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issue: 03/01/2001

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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The Hell Screens
by Alvin Lu

- reviewed by J M Frank

In The Hell Screens, a Chinese American goes to Taiwan to chronicle the ghost stories and rich mythology of the Island. The main character tries to remain an objective outsider, apparently considering himself above the generally undereducated and superstitious natives. But inevitably, he becomes the story, journeying into a surreal world where the line between fantasy and reality blurs.

Lu does a great job of mixing traditional with the modern, ancient ghost stories with current serial killers, and fantasy with reality. In Lu's novel, nothing is what it seems. Fish are actually ghosts seeking to feed off the living, and an irritated contact lens can become a gateway to another world

Inevitably in novels of this type, the text can sometimes be hard to follow. Locations, narrators and times sometimes switch without warning and the reader may read a page or two before realizing a switch has occurred. This is intended to be disorienting, and it works. The reader constantly has a sense of non-reality; a feeling that anything is possible. However, it also can be frustrating at times to frequently go back and reread passages again in order to understand what just happened. But, again, this is part of the nature of the novel.

There is a different possible problem here that is not necessary for any type of novel. The ending is not very satisfying. One hopes for a complete devolution into madness, an explanation of events, or some form of resolution. But it never comes. In a way, the ending is appropriate in that the conclusion remains true to the rest of the text. One is left disoriented and not quite sure just what exactly happened.

This is a novel that should be read for the journey rather than the conclusion. The strange world Lu creates remains novel and fresh while incorporating fascinating pieces of traditional mythology.

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J M Frank welcomes your comments on this review.


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