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Light: A Novel (Kefahuchi Tract) Paperback – Deckle Edge, August 31, 2004
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
- Publisher : Spectra (August 31, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 310 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0553382950
- ISBN-13 : 978-0553382952
- Item Weight : 1.05 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 0.75 x 9.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #623,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This is a hard book for me to evaluate. I liked it, but I also disliked it.
Let's start with an overview. "Light" is the first installment of Harrison's "Kefahuchi Tract" trilogy. The Kefahuchi Tract is a space structure, which I assume stretches for light-years since it streams halfway across the sky, but on other occasions it glares down like an angry eye. Harrison describes it as a singularity with no event horizon, whatever that means. So, the central artifact of the book is frustratingly nebulous.
In any event, this structure has attracted the attention of the alien species of the galaxy for tens of millions of years, many of which have set up shop on the "beach," which must be an area of the galaxy from which the tract can be observed. Many of these cultures have engaged in mighty works of galactic engineering, involving moving stars around or planetary reconstruction just to keep an eye on the tract. The "K culture" was the earliest such species. It had the ability to create a hard, tangible form of "mathematics," which cannot be copied, but can be mined, and is incredibly valuable for the construction of spaceships and other devices. All of this makes the Kefahuchi Tract worth exploiting.
That summary is the most coherent explanation about the background of the book you are going to get, and far more coherent than anything in the book. On the other hand, this backgrounder does not do justice to the sense of wonder and scope that Harrison manages to wring from his ambiguous descriptions and ambiguities. My favorite was the solar system of Perkin's Rent:
"What was memorable about the system, which was called Perkins’ Rent, was the train of alien vehicles that hung nose to tail in a long cometary orbit which at aphelion was halfway to the next star. They were between a kilometre and thirty kilometers long, with hulls as tough and thick as rinds, colored a kind of lustreless grey, shaped as randomly as asteroids—potato shapes, dumb-bell shapes, off-center shapes with holes in them—and every one under two feet of the sifted-down dust blown out of some predictable and not very recent stellar catastrophe. The dust of life, though there was no life here. Whoever they belonged to abandoned them before proteins appeared on Earth."
The story revolves around three substories, one in a version of 1999 and the other two set in the 24th century.
The first story arc involves a physicist named Michael Kearney, who, with his partner, Brian Tate, will be remembered for discovering that math that allows interstellar travel. We don't see any of that. We see Kearney as a serial murderer who is killing women to keep a being with the head of a horse's skull at a distance.
The second story arc involves Ed Chianese, who starts as a "twink," someone who puts themself into a box to live in virtual reality. But "Chinese Ed" is a daredevil space pilot who knows the human part of the beach. He gets involved with New Men and then with a "Rickshaw Girl," who later becomes a "mona," and then with the circus, where he learns to see the future. In this section, we get some introduction to the kaleidoscopic, splintered, almost cyberpunk world of the future.
The third arc involves the pilot of a K-ship named Seria Mau Genlicher, who at thirteen was surgically altered to exist in a tank as part of the ship. In this section, we see Seria involved in space battles that are waged in nanoseconds with the highest of technology.
It turns out that the three story arcs lead to the same place with the same entity.
All of this sounds good, and it really is. Unfortunately, there is so much that is repulsive, as well. For example, the characters are not likable. They are all psychopathic users concerned about themselves first and last. This makes it difficult to care about any of them. Ultimately what pulled me along was finding out what was going on.
Likewise, there is so much wasted text. As little as I cared about Kearney, I cared even less for his wife Anna or his sexual hangups. Likewise, I'm sure that Sandra Shen's training of Ed Chianese with the tank he used to see the future was important, but it went on for far too long, as did the interlude with the New Men (and his adulterous screwing of the New Man's wife.)
Another thing I got tired of was the sex. The story was obsessed with sex like it was at the forefront of the New Wave in the 1960s when that kind of thing was avant-garde. Now, it just seems like a dirty old man getting his rocks off - it didn't advance the plot, it was repetitive, it wasn't even interesting.
So, there were good things in the book that interested and captivated me and there were things that repelled and annoyed me. I don't regret reading the book. I may go back and re-read the second installment, Nova Swing, to see if I get more out of it this time.
In other words, traditional linearity, or linear story telling, is sort of at odds with or subsumed by the quantum experience; or, the "art" of it all ; however, by choosing the vehicle of a book, the writer has to compromise and, at least, provide enough linear or 3D information; or, the reader is left floundering or dog paddling just to stay afloat. It wouldn't surprise me if some readers started but did not finish "Light."
