Clive Barker says of M. John Harrison, "His books are fictions of elegant delirium, dark and transcendent by turns." Ramsey Campbell calls him "the master of enigma, whether human or supernatural." Like Jonathan Carroll, Harrison is a British writer who transgresses conventional genre boundaries. Signs of Life
is about Mick "China" Rose, an unassuming fellow who runs a shady and lucrative medical-transport-cum-waste-disposal business. Along with his partner, Choe, and his lover, Isobel, China drives souped-up vehicles at ferocious speeds through a dreamlike world where dystopian fantasies of biomedical wrongdoings blend with the subtly shifted reality of Harrison's Britain. Choe is a self-destructive child-man who thrashes from an unattainable idyllic past to an unstructured future full of gangsters and rancid waste dumps. Isobel values beauty and longs for physical transformation. As their destinies unfold, the story is not quite horrific, but it's superbly written and chilling, the kind of novel that will haunt you for days.
From Kirkus Reviews
Mainstream contemporary about the sometimes destructive nature of dreams, from the British author of various science-fiction novels (A Storm of Wings, 1980, etc.). Mick ``China'' Rose starts up a medical courier service with associate Choe Ashton, who's given to erratic behavior and gnomic utterances. Their first job is illegally to dump a load of hazardous medical waste. Meanwhile, waitress Isobel Avens, China's live-in lover, dreams, literally, of flying. But as his business expands, Isobel becomes increasingly unhappy, complaining that she can no longer fly in her dreams; soon she leaves China for rich doctor Brian Alexander (one of China's clients) and disappears into Brian's Miami clinic. In a rare moment of candor, Choe tells China about a transcendental experience he once had at beautiful Jumble Wood involving a green-eyed woman; unable either to comprehend or repeat the experience, Choe makes an annual pilgrimage to the spot. Then Isobel phones. Rejected by Brian, she's now almost constantly ill after mysterious--and illegal--treatments in Miami. Slowly, horrifyingly, China watches as the treatments begin to take effect: Isobel grows feathers while her metabolism turns birdlike; but she still can't fly and attempts suicide. China takes her to Brian and demands help. Eventually, Isobel recovers, physically, but she can't, or won't, give up her dream, and China leaves her. Choe, meanwhile, now rich through an association with gangsters, has bought Jumble Wood and turned it into a toxic waste dump. A fascinating and terrible little tale, illuminated from unfamiliar perspectives in a spare and glowing prose. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.