Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Helmet of Horror - Victor Pelevin

"I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself together with anyone who tries to find me - who said this and about what?" , Ariadne starts the thread in an internet chat room. The eventful journey through the labyrinth of internet chat room, of virtual reality experiences, of physical phenomenon and psychological labyrinth of existence, thus begin. Each of them ( 8 to 9 of them with typical wacky names) find themselves locked in an identical looking room with a similar computer screen and keyboard , dressed in similar ancient Greek tunic. None of them sure of how they reached this place. While they all are aware of their existence in the virtual media through their own handle (avatar) the rest are as obscure and oblivious to the outer world.

The build up of the chat conversation is through the dreamy or hallucinating experiences of the participants during the 24 hrs. They find themselves being remotely controlled by an unknown, the keystrokes take shapes to words and sentences as if they are pre-determined ( the swear words and personal information are automatically censored and replaced with xx) . The experiences are fabricated ( or so it seems) and fed to their world. The world of virtual and real often smudged and it is difficult to understand what is real and what is the creation of their mind. Each of them goes through their personal experiences in their captivity and tries to find a meaning with the help of their comrades in the chat room. Each of them brings about their own personal labyrinth and shares with the rest to find their way out, witnesses extra ordinary creatures and humans such as gigantic figures and dwarfs who appear in various forms to each. Some see them in their dream, some see them in the labyrinth outside their room for someone it is in the form of a maze in the windows screen saver. Some hear their voices, some experiences their power.
The reference to the Minotaur comes up and they are in the labyrinth of Minotaur. All they are waiting for is the Theseus to rescue them. Are they being manipulated to believe this. Are they the product of their own created labyrinth ? Who is controlling their view, their thoughts and their existence here? Is the culprit ( and the savior) among them ?

Published by Canongate, as part of their myth series, Victor Pelevin, one of the prominent new voices from Russia,merges the myth of Minotaur and Theseus into the modern day internet settings. Theseus had the help of the princess to get back safely through the labyrinth after his triumph over Minotaur. Pelevin hints at the need of a new Theseus, to get them out of the hold of Minotaur and navigate safely through the labyrinth.

Entirely told through internet chat transcript, Victor Pelevin attempts to bring out the self made labyrinth of the individual, where the hapless individual tries to find his way out. He creates the eery environment with ease and manages to retain the suspense and the perceived terror through out. The concept and build ahead of the "Helmet of Horror' is interesting and a bit confusing ( the helmet of horror is in no way the one thing that is, it is also one of the multitude of things that are not) , but it may be a regular affair to a science fiction reader.
Writing is tricky and too clever. He bring too many things together with too many jargons. he brings references to holy church, the cryptic messages to be decoded, little bit of romance running along side and many uses of symbols. The attempts is brave and is something new but I felt it was too ambitious and clever to my comfort.

The Helmet of Horror ( 2006 )

Victor Pelevin ( translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield 2006)

Canongate Books

274 Pages
Other Reviews : Guardian , Complete Review

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