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Light Paperback – Deckle Edge, August 31, 2004
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Top Customer Reviews
But, the story didn't grip me at first and I found myself wondering what the big deal was even while recognizing that Harrison is a true wordsmith. Even if this novel deeply turns you off in all other ways, any literate reader should recognize the quality of the writing. Harrison has a true gift for stripped down sentences and a powerfully apt use of vocabulary. Even in the early going, when I was kind of bored, I found myself rereading passages for the simple pleasure of the words on the page.
The plot was bizarre, lurid and somewhat jarring - jumping around in time and space to various loser protagonists. There were three storylines and although I assumed a resolution, the connections remained fuzzy and I was to the point of just getting through it. But about three quarters of the way through something happened - I got it. This is a brilliantly structured novel and I curse my lack of early attention now. Light should be approached as literature, not genre fiction. The convergence of the three characters and their stories happened so gradually, the realization startled me. When you realize there is not three stories, but just one story, interconnections missed earlier spring out. It was a singularly mind blowing epiphany for this veteran SF reader. I am still struggling with the text, but have to recommend Light as a singularly fascinating read.
Light is a fractal novel about fractals, where large ideas are reflected in smaller scale throughout the text. No details, but keep fractals in mind and you will see patterns brilliantly woven throughout the book. This novel gets five stars with the full recognition that it is a personal statement - the book just leapt out and blew me away. Light is going to irritate many and enrage a few like only powerful writing can do. I compare it to David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest in this way - a book with loud proponents and detractors. But honestly the book this reminds me the most of is Gravity's Rainbow. It's not in that league but there is a resonance. Light challenges SF conceits and blows away expectations and is aimed at those bored with popcorn heroes and trite space opera. But I can see even bright, literate readers having a hostile reaction.
Boy was I surprised!
Mostly for the good. This is real science fiction. Harrison takes contemporary and speculative elements of physics, treats them with confidence, and transforms them into poetry. When it comes to working within the genre, he is not merely tossing in a few "speculative" elements, either: His action sequences raise the pulse; his characters are quirky, compelling, in most cases memorable; the fundamental plot hinges on some huge and intriguing unknowns that draw the reader in; there are some frightening scenes that linger with enough power to reappear in nightmare. Harrison has the storyteller's gift for hooking a reader and keeping him hooked.
However, it's worth noting that this book has a serial murderer as one of the main characters: his actions and motivations are grotesque, and ultimately very unsatisfying. This is one of the less memorable characters, and while the whole thread does tie in with the others, by the end it feels quite superfluous.
It's also worth noting that just about every thread, and just about every character, displays an increasingly tiresome fascination with sex. In particular, the graphic, repetitive, and loveless tropes of pornography. I haven't read Harrison's other work; perhaps he intended some deep thematic observation on human motivations, but the whole thing came off feeling like Harrison has a problem with porn addiction.
Finally, it's worth a mention that the ending, while beautiful in a linguistic sense, feels like a fairly standard sci-fi cop out. When things move beyond the power of an author to invent, throw in some mystical mumbo-jumbo, use skill with language to create a beautiful, but meaningless image.
With all these gripes, you'd think I would give this three stars, or maybe two. But the point is: *despite* these flaws, _Light_ by M. John Harrison is a pretty amazing book. The hype is not empty praise: this guy has something. I am left with the hope that it was the flaws in this book that were the exception, and not the wonderful story, not the exquisite and exciting use of language.
But I wouldn't recoment it to people that are not a science-inclined and sci-fi fans. M. John Harrison tends sometimes to throw some deep discussions about the validity of physics that may bore some.