Nymphomation, p.1
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       Nymphomation, p.1

           Jeff Noon
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Nymphomation


  Acknowledged as one of the most exciting new authors writing today, Jeff Noon has written three highly acclaimed novels, Vurt (1993), which won the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award, Pollen (1995) and Automated Alice (1996). Jeff Noon also won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1995. His latest novel, Pixel Juice, is now available as a Doubleday hardback. He lives in Manchester.

  Critical acclaim for NYMPHOMATION:

  ‘A scarily plausible future of biorobotic advertisements and burger chain sponsored police forces’

  THE FACE

  ‘There is a diamond satirical edge to his fertile landscapes…An elegant, inventive and funny polemic against the soulless homogenisation of our country and top science fiction to boot’

  SFX

  ‘A wild hallucinatory ride through a nightmare/dream vision of the twentieth century’

  LOCUS

  ‘Noon’s novel can seem like a recipe for some kind of bizarre night out: weird science, mad drugs, cool jazz, hot curries, paranoic flashes and strange girls with feathers in their hair, and they are written with such energy and audacity that one cannot help join the ride. Nymphomation is an extraordinary book. It’s a novel of scientific theory and it’s a love story. It’s an intellectual experiment and it’s a cops ’n’ robbers thriller and it’s just about the most exciting novel I’ve read for a while’

  FLUX

  ‘Nymphomation sees Noon’s unique writing style hit its most frenetic peak so far on the cardiac monitor. Located somewhere between William Gibson and Philip K. Dick’s nightmare near future visions, Noon brings a peculiarly English sensibility and a twisted sense of humour to the cyberpunk genre…A dizzying ride through this near future universe like Bladerunner goes up North. A mutating organic style that spreads across each page, showing Noon to be truly out on his own as a writer’

  THE POWER

  ‘Noon’s futurescape finds its mooring halfway between a decaying Manchester and an Orwellian vision of future imperfections. Articulate goobledygook from the persistent subversive’

  ATTITUDE

  ‘The last good thing to come out of Manchester was the Stone Roses. Until now. This book is good. I mean, really good. From start to finish, it burns with energy, pouring out a maniacal waterfall of phrases onto the reader while retaining a tight and disturbing structure. This is a book which leaves you breathless’

  AREA 51

  Also by Jeff Noon

  Vurt

  Pollen

  Automated Alice

  Pixel Juice

  Nymphomation

  A Corgi Book: 0 552 14479 7

  Originally published in Great Britain by Doubleday,

  a division of Transworld Publishers Ltd

  PRINTING HISTORY

  Doubleday edition published 1997

  Corgi edition published 1998

  Copyright © Jeff Noon 1997

  Extracts taken from ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass’ by Emily Dickinson

  The right of Jeff Noon to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Condition of Sale

  This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  Designed and typeset in England by Fresh Produce

  Corgi Books are published by Transworld Publishers Ltd,

  61-63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA,

  in Australia by Transworld Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd,

  15-25 Helles Avenue, Moorebank, NSW 2170

  and in New Zealand by Transworld Publishers (NZ) Ltd,

  3 William Pickering Drive, Albany Auckland.

  Reproduced, printed and bound in Great Britain by

  Mackays of Chatham PLC, Chatham, Kent

  For Cheryl

  and the Deansgate Survivors

  But never met this Fellow

  Attended, or alone

  Without a tighter breathing

  And Zero at the Bone—

  Emily Dickinson

  CONTENTS

  Prologue

  Game 40

  Game 41

  Game 42

  Game 43

  Game 44

  Game 45

  Game 46

  In the summer of 1949, as England began its long recovery from the war, a government inspector was sent to a junior school in one of the outlying districts of Manchester. The inspector’s name was Benjamin Marlow. A second-year class at the school had produced some rather interesting results in the recent exams, and it was Marlow’s appointment to investigate for any fraudulent behaviour in the schoolchildren. Cheating, in other words.

