Monday, 9 June 2008

Voynich-related novel reviews...

In much the same way that the Voynich Manuscript has provided a blank screen for generations of amateur cryptologists to project their code-breaking desires onto, it has in recent years provided a rich loam for writers to plant their novelistic seeds into.

In the bad old days of novel-writing, the VMs would simply have been treated as an interchangeable cipher-based Macguffin, a time capsule mechanically carrying [powerful / occult / heretical] ideas forward from the [insert bygone era name here] to satisfy the present-tense needs of the plot. Plenty of old-fashioned writers continue to hammer out such formulaic Victorian penny-dreadful tat even now: what kind of barrier could ever hold back such a tide?

Thankfully, contemporary writers have begun to engage with other ideas in the cloud of ideas surrounding the VMs. Though I personally don't think it will turn out to be delusional nonsense, channelled writing, off-world DNA-creation technology, or even a deliberate hoax, I think these are interesting angles far more worthy of being explored in fiction.

With this in mind, here's a list of the novel reviews on my site:-

(1) It's brutally old-fashioned, but Indiana Jones and the Philosopher's Stone [review] by Max McCoy presses all the right buttons. It knows it's a piece of junk but simply doesn't care: it's having too much fun. Recommended!

(2) I had high hopes for "PopCo" [review] by Scarlett Thomas, but it just ended up like a creative writing collage. If you can cope with the crypto-geeky Gen-X No-Logo buzzwordiness of the whole concept, you'll probably enjoy it: but for me it fails to work on most levels.

(3) Rather than engage with the VMs directly, "Vellum" [review] by Matt Rubinstein creates an Australian doppelganger of it, and has a lot of fun exploring a would-be decipherer's descent into madness and/or confusion. Recommended!

(4) "Enoch's Portal" [review] by A.W.Hill boils up a heady stew of alchemy, cultishness and quantum pretension, where Leo Levitov's Cathar hypothesis about the Voynich Manuscript is merely one of many spices sloshed into the mixing bowl. No Michelin stars, sorry.

No comments: