon's earlier novel, Nymphomation (see our review)) and other common elements, but it makes for an unusual weave.
       Noon is an imaginative and impulsive writer, and he doesn't tether his ideas. What comes to mind goes. Fortunately, he also has a marvelous ear for language. Wild as the ideas may be (and wild they are) he grounds them neatly in his writing, making them appear almost entirely natural. He understands that the ideas are just the half of it -- and that conveying them is the other half.
       Pixel Juice is framed by a prologue and an epilogue, in which Noon recounts how when he was a child he swapped a fancy toy car for an invisible watch. It seems a raw deal, a young kid taken advantage of by the class bully, but Noon arguably got the better of the deal. Noon believed -- and he apparently still does. It is that sense of wonder and a mind open to all possibilities that fills much of his fiction. Almost always set against a grimy background, too, Noon's naïveté allows him these flights of fancy that lift his characters into his world of wonder too. But rarely is there a true release. The characters generally just manage brief episodes in escapism: like losing yourself for a few hours to the pulse of the music at a rave.
       Noon's often meandering novels can lose focus, but the compact short-story form is just right for what he does. The stories themselves also turn in unexpected directions, but there is not enough room for him to digress and lose himself completely.
       The first story begins:

In the first shop they bought a packet of dogseed, because Doreen had always wanted to grow her own dog. In the second, a pair of bird shoes, which fluttered slightly as Matthew put them on.
       These are the first of many unexpected yet completely convincing inventions in Noon's stories. They are incidental, practically taken for granted. The stories around them are themselves are almost "normal" -- in how they are related, and, on some level, in what happens. Noon doesn't preen with his invention, like 99 out of 100 science-fiction authors do. He doesn't needlessly focus attention on them, or overexplain. They are just elements of the worlds he describes.
       The worlds in Pixel Juice are generally nearly realistic. Dystopian, perhaps, and grimy, with a few (or, occasionally, many) twists, they are still fairly close to what we know or, for the most part, can imagine -- though throughout Noon does add the unexpected, the things we wouldn't have thought of ourselves. Only a few of the stories are set far in the future (and even there there is generally a connection to present times).
       The stories vary greatly. There are straightforward narratives, many of which are related in the first-person, but there are also various poetic remixes (in haiku and limerick form, among others), various holdings from the Museum of Fragments (including pages from a glossary from The Book of Nymphomation and the rules of Pimp ! - The Board Game), and other odds (distinctly odd) and ends.
       In Junior Pimp Noon describes the short career of eleven year old William Wheeler, world famous Junior Pimp. In The Charisma Engine a student far in the future uncovers an old Frankensteinian experiment. The Silvering offers an odd mirroring world, while robo Alan Cooder ("a salesman specializing in children's accessories") negotiates some familiar Noonian terrain in Xtrovurt. There are blurbs and pixels, feathers, drugs, killer transmissions. Everything and more.
       Noon's literary play -- which comes to full fruition in Cobralingus (see our review) -- crops up constantly, from the remixes to many of the stories. In Qwertyphobia characters are allergic to certain letters of the alphabet. In Alphabox (a recurring tale) a writer puts together a book one precious letter of the alphabet a day, the letters hand-delivered to him. In Metamorphazine various characters take various drugs such as Metamorphazine, Simileum, Onomatopiates, and Hyperbolehyde, with predictable results.
       "In style it's manic-frenetic, / With language mistreated genetic" Noon sums it up in the Pixel Dub Juice (sublimerix remix). It is a lot, this collection. It can wear a reader down. Nearly fifty visions to contend with, each riper than the last. The stories aren't all equally strong: a number fall fairly flat, but there is enough value here, and enough variation. Much of it is surprisingly and reassuringly down to earth, the characters very human (even, occasionally, when they are not at all human).
       In particular Noon convinces as a literary craftsman. Characterization is his weak point -- or almost something he isn't interested in. A few of the stories have some decently and defined characters -- kids, usually. But it is the language that carries the day, Noon's neat expression. And many of the most enjoyable pieces are those that really aren't stories, merely descriptions. Fragments of the future or the alternate surrealities he invents, marvelously put.
       The remixes -- prefiguring his work in Cobralingus -- are also especially good, Noon understanding how to rework his material, stripping it down and then re-presenting it.
       A lot, but a worthwhile lot.

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Pixel Juice: Reviews: Jeff Noon: Other books by Jeff Noon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Works by the similarly imaginative Steve Aylett
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       English author Jeff Noon has published several novels, including Vurt and Needle in the Groove

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