Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Light by M. John Harrison

This book was an unexpected present from the Rju, although not surprising. I'd had the book on my list for some time, so I jumped on it pretty quick.

Now, what to say about it?

I have no coherent thoughts about the book, because I'm not entirely sure what it is. Is it science fiction which has stepped into the land of literature? Or is it science fiction cleverly disguising itself as literature, when in fact it has pulled the wool over my eyes and is merely pretentious?

In trying to decide which of these the book was, I had to ask myself a further question: what do I know of science fiction OR literature? Answer: not as much as I should.

This in turn led me to ponder what being 'widely read' really involves.

I don't think, in the general sense, that I am widely read. I read a lot, but I don't often stray from the outer rim of the genre. I stick my nose in non-fiction semi-regularly, and enjoy it. I occasionally bump into other (by other I mean non-genre) books that have tickled my fancy, and I enjoy them too. But all of these books have one very important thing in common; I like them. Me. I don't feel the urge to dig up classics or what is considered high literature for the sake of being able to say I've read them. I've been too long in deciding to read only what I like, and I have no motivation to break that habit.

You could say, I've very widely and thoroughly read in the Sir Tessa Likes This genre.

But then, for those who are widely read, what does that mean? Does that mean skimming the surfaces of a whole lot of different pies without ever getting a good taste, without ever digging deep enough to find the genre books which defy the genre? Does being widely read just mean being able to say I've read one set group of authors whom the collective deem great?

I have no answers. I just read what I like.

And I did like Light. The writing was clean, crisp, and uncluttered. The three seperate streams were fascinating in their own ways, and I was particularly interested to see how they would entwine, given the centuries between them. Although I had no fondness of Kearney, his predicament kept me going, if only to find out exactly what the Schrander was. Seria Mau and the K-ship the White Cat was a strange entity to get a hold on, if only because physics kept getting in the way. I never took physics, and have no love of maths. While I was very interested in the ship, I was intimidated by the science behind it. Ed Chainese, well, I felt for him. Of all three plotlines, I was most interested in his. Perhaps because he was the most human of the three, he was just a guy with the world out to get him.

As for the over-arching message...beats me. I've yet to figure out exactly what it is that the Kefahuchi Tract represents, other than possibility. Mystery. That which drives us on. It is odd that those who were seen as fit to breach the Tract's mysterious were those who sought to escape life, who ran from everything, themselves, their past, their present. Seria and Ed spent most of their lives in tanks, dreaming.

I don't know that that is a good sign for the human race. Nor do I find any comfort in knowing the purpose of the human race.

Perhaps it is enough that the next step was taken, into the beginning.

Verdict: An interesting read, to say the least. Make up your own mind about it.


  1. Anonymous28/6/05 08:38

    "Is it science fiction which has stepped into the land of literature? Or is it science fiction cleverly disguising itself as literature...?"

    What would you say would be the difference between those two categories?

  2. A sense of meaning.

    I think the reason I'm undecided is because I can't pin down in a sentence what the book is about. What the point is. Without a deeper purpose, it is merely a story about physics and space exploration, but with one it could be much more.

    Perhaps all the talk of physics and mathematics has me running scared.

  3. I had similar problems. I found out later from People In The Know that "Light" is considered a bit of a parody of the newer UK Space Opera movement plus a kind of culmination of a lot of stuff in Harrison's earlier stuff. Which is a bit rough for first time readers, but nice to know.

    I'm reading Harrison's Viriconium collection piece by piece now. It's fantasy, but there are areas of overlap.

    Just so you aren't left scratching your head: no you don't know me. I came across your blog by accident. So: Hi!

  4. Urk. Well. Maybe I'll reread it in a few years after I've read the rest of his stuff. Might make more sense then, heh.

    Thanks, and hi as well.

  5. I was expecting to like Light a lot more. I found it interesting, but I felt that at the ending it just felt forced to me. And perhaps a bit rushed.

    I, too, like Ed Chianese's story the best. I liked Seria Mau's the least, though. I know she's not a terribly likeable person, but I liked Kearney, arguably a less likeable character, better than her.

    Harrison writes very nice prose, though.

    I enjoyed his Viriconium a lot more.

  6. The ending...yeah, not so much rushed as "is that all?" I was expecting something more. Aliens jumpstarting evolution has been done before.