  The class was known as 2c. There were twenty-eight children in the class: sixteen boys and twelve girls, average age, eight years old. Their teacher’s name was Miss Geraldine Sayer. In the recent exams the class had performed normally in all subjects but one. The more than interesting anomaly was mathematics. In this subject, all but one of the children had scored marks above 78 per cent. Such excellence was deemed unacceptable.

  When interviewed, the children could only point to Miss Sayer. The way they said the name, to Marlow’s ears, sounded very much like ‘Messiah’. When interviewed, Miss Sayer broke down in tears and started to roll around the classroom floor. She was covered in chalk dust. Marlow reports that she was speaking gibberish; ‘speaking in tongues’ is how he describes it, referring to old pagan rituals. He could make out only one phrase—‘Play to win!’—which she repeated, over and over. ‘Play to win, my children! Play to win!’

  Two weeks later she was removed from her post, and the following week Benjamin Marlow took early retirement.

  Game 40

  It was Domino Day in lucky old Manchester, and the natives were making love to the television, all glazen-eyed and drunken as the opening credits came into view. A tumbling ballet of dominoes, forever changing their spots. Dig that tumbling! Even the air was excited, loaded with messages, buzzing out loud. Blurbflies, singing the streets alive with adverts. Play to win! Play to win! And all over the city that wet Friday evening, three hours from midnight and surrounded by the rain, hordes of punters were clacking their little bones on coffee tables and bar tops, computer desks and kitchen counters, watching the dots pulsate in tune as the theme song started up.

  In offices and hospitals, bedsits and penthouses; all-night shopping malls and non-stop garages; in restaurants, cinemas and whorehouses; in cars and taxis, and even on the trains and buses; anywhere there was a private TV or a radio or a public screen, all the gamblers were stroking their hard-earned domino bones, hoping that Lady Luck would come up dancing, just for them.

  Chaos fever 1999 style, running high. Bringing the city to stillness that night, and every Friday night, as the players steeled their hearts, took a collective breath, honed their bones, rubbed their lucky charms, chanted prayers to the gods of circumstance, sold their souls to the joker. As the blurbflies glittered through the rain, dive-bombing the people with sweet whispers.

  Somewhere in all this stilled commotion, in each of their chosen locations, the various people who would later form the Dark Fractal Society were preparing their dominoes for the outcome. Maverick gamblers who would one day try to kill the game. One such player; a tousled, ragged blonde called Daisy Love.

  Sure, an embarrassing name, and how she hated her parents for the privilege, but take a look. A sparkle-eyed eighteen-year-old.
A first-year student of mathematics at the University of Manchester, studying Game Theory under the esteemed Professor Max Hackle. With a first-term report full of Hackle’s wonder at her grasp of the probabilities of losing, you would expect Daisy to be among that tiny bunch of killjoys who preferred not to play.

  But no; here she was, glued to the black-and-white portable in her bedsit in Rusholme Village, clinging tightly to a single domino. Trying her best to ignore the scents of Lamb Rogan Josh and Chicken Tandoori, drifting up from the curry house downstairs. The Golden Samosa’s neon sign painted her window with an afterglow of colour, rippled by rain and the wing-flap of blurbs.

  Daisy could ration herself to a single onion bhaji or a lonely poppadom, or even a foolhardy golden samosa, but a raging, full-on Rogan Josh with Pilau Technicoloured Rice? Leave it out. Way beyond her means. A Chef’s Special Chicken Tikka? Forget it. Daisy was on a scholarship; a small chunk of money from the university itself, because she was so good at the numbers. Just because Professor Hackle rated her. This weekly treat of an only bone was Daisy’s one wicked pleasure. A tiny handful of luck. Listen:

  Who could resist such urgings? And even as the theme song played out, there came a knock upon Daisy’s door. Inevitably, it was Jazir Malik, first-born son of the Golden Samosa, from way down below in the curry pit. Trilby-hatted and sunglassy, he brought with him a stolen take-out of a one-meatball Beef Madras, a greasy piece of naan bread, some few sticky grains of plain boiled rice. Daisy knew that Jaz had the hot and spicies for her, but she was keeping him at bay, while gorging herself on his stolen curries. It wasn’t that she found him unattractive: in fact, Jaz Malik was heavenly gorgeous, once the hat and glasses came off. Skin the colour of twilight, a smile shining like a garlic slice of the moon. It wasn’t that he was too young, because Daisy felt herself younger than him, in many ways. And it wasn’t even that Daisy knew that Saeed, Jaz’s head chef of a father, would not be too pleased with his first-born consorting with a lily-white girl.

