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Cool as a sheet of aluniinum on a winter day, British writer Sue Thomas's first novel is a highly original, highly complex, and highly cerebral self-reflexive piece of science fiction that fuses and confuses four different zones of reality: (1) factoids that discuss everything from Descartes's take on autoniata to pre- Christian mythology; (2) a second-person point-of-view role-playing game run by an emotionally retentive woman named Marie, herself part machine, who feels simpatico with her automated bank teller, is embarrassed by the presence of her own heart, and is a computer progranuner whose virtual realities become an extended metaphor for the text at hand ("You think [this game will] work out in ways that will initially disorientate people, maybe even shock them, but in the end it will get them because you're sure you're on the right track now. You reckon you know what it is they're all after, even if they don't know it themselves."); (3) a first-person point-of-view narrative of sorts by a masterprogrammer ("a mouthpiece really") who from time to time diffidently interrupts the various sub-stories to insert important information about the roleplaying game and how to operate it; and (4) one of Marie's virtual realities which focuses on her second-order narrator's Frankensteinian creation of an increasingly independent romantic, Rosa, whose creation keeps getting interrupted by the intersecting story of a luxurious pragmatic, Shirley. Soon this fourth zone of reality begins to foreground itself in the text, blossoming into a full-fledged fairly conventional narrative (which is, ironically, much more vivid than those surrounding it) of Rosa and Shirley's trip through the Ring of Kerry, Rosa's brief love affair with a man named Conal, and the unsteady geography of Rosa and Shirley's progressively erotic post-Conal relationship with each other. The outcome of all this is the production of a kind of hardcopy hypertextual novel that continually reminds us fiction is a machine we plug our brains into - one of the original virtual reality systerm - while relentlessly raising questions (with a feminist spin on them) about selfhood, what it means to be human, the relationship between the imagination and memory, the limits of our soft machines, the possibilities inherent in a human/computer interface, and, ultimately, where the flesh ends and the circuitry begins. But Correspondence is so unstable, its plate tectonics so volatile, that reading it is a little like trying to walk in a straight line across a Californian freeway in the middle of an earthquake. This, coupled with an emotionally involving conclusion that will catch you off guard even though you saw it coming all along, is what makes Thomas's book such an interesting textual cyber-ambush. [Lance Olsen]
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Author:Olsen, Lance
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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