The good news is that hanging in there long enough seemed to lead to my being more comfortable in the book's quantum field, so to speak, as well as with the central characters and whatever it was that they were up to. And, I didn't have to understand every quantum or quantum -like concept to come away with the "feel" that all of the so called story lines were, perhaps, happening simultaneously on different timelines. In fact, about 1/2 way in, I noticed that I had some appreciation for the actors and even found some humor. The brilliance is there and, for me, I'll jump in the ocean again, re-read it...this time with an inner tube.
Even worse, I'll most likely read the 2d book in this Kefahuchi Trilogy despite having no clear idea of what is the Kefahuchi
Top reviews from other countries
Some readers may be put off by the fact that the narrative starts out in a way that is highly disjointed. We've got three interlaced story strands, one in present day England and two in a distant future, though there is no obvious connection between them. You have to read a whole lot of the book without much clue as to what's going on before it all comes together. Done properly, and if the reader has a lot of patience, this technique can be stunning. Gene Wolfe does it to perfection in the fantasy classic There Are Doors. Here it sort of works.
The two future strands, with central characters who are respectively an addict of an immersive entertainment system and someone who has given up her humanity to be the sort-of controlling brain of a starship, have a clever premise that space travelling humans, and a couple of non-human races, make use of vastly older technology they don't really understand, found near a strange natural (or not) phenomenon in a kind of tech graveyard. This is certainly interesting, though the strand I found I was happiest to return to was the present day one.
In this, the central character is one of two physicists, apparently trying to develop a quantum computer in a strangely amateurish setting. What they're doing seems to bear little resemblance to anything in current quantum computer research, but somehow, in part thanks to something unnatural seen in a computer simulation, it seems to end up being a faster-than-light drive instead. Oh, and the main character is haunted by a creature with a horse's skull for a head, which he somehow assumes will stay away from him if he kills people.
It's hard to have any sympathy for any of the central characters - one more obstacle Harrison seems to have intentionally put in the way to make this book harder work to enjoy. There's also a lot of techno-glitter - the sort of clever wordplay that sounds like it should be meaningful but really isn't. This technique is probably best illustrated by Roy's 'I've seen things you people wouldn't believe,' speech towards the end of Blade Runner. Harrison seems particularly fond of terminology from chaos theory - we get at least three references to a strange attractor - but often it feels like the words wash over the reader, sounding as if they have more content than is really there.
To an extent it all comes together at the end, though a fair amount is left unexplained. There's no doubt that reading this book is an experience you will remember. Whether you will enjoy it or not, I'm not sure. Several weeks after reading it, I still can't decide whether or not to go onto the other books in the trilogy - there's a kind of 'Want to read on, despite yourself' feeling as you go through the book, and this urges me to continue to the next volume. But it's the same kind of appeal of picking a scab. Might be best not to.
Masterly writer. This is just phenomenally good literature. The fact it is written around an alleged science fiction theme is almost irrelevant.
M.John Harrison is one of the best wordsmiths of the current age..
I urge everyone who loves the English language to read all his books both the novels and the shirt story collections.
Having said that, the characters are troubling. Humans craving to surrender their bodies to merge with quantum infinities, clones, holograms, virtual projections, artificially created lifeforms, all questing to be human, to have a real body. Yet a relative immateriality doesn't seem to prevent any of them having sex, which happens a lot. Some of them are trying to fill their personal psychological voids, some seek after love and others just wish to have a physical sensation. So in part the book is an exploration of the struggle to be human.
The book is described as space opera, a genre label I've never understood the meaning of to be honest. The space bit I get and accede as far as this book is concerned. But operatic too me suggests not only a wide sweep, which again this book effortlessly meets, but a heightened sense of emotion. Now while Harrison deals with emotion a plenty as suggested in the characters' various quests for identity and to take the form of something other than themselves, the emotional pitch is a curiously flat one. This is largely because even though Harrison's builds an immense universe, most of these characters seem to be each other in various guises, so that the total population seems only to be about five people. A character has a single emotional register in one guise, yearns to be be something different and then achieves it either by taking on a new persona and physicality, or in death. And that's that, easy peasy lemony squeezy...
Moving between two temporal eras, our own and a far future one, yet the characters are all brought together by the end and their links to one another revealed, in a rather unsatisfying manner to my mind. For a book about quantum probabilities and improbablities, the narrative structure was too hidebound to facilitate this I felt.
There are some fine writing and insights to be gleaned from this book: "Every so often her eyes went across tate with the calm contempt of one neurotic for another", but the sum of the parts add up to considerably less than the whole.