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Light [Paperback]

John M. Harrison
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 4 2013 GollanczF.
On the barren surface of an asteroid, located deep in the galaxy beneath the unbearable light of the Kefahuchi Tract, lie three objects: an abandoned spacecraft, a pair of bone dice covered with strange symbols, and a human skeleton.

What they are and what they mean are the mysteries explored and unwrapped in LIGHT, M. John Harrison's triumphant novel.

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From Amazon

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Towards the end of things, someone asked Michael Kearney, 'How do you see yourself spending the first minute of the new millennium?' Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
It seems like every location 2/3 of the protagonists went SOMEBODY had a cheap holo of the Kefahuchi Tract on the wall, so why not?
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I am a big fan of M. John Harrison, from the Centauri Device through to the Viriconium books which I think are some of the finest fantasy works ever written. I really wanted to like this book and the reviews of other authors I also admire led me to expect great things. What Harrison does best is to write clever, inventive prose with a poetic edge to it and this book is no exception. In returning to science fiction Harrison has a field day with all the latest tropes of 11 dimensional super string theory, disposable clones and the fashionable side of chaos theory. I detected influences of Philip K. Dick, Delany and Brin (Kil'n People) but artfully mixed and written with a deft touch that is Harrison's own. This is all to the good, but somehow the novel as a whole left me disappointed. The main characters were deeply unsympathetic and below the surface of the style I just didn't care what happened to them. The resolution was vague and unsatisfying and in the end I felt that the whole was less than the sum of the parts. Harrison is always worth reading but he's done much better than this...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling Jan. 12 2011
By BC Lion
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Harrison is a brilliant, whimsical and wholly original writer. Three parallel plot lines frame the storyline here. The first is set in the present and features an alarmingly schitzoid & deeply disturbed scientist on verge of discovering a tangible way to connect with the quantum field - and as he does the lab work, he is haunted by energetic presences and the sight of people & objects dissolving into patterns of light & sparkle ... matter revealing its essential emptiness behind veil of appearances; he is directly witnessing mutability of all things as he begins to transcend 3-D reality and enter (in the book's telling) the 14-dimensional time-space continuum - four dimensions of time, ten of space.

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.
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1.0 out of 5 stars a very disappointing read Jan. 14 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I bought Light on the strength of reviews and quotes, which I later discover to have been written largely by the author's mates - an apparently prevalent and ethically questionable practice in modern sci-fi/horror circles - and feel deeply disappointed and cheated.
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.
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