I loved Jeff Noon’s books when I was younger. Late teens, early twenties: Vurt, Pollen, Automated Alice. In all honesty I can’t remember much about the actual stories themselves; just the realization of how weird stuff could be if someone really let their imaginations go was startling enough, added to the cracked distortions possible in making the Manchester I kind of half knew as a hum-drum Northern city into this shifted, liminal zone where the future really was possible. And not just possible, but cool.
Channel SK1N’s protagonist, Nora Blue, is a singer who contracts the ability to show broadcast media on her skin. Or more accurately the inability to make it stop. This is, obviously enough, an attack/commentary on the present media environment. Manufactured pop, reality TV, ‘citizen journalists’, and the ever present, all-encompassing, always-on nature of the way we consume those media. Or the ways we are encouraged to consume them, and they to consume us.
It’s a pretty soft target, truth be told. For all the newfangledness of DRM free author distributed ebooks, I can’t help but feel that the best places to critique these things are within those media being critiqued. I can’t think of another recent novel going after those same targets in quite the same way, but I could name a host of TV shows, websites, and blogs which have made the same point, and made it better. This is a pretty short novel as it is, but really it would have been a better short story. I’ve always hated song lyrics and poetry in prose stories (Lord of The Rings. Christ, don’t get me started on Lord of The Fucking Rings) and nothing here has changed my mind on that score. Feels unnecessarily repetitious. Feels like padding. It’s certainly interesting enough, in its own way, but…
But one of the many standout features of the present media age is the immediate, communal nature of the archive. When I was 10 the only way to definitely hear a song (short of actually buying it, of course) was to wait for the Top 40 on Radio 1 on Sunday evenings with your hand hovering over the ‘record’ button on the tape deck. Now it’s just a youtube search away and I can listen to Gangnam Style as often as I like, or until my wife kills me with a trowel, whichever comes first. Most of us will have looked up a couple of old episodes of whichever kids show most took our fancy way back when. For me it was Transformers and the A Team. Most will have then coped with the gentle disappointment of realizing that their lovingly recalled Golden Age was actually, well... a bit shit.
Channel SK1N isn’t shit. But neither does it live up to those (inaccurate, unrealistic, unfulfillable) memories I have of reading his earlier works. I'm not going to be searching through those boxes in my mum’s loft with all my old books in anytime soon. You can’t go back.