Light Paperback – Jun 4 2013
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Light marks that fine writer M John Harrison's first return to the heartland of SF--including spaceships and hair-raising interstellar chases--since his apocalyptic anti-space opera The Centauri Device (1975).
The heavy SF action begins in 2400. Space-going humanity is the latest of many civilizations to be baffled by the impenetrable Kefahuchi Tract; that vast stellar region where an unshielded singularity makes physics itself unreliable. Along its accessible fringe, the "Beach", solar systems are littered with crazy, abandoned devices used to probe the Tract since before life began on Earth. A whole dead-end culture is based on beachcombing this rubble of industrial archaeology...
25th-century characters include a woman who's sacrificed almost everything to merge with the AI "mathematics" of a crack military spacecraft; a former daredevil who once surfed black holes but has retreated into a virtual reality tank; the lady proprietor of the Circus of Pathet Lao, with an alien freakshow and a hidden agenda; and a variety of raunchy, smelly, gene-sculpted lowlife, some comic, some menacing. Many are not what they seem.
Meanwhile in 1999 London, physicists Kearney and Tate--remembered in 2400 as the fathers of interstellar flight--are getting nowhere. Kearney's personal problems occupy familiar Harrison territory: urban paranoia, a seedily unreliable guru, bad sex, guilty rituals to propitiate a metaphysical-seeming threat called the Shrander--a pursuing image out of nightmare. In the lab, both Kearney and Tate fear the increasing quantum strangeness of their results.
The cosmological wonders and hazards of the Beach form a backdrop to space pursuits and violent skirmishes whose duration is measured in nanoseconds, reported in tensely lyrical prose. Eventually everything comes together as it should--even that oppressive 1999 story strand--with revelations, transformation, transcendence, and ultimate hope. Harrison demands your full attention and rewards it richly. --David Langford --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Harrison's talent for brilliant, reality-bending SF is on display yet again with this three-tiered tale, published (and highly praised) in the U.K. in 2002. It's 1999, and British scientist Michael Kearney and his American partner, Brian Tate, are studying laboratory quantum physics; unbeknownst to them, they'll become the fathers of interplanetary travel. Kearney nervously holds a pair of predictive dice he's stolen from a frightening specter called the Shrander, whom he keeps at bay by committing random murders. Four hundred years in the future, K-ship captain Seria Mau Genlicher has gravely erred in splicing herself with a hijacked spacecraft called the White Cat—and now she wants out. There's also Ed Chianese, a burned-out interstellar surfer now spending his life within a reality simulation machine. His problem? Monetary debt to the nasty Cray sisters. As Kearney continues to narrowly evade the Shrander, he discovers that company CEO Gordon Meadows has sold the lab to Sony. All three story lines converge and find heavenly closure at the cosmological wonder known as the Kefahuchi Tract, a wormhole with alien origins bordered by a vast, astral "beach" where time and space are braided and interchangeable. This is space opera for the intelligentsia, as Harrison (Things That Never Happen) tweaks aspects of astrophysics, fantasy and humanism to hum right along with the blinking holograms in a welcome and long overdue return.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The serial killer plot was a little redundant and unnecessary, though did present one of the few sympathetic characters in the book (the ex-wife), but as for the other two their amorality wasn't a big problem for me - antiheroes are usually much more interesting characters than heroes. The story itself wasn't all that compelling, though it did wrap up reasonably well if a little too sappy considering the nihilistic tone of the rest of the book.
Harrison is a good visual writer, and some parts of the book were quite funny (I especially liked the idea of the New Men who worshipped 20th century junk culture), but one flaw of the book was a feeling of being too rooted in the present, i.e. throwing a lot of quirkiness window-dressing that just felt a little contrived, such as a roving gang dressed as Japanese high school girls, hardly the kind of thing to be expected on a world centuries in the future and thousands of light-years away.
Now, if this book was intended as a kind of darker version of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, it'd be a more enjoyable read.
Every second chapter is set in the future, where this scientist is revered as an Einsteinian genius who made quantum travel possible, i.e. space ships zipping at many times warp speed to distant galactic regions, in particular a cluster of gas clouds, stars and black holes known as the Kefahuchi Tract (akin to the Milky Way's galactic centre). There, humans and miscellaneous alien races repeatedly send suicide missions into the wormholes of the tract ... through which may be answers to new sets of riddles about the universe and its creators. And every third chapter focuses on a pilot, Chinese Ed, who has the skill to work the 14 dimensions and perhaps break on through to the other side.
Similiar big-picture themes to Contact in many ways, only written with cyberpunk attitude and bone-dry black humour. I subsequently tried Harrison's companion novel, Nova Swing, but found its film-noir style & single-pointed focus disappointing.
Light suffers from problems typical of recent sci-fi: a reliance on cod science, with masses of simplistic jargon apparently designed to baffle us into thinking it's intelligent; airy plotlines that fall apart upon analysis; emotionally crippled, unconvincing, two-dimensional characters largely indistinguishable from one another, and really dreadful names. Try these for size: Tig Vesicle (!) and (oh, double moan!) Billy Anker. Billy Anker??!! I guess Mr harrison thinks that's a very clever joke. It isn't. It's infantile and simply highlights harrison's lack of self-belief. (A bit of a Billy himself, one has to assume).
This is the first book I've read of his.It will definitely be the last. Mr Harrison is a very small writer who's work would never see the light of day outside of sci-fi. He should go back to doing what he does best - whatever that may be. Something in common with Billy Anker, I would guess.
Most recent customer reviews
M. John Harrison's Light is indescribable. A mind-warping romp that exists somewhere in the continuum between hard SF and cyberpunk. Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2003 by Abigail Nussbaum
If you like Banks, MacLeod, Mieville, Vinge, McAuley, Stephenson and Gibson, you should read this. As good or better as any of their best. Read morePublished on Oct. 5 2003 by Andy
Imagine if you will, turning on your high pressure garden hose only to find you havent got control of it. Read morePublished on Oct. 4 2003 by MR M T Payton
I'm afraid I found this book a slight disappointment. If I was a newcomer to SF I might be more impressed, but I've read much better SF before... Read morePublished on Aug. 15 2003 by C. I. Black
LIGHT by M John Harrison marks a return for this author to science fiction of a genre type - it's a big, thrill-packed space opera that delivers on all the promise of his long-ago... Read morePublished on July 23 2003 by Leigh Blackmore