Tor (Macmillan), 2013 (a review copy was gently provided to me by Macmillan)
Size: Average (my hardcover copy has 376 pages)
Theme: Mind-altering drugs
Main character: Scribble
Recommended minimum age: Young adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES
Scribble and his gang members, self-termed the Stash Riders, are street junkies who have spent most of their lives attempting to steal or hustle society’s trend narcotic: vurt feathers. Vurt is a collective dream reality induced/achieved through feathers, which are manufactured by professionals who put together pieces of collected dreams. The feathers work by simply inserting them into a person’s mouth. Unfortunately, the mechanism of operation of the feathers is never adequately explained. As one would expect from any hallucinogenic, there are legal feathers, which are relatively soft and safe, and illegal ones, that range from exciting and dangerous up to elitist feathers that are the stuff of myth to the majority of the population. Scribble has lost his sister to the Vurt world, and he is willing to do anything to get her back. The novel follows his adventures as he fights towards that goal.
Vurt is much more than a story about experimenting with drugs; it explores topics such as desire, self-sacrifice, and the metaphysics of the existence in dream states. The plot is surprisingly rich for its length; nevertheless, it would definitely be possible to explore the characters in much more detail if the book was longer. There are lots of concepts thrown at the reader, but this ends up working fairly well. One never has that feeling of being completely lost; there is just enough light at the end of the tunnel to make you want to keep going. And the dream sequences are not simply random jumbling of words; it is possible to keep track of what is happening, even though some terms will require you to pay attention.
I usually dislike novels about drugs, and was skeptical when I started this. Many authors take that theme as a license to ramble about nothing in particular, and to describe non-coherent and irrational bits of a story. This is not the case. The book surprised me on the positive side. The plot is lively, daring, and fast paced. Scribble is confronted with many tough choices as the plot develops, giving us a chance to ponder on both legal and moral/ethical issues. I really enjoyed reading Vurt, and would recommend it as a break from hard sci-fi.