  ‘Here’s your dinner, love,’ said Jaz, his voice a complex mix of northern drawl and Asian lilt.

  ‘Cheers, Jaz.’ Daisy dug, straight off into the food.

  ‘Sorry I’m late. My father was grilling me about school. And he wants me waiting-on tonight. Hope I haven’t missed anything, love. Cookie hasn’t come on yet?’

  ‘No, it’s just beginning. Sit down. And stop calling me love.’

  ‘Why? It’s your name, isn’t it?’

  ‘You want some of this?’ Daisy shoved a forkful of beef under Jaz’s nose.

  ‘I’m stuffed. Had me a Jeezburger at the Whoomphy bar, earlier. Now shut up, please. Let’s watch.’

  It was a ritual between them, this Friday-night viewing of the AnnoDomino show. Daisy and Jaz, watching the monitor. A sweep of the camera playing over the faces in the studio crowd; a sea of greed, screaming loud.

  Play to win! Play to win!

  Bumptious Tommy Tumbler came dancing into view, beaming his polished smile and in a vibrant suit of purple dots on orange. ‘Hello punters!’ he chanted. ‘All the way from the House of Chances!’ And the studio audience, and most of the city too, chanted back to him, ‘Hello, Tommy Tumbler! Good chances!’

  ‘Hello, Tommy Tumbler!’ shouted Jaz at the screen. ‘Oh please won’t you let Cookie Luck deliver me a winning bone this week? Oh pretty please!’

  Daisy Love kept her chanting to herself, as usual. ‘So your dad’s playing up again, Jaz, about you going on to university?’

  Jaz was almost seventeen, just a crazy kid really, in his final year at the well-heeled Didsbury High. Studying Maths and Physics, and good with it—tender meat for higher education.

  ‘My dad’s too damn proud,’ he replied, eyes stuck tight to the glitz of Tommy Tumbler. ‘You’re lucky not having one.’

  Daisy looked at him, shocked. Jazir knew full well that she was an orphan, that her mum and dad were dead. That was the reason she was so poor; none of the usual luxuries: no loan from the parents, no birthday car, no carting of the laundry home.

  ‘But you know I think learning sucks,’ he continued, regardless. ‘I just want to be in business, that’s all. Away from my father’s clutches. I just want to sell some bad-arse gadgets on the filthy streets. It’s all about chance, isn’t it? Life and death; how we live and how we die, it’s all about chance. Shit, Daisy! You try your best at playing to win, only to find yourself playing to lose.’

  ‘Maybe I could help you, Jaz. With your exams—’

  ‘Will you leave off, love. The game’s about to start.’

  ‘OK punters!’ cried Tommy Tumbler. ‘Clack those bones together! Here she comes, the Queen of All Fortune! Lady Cookie Luck!’

  The whole city went wild with the gambling fever, as the screen fluttered into darkness. Pulses of music. Circles of light, starting to shine. An undulating darkness, littered with stars. Revealing the dancing queen of randomness. Cookie Luck’s skintight and black catsuit was snug-fit to the country’s dreams, an Emma Peel of forever and a long shot. Skintight black, constellated with an ever-changing fractal of white dots, like deep, deep stars, where all the good life lay waiting.

  This is what the punters were playing for; the good life above the dour grime of Manchester. Lady Cookie Luck was a walking, talking, dancing, stalking, living, loving domino. A doll of numbers. And every Friday night, at precisely nine o’clock, after a whole week of changing, the dominatrix would dance herself into a climax. The dots on her body would settle, at last, into a winning pattern.

