Sunday 24 October 2021

Light - M. John Harrison (2002)


Rating: Excellent

After reading Light I can't believe that I've gone all my adult life without having read an M. John Harrison novel. Harrison has been writing since the late 1960's and is the author of the proto-cyberpunk novel The Centauri Device (1975) and the Viriconium sequence (1971 - 1985), among many other delights from what I've read online. Light encompasses three seemingly disparate storylines that dove-tail towards the end. The first, set at the turn of the twentieth century, involves a physicist called Michael Kearney who is co-researching some weird theoretical physics, but also spends a great deal of time being a homicidally dysfunctional human and being freaked out by an entity he calls The Shrander. There's Seria Man Genlicher, who lives four-hundred years in the future and is fused with a K-Ship that's gone rouge and is both dysfunctional and homicidal. Finally there's Ed Chianese, at 'twink', who is, you guessed it, dysfunctional as all hell and lives in the same time-frame as the K-Ship. Although two thirds of the narrative focusses on humanity among the stars, they are still as fucked up, greedy and perverse as ever, which I think is part of the point. Would anyone expect humanity to 'grow up' morally and physiologically to keep pace with technological advancements? No...

Light is a wild ride, surreal and complex, but also with more sex and violence than any other science-fiction novel I can remember reading. There's also plenty of dark humour to keep you going. Many of the minor characters are overtly strange and are perhaps stereotypes of a sort, if you can indeed stereotype future humans utilising freaky technology pillaged from alien artefacts raided from a region of space-time called the Kefahuchi Tract. This region in space features a singularity without an event horizon and a wormhole created by a vanished alien civilisation. The Kefahuchi Tract screws with the laws of physics considerably. It's entertaining stuff, which apparently is the point. I've read that Harrison was friends with the great Iain M. Banks and one night whilst they were drinking whiskey Banks told him that his trouble was that he didn't have enough fun. Harrison thought "I'll show you I can have fun..." and went home and started writing what became Light with no advanced plan for the narrative worked out. Well, Light certainly was a lot of fun, and excellent writing too, so I'll be tracking down the sequels, Nova Swing (2006) and Empty Space (2012). Harrison has also just recently published a new novel I'll investigate called The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again (2020).

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