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Viper Vibrations

Normalcy sheds its skin in the ultra freaky 'Cobralingus.'

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Cobralingus, by Jeff Noon. Codex Books. Paper, $15.

Literature Pop Quiz: Define Cobralingus. Is it A) The title of increasingly whacked-out experimentalist Jeff Noon's new "novel?" B) A literary apparatus, or "language engine," which can be used to manipulate words in a fashion inspired by electronica music over-dubbing? C) Oral sex with a reptile? Answer: D) All of the above. (Well, at least A and B, but can C really ever be discounted?)

Noon, author of the postmodern sci-fi classic, Vurt, was tagged early in his career as the heir to the shiny metal throne of cyberpunk king William Gibson, but has since moved so far away from anything even remotely resembling the mainstream that the term "cutting edge" seems quaintly old-fashioned. Essentially a systematic musing on the malleable musicality of straight language, Cobralingus, with its heady mixture of disassembled text, collage art and funky poetry, pretty much defies description.

Using what he refers to as the "Metamorphiction" process to apply the mixing techniques of electronica dance music to the creation of words, Noon dissolves language then manipulates it into strangely beautiful new forms, sampling borrowed texts then twisting them until they scream in a new voice. Shakespeare's sonnets, Emily Dickinson's poetry and Zane Grey's pulpy western fiction (among many others) are all chopped and fed into Noon's Cobralingus engine, then spit out in totally alien, yet strangely familiar, forms. Like a word-happy Willy Wonka, Noon uses his machinery to create twisted gobstoppers of language/music that read like they oozed out of an alternate universe.

Not since the visual poetry hijinks of e.e. cummings, or the cut-and-paste freak-outs of William S. Burroughs, has such lyrical strangeness tempted the tastebuds of intrepid readers. But comparisons hardly ripple the surface ... the potential Cobralingus operator is forced to eschew the comfort of familiarity and boldly leap into the literary abyss. With this starkly brilliant linguistic rave-up, Jeff Noon has vaulted over the cyberpunk throne and assumed the title of poet laureate of the bizarre.

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