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Recommended: Light, by M John Harrison

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  • Recommended: Light, by M John Harrison

    M John Harrison is a name that will be familiar to many of you through his New Worlds connection with MM (and if you can ever find any of the stuff he wrote for New Worlds, do - it's cracking stuff). I first came across him at the ripe old age of eight or nine, when, on my first ever foreign holiday, I picked up a slightly battered copy of "The Centauri Device", a Harrison's initial foray into The Genre Known As Space Opera. I loved it, falling instantly in love with Harrison's incredible, vivid prose and great pacing.

    However, writing "The Centauri Device" seems to have put Harrison off the entire SF genre, as after that most of his writing was in either fantasy (the excellent Viriconium series), or straightforward - but decidedly unique - fiction (such as "Climbers" or "Signs of Life"). Wherever his imagination went, though, I followed - and I think I've learned an awful lot about writing along the way. But not once did MJH return to the same territory as "The Centauri Device".

    Then, late in 2003, along came "Light", in which MJH returns to Big Space Opera and almost casually writes a book that's streets ahead of anything and everything that the likes of Iain M Banks and Stephen Baxter have written. A three-headed story that weaves between the present day and 2400, "Light" is the story of a woman who is a ship, a serial killing physicist, and a man who's entire life veers between an unpleasant reality and the comforts of a fantasy. Around this, Harrison makes a tale that's complex, baroque, deep and elegant.

    The cover to "Light" is studded with plaudits from a veritable who's who of modern genre fiction, from the aforementioned Baxter and Banks to Mieville and many others. Put simply, it's the first great science fiction book of the new century. Essential reading.

  • #2

    I would agree that it one of the best books I have read this century and like you I am a fan of Mike's other work.

    I would disagree with your comment about Banks and Baxter - Light may have some of the tropes of space opera, but I would not place it in the same sub genre as the Culture books of Iain Banks or the Xeelee or Manifold sequences of Baxter.

    Of the three strands of Light the Seria Lau strand is similar in feel IMO to Coilin Greenland's Plenty trilogy, where as the Ed Chianese strand felt to me like a warped Jack Vance story. The Kearney strand is close to Mike's non-genre work and the whole thing reminds me of his short story collection The Machine in Shaft Ten, though more polished.

    It is interesting to note the reviews on Amazon - the ones who were expecting a standard space opera (and from the blurb on the back, who could blame them?) were disappointed but those who know Mike's work thought it was brilliant.
    Statistically 6 out of 7 dwarfs are not happy.


    • #3
      It's great the way the Amazon reviews are all either five stars or one star, isn't it? :)
      I haven't read any Greenland - so I'll have to look him up. I think the reason that I'd lump "Light" in the space opera area is simply because of its breadth: the sweep of it is so wide that it seems to fit there. But ultimately the labels don't matter too much - it's a very fine book.