Vurt is, for lack of a better term to start this review with, strange. It's told a stream-of-consciousness first person that occasionally reminded me, in its turns of phrase and smattering of slang, of Snow Crash. The world is a piecemeal of present (being 1993-present) and future--the sort of future created by changing a few details here and there. In this future, for example, there are four kinds of "beings": shadow, vurt, pure (human), and dog.
Actually, let's get this down now, before I veer off track, because though this isn't exactly what bothered me about this novel, it's something that will bother other people. In places, you can boil Vurt down into two things: Incest and Furries. The internet has desensitized me to them (incest no longer shocks me because of the FMA fandom. It squicks me, but doesn't shock me. And furries are furries.) The main character, Scribble, is on a quest to retrieve his sister from the virtual reality she was accidentally traded into. Now, I read this for most of the novel as slang for close friend. Until Scribble jealously mentioned that his father had "had" his sister too. Yes, in that way. And so, I can only assume that, yes, there was meant to be a shock factor in this (and I imagine it would've shocked someone who wasn't raised on the internet).
This does lead me to my problem with it, though, which is this: Attempting at the end of the novel to figure out what I was supposed to get out of it left me shaking my head. It portends to a kind of symbolism once Scribble chooses a life in the virtual reality in order to return his sister to the real world. Late in the novel, the token philosopher (the Game Cat), prattles on about the different "levels" of being, which are reached by various interbreeding between the "types" of beings and also, apparently, by being bitten (this is one of several plot holes that bothered me. Another being that Shadow and Vurt appear to be the same thing.)
Now, you have "levels of being," which is very heavily-handedly paralleled with the ability to gain knowledge. This gets twisted up in the biblical definition of "knowledge" pretty thoroughly here, so I'm going to try not to step in that right now. What matters is that this screams You Should Be Looking For Metaphor at me. Unfortunately, whatever metaphor was meant is lost in the shuffle, and I'm left with this:
This is the story of an incestuous relationship, and the protagonist's attempt to return to it. In a society where one's purity is also a measure of one's station in life, incest becomes a way to remain stationary, without mixing. And so, in this way, we can look at Scribble's journey as a denial of, and eventual acceptance of his contamination by the Vurt (through a dreamsnake bite). He ends up better off, his sister ends up better off, and the incestuous denial of change is stopped. And this would be satisfactory if a parallel incestuous (and in this case, also homosexual) relationship wasn't also implied on the part of the Game Cat and his brother. This relationship ended in much the same way (with one ascending into the Vurt), but the only revelation here is that the Game Cat is gay. Which is completely useless to any reader. (It's somewhat clear already, though, that useless homosexuality revelations tend to irk me). So, we have two incestuous relationship that are ended by someone accepting that they belong elsewhere and moving on. This is positive and happy, except that Scribble's sister moves on and has his kid. And this is good. Also, it's implied that it's strange that the Game Cat is gay, and it's implied that maybe he helped Scrib out because perhaps he had a crush on him. So, in this story incest is perfectly normal, and gay is kind of creepy and weird. Right. And so I'm back at square one, which is that this book doesn't make sense to me. It says nothing about the drug culture, or the encroachment of virtual reality on our lives and somehow, in the end, comes off as an endorsement of the status quo, because Scribble's victory is that he still managed to have a child. With his sister.
So, in the end... I was rather frustrated with this book. I don't think it knew what it was saying, or understood how it was trying to say it. It smacks of other drug culture books, but goes for shocking rather than entertaining in an attempt to make some kind of moral or philosophical point that just isn't there.