M. John Harrison
First Published: 2002
Review © 2013 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Literature
Light is a challenging and highly inventive science fiction novel from M. John Harrison. It contains a mixture of two parts far future science fiction and one part contemporary literature to provide the reader with a wild ride through space and time. Light is also the first novel of a trilogy including Nova Swing and Empty Space with Empty Space just being published in March of this year. After reading Light, I’ve already added the remaining two novels to my near term reading list.
Light alternates between three narratives. The first narrative begins in present day London while the other two narratives begin 400 years in the future. Initially, there are no obvious connections between the three narratives and they all start in the middle of the action without any background information which makes for a bit of confusion as the reader must make an effort to sort out what is going on in each one. The advantage of this technique is that the pacing starts off brisk from the get go without getting bogged down with long explanations. As long as the reader is willing to work a bit, the storylines solidify fairly quickly.
The first narrative follows Michael Kearney who starts things off by committing a murder to ward off the shadow of the “Shander”. However, this is only tangential to his life’s work with a partner to develop a revolutionary technique “to encode data in quantum events”. If they can succeed, they have the potential to revolutionize technology and even make faster than light travel possible.
The second narrative follows Seria Mau, the female K-captain of a highly advanced spaceship. The term K-captain signifies that she is not just a pilot; she is literally connected via neurons and muscles directly to the ships control system through the use of highly advanced alien technology. She seems to have a serious amount of pent up anger that goes all the way back to her childhood. Her story begins with a minor space skirmish but she soon finds herself on a quest to find out more about a mysterious package.
The third narrative follows Ed Chianese a “twink” who is addicted to virtual reality. He likes to spend as much time as possible in virtual reality tanks where he can escape from the bad memories of traumatic events. However, when his credit runs out, he has to return to the real world and face some very unpleasant realities including two terrifying sisters who demand to be paid back. He’s soon on the run with the help of an alien “New Man” in “New Venusport” which has all the seedy attractions of a typical port city.
The science fiction in this novel is highly imaginative with all kinds of entertaining sights and sounds that assault the reader through terrific descriptions. The characters develop slowly as reader gets to know them through the action that occurs as the novel progresses. Seria Mau is the most likeable character although she obviously carries some troubling baggage from her childhood. Ed seems to be rather pathetic in the beginning but he begins to grow through the novel. Kearney is a very unlikeable character who also seems to be badly twisted by childhood memories.
Light can be read on a number of levels. There are good old fashioned space opera scenes, examinations into the psychological effects of childhood traumas, quantum connections between the past and future, and connections on multiple levels between the three main characters. I recommend Light highly to those of you looking for literate science fiction with something different, in a good way.