  This is how it worked.

  Each Lucky Domino cost a single puny unit. Any number of the bones could be bought during a week. In that time, your chosen bones would be forever rearranging their silvery pips, due to some deep, hidden, random mechanism. And all the punters would spend the week watching the bones dance, their eyes chock-full of dots. The I Ching, the rosary beads, the tarot cards, the horoscopes; all in the trash can. The AnnoDominoes replaced them all. And as Cookie’s costume at long last became Friday-night stilled, at the very same time, your lucky bones would solidify into a tight pattern. If any one of your dominoes even halfway coincided with the dancer’s fractal, then you were the winner of that week’s bumper collection: 100 punies for a half-cast; 10 million lovelies for a complete matching.

  An undisclosed number of people won the 100; only one person won the 10 million. Just as long as Lady Luck favoured your chances.

  Millions of lovelies, all for the cost of a single puny.

  PLAY THE RULES

  1a.

  The makers of the game will be the AnnoDomino Company of Manchester, England. Mr Million will be the Manager of Chances.

  1b.

  The players of the game will be the populace of Manchester, England.

  2a.

  AnnoDomino will implement the game in Manchester for a trial period of twelve months, fifty-one games all told; after which, if the Government so deems, the company will be allowed to introduce the dominoes to the whole of the United Kingdom.

  2b.

  The populace of Manchester will be allowed to play the game for twelve months, during which time AnnoDomino will be allowed to measure the response.

  3a.

  The game is sacrosanct.

  Game forty, eleven to go. Almost nine o’clock, Manchester. Amid the swirl of rain on a road called Claremont, in a district called Moss Side, just south of Rusholme, three men were sitting in a parked car, keyed into the radio. The AnnoDomino channel, of course, where the sweet and sexy Cookie Luck was doing her dance of numbers, calling out the numbers. Visions of loveliness inside the head.

  Three men in the car, another three students at the university. Two of them were studying Maths, the other studying Physics. One of them was much older than the other two. Two of them were white, the other one black. One of them was straight, another one gay, the third balanced evenly between the two. One of them was a virgin. One of them had a diamond through his nose. One was studying Pure Maths, anot
her studying Computermatics, the third Genetic Calculus. Their names were Joe Crocus, DJ Dopejack and Sweet Benny Fenton. Not in any order. One of them had green hair. And no, not the gay one. Although the gay one did have the nose stud, twinkling in a fractal display. Three men; all of them gazing deep into their dominoes and listening up as Cookie’s invisible dance played over the waves, the last waltz of the world.

  ‘Lick my numbers, sweet Lady!’ one of them cried.

  ‘I’m starving!’ cried another. ‘Can we get a curry after this?’

  ‘Shut the fuck up, I’m concentrating!’ cried the last.

  ‘Dot shit!’ cried the first. ‘I just got a Joker Bone come up!’

  ‘You’re OK then,’ replied the second. ‘Look, it’s changed already.’

  ‘Sorted,’ said the third. ‘You never get a double-blank more than once a week. Everybody knows that.’

  A blurbfly bounced off the windscreen, buzzing out loud its slogan.

  ‘Play to win!’ echoed the three men. ‘Play to fucking win!’

  Somewhere else in Manchester, that very same moment, a young girl calling herself Little Miss Celia was standing amid a sodden crowd of cheap, down-market chancers, outside an all-night luxury store. There were seventeen and a half televisions for sale in the window, and all of them tuned into AnnoDomino. Even the homeless made sure a puny was put aside for each Friday night.

  The homeless with their secret homes.

  Here they are, the ragged brethren of society, the vagabonds, praying to whatever gods would still care to listen, clutching at their miserable puny bones like a last chance of escape, even as the blurbs fluttered around their heads in a halo of messages. ‘Get off me, you nasty flies!’ the youngest amongst them muttered at the troublesome cloud.

  Play to win! Play to win!

 
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