Channel SK1N by Jeff Noon is a beautiful, playful novel looking at what happens when media culture sucks creativity dry and churns out plastic popstars like perfect, broken Nola Blue…
Buy Channel Skin in eBook format
Jeff Noon first captured my attention when I was in my late teens. I was into subculture, dance culture, words, music, science fiction, the concept of “what if” and Alice in Wonderland… and so was he. Marvellous. There’s nothing nicer than a writer telling you exactly the sorts of stories you want to hear. As a novelist and playwright, Jeff Noon has long been revered for his wordplay and experimentation with ideas. When I first read Vurt, his award-winning novel of a futuristic subculture-inspired England where under-the-radar outsiders suck feathers to enter different virtual realities, I felt like I’d come home. And I continued to read every poetic, playful, ideas-rich story he’d written, from Vurt’s sequel Pollen to his short stories and beyond.
There came a point where Noon’s later works temporarily lost me, specifically Falling Out of Cars. My bad. My loss. I still appreciated the etymaulogy and the extraordinarily rich feast of ideas laid out before me, but he was striking out into deep waters while I was still content to paddle in the shallows. I’d fallen so deeply in love with the dreadlocked pixellated worlds evoked by Vurt, Pollen and Automated Alice that I suspect I wanted more of the same, and it took me a year or two to catch up as a reader and develop a taste for the further reaches of the unknown. But, you know, that’s okay; we all learn to swim at our own pace.
Ever the experimenter, Jeff Noon is trying something new in terms of publishing. Heading in a new direction. Channel SK1N is a self-published venture, much like Amanda F*cking Palmer’s kickstart-funded album. Sometimes established artists just want to take full creative control of their homunculus, whether it’s an album or a book or a squealing thing made in an alchemist’s flask. In this case, it’s a book, currently only available in digital format.
Described as ‘a Frankenstein tale for the X-Factor generation’, Channel SK1N follows the misadventures of Nola Blue, a pop singer moulded by a gruesome svengali into a shiny pop product, a perfect doll who no longer wears her own face or sings her own words. With a major hit under her belt she is already yesterday’s news, on the way out, and she only starts to realise her true potential as she transforms into a brand new being who not only shows television shows on her body but controls the flow of information to communicate with herself and with the people who live on The Other Side.
Part poetry, part philosophy on what media culture is doing to us all, Channel Skin is an absorbing, page-turning oddity of an adventure that never dumbs down and has moments of breathtaking beauty.
If you’ve read earlier Jeff Noon’s earlier works, I hope you’ll support his brave new venture and try Channel SK1N for yourself. It’s actually a very accessible read. If you’re new to Noon but like subculture, words, music, science fiction, the concept of “what if” and Alice in Wonderland, put a feather in your mouth and start off with his collection of short stories, Pixel Juice. Then take a deep breath and swim out into deeper waters. The ocean is not as cold as you think, and when you look up, the stars are very bright…