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IN BRIEF

Fiction

December 15, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

AUTOMATED ALICE by Jeff Noon (Crown: 240 pp., $21) Lewis Carroll sent Alice to Wonderland and through the looking glass. Now English novelist Noon ("Vurt," "Pollen") propels her through the works of her great-aunt Ermintrude's grandfather clock in Manchester in 1860 and lands her, still perky and pinafored, in 1998. Only it isn't our time, exactly; it's more like a future that Victorians could have imagined. Cars still look like horses. Calculations are done by "computermites"--mighty smart termites that swarm inside the hollow head of Celia, Alice's porcelain doll (her name is an anagram of Alice), who adapts to the 20th century much more readily than her mistress and becomes the "Automated Alice" of the title.

Noon ingeniously mimics the style of the originals. Like Carroll, he puts Alice through a series of hair-raising (but seldom grammar-ruffling) adventures. A garden shed with huge chicken legs, a downsizing Miss Minus, vicious Civil Serpents, a labyrinth of a library (a "librarinth," actually) that Jorge Luis Borges could have invented--our heroine must cope with them all. It's all good, subversive fun and--again like the originals--more than just kid's stuff.

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