Fiction Reviews


Light

(2002 / 2007) M. John Harrison, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 320 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-7403-3

 

Michael Kerney is a research scientist (presumably from the street location associated with University College London) into quantum computing. Dice that determine his next move also rules him. In addition he is a murderer and the dice don't help. Meanwhile hundreds of years in the future Seria Mau is a starship captain in charge of a ship she barely understands, causing mayhem along the literally dazzling Kefahuchi Tract where the remains of old civilizations are there to be scavenged by younger species such as humans. She too is a cold individual who can happily eject into space, or maroon on a planet, passengers on little more than a whim. Though they do not realise it or each other, Michael and Seria are connected.

This then is the set up to Light. This 2002 novel has had much critical acclaim from the arty end of SF and which Gollancz have, half a decade on, recently (2007) reprinted. The acclaim comes from the way the Michael-Seria twin narrative not only resolves itself but along the way plays out a pseudo-hard SF (but in reality science fantasy), space opera plot with sharp characterization, a dash of dry humour and descriptive tracts that fall short of being purple.

To be fair to potential book buyers, Light is not a particularly easy read and some of the characters are uncomfortable to explore: Kerney is decidedly misogynistic and this is paralleled by Seria Mau's cold-hearted whims. However if you are heavily into new wave SF and artful literary constructs then Light is very rewarding. In short this is very much a 'marmite' novel: you will either love it or hate it. If you enjoy the likes of Geoff Ryman or Colin Greenland then you are likely to find Light hugely satisfying. If you are a devotee of hard SF and/or space opera you might very well struggle to see what all the fuss is about despite both these elements having a clear thread throughout the novel and there being some real nuggets related to these aspects of the genre. For instance I loved the way each of the many species star drives worked based on physics that, according to the physical sciences of the rest, simply are not logical. (This actually is a step-removal of our own understanding of physics be it the quantum or relativistic approach etc.) Yet though nuggets abound these will not be enough to sustain all readers. Light therefore is most certainly a book SF readers should consider and I do recommend that you do, but equally ascertain first whether you are likely to find this kind of novel to your taste. I would hate as a reviewer to steer you to a book that you will end up disliking or, equally, turn you off a title that you might well have found to be one of the most refreshing reads contemporary SF has to offer. It is a tough life out there on the Kefahuchi Tract.

Jonathan Cowie


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