Sunday, March 13, 2011

Nova Swing by M.John Harrison

The whole debate, which is mostly due to the 20th century publishing industries insidious pollution of our intellectual market, of whether or not Sci-Fi is trash or literature is best summed up by the Ted Sturgeon quote, “Yes 95% of it is trash, but 95% of everything is trash.” But what dyed in the wool science fiction books of recent times match masterpieces of contemporary literature for tone, symbolism, meaning, intelligence, and ferocity? On this short shelf I would place Gene Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cerberus, Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide, Stepan Chapman’s Troika, Jeff Vandermeer’s Veniss Underground, and M. John Harrison’s Light. So where does this sequel of sorts to Light sit on this shelf? Pretty comfortably I believe. Delivering a story openly indebted to The Brother Strugatsky’s “Roadside Picnic (or Tarkovsky’s film “Stalker” based on the story), with an alien realm of bizarre physics that requires guides to explore, and is infecting the surrounding world. There is a noir/cyberpunk feel (if someone wrote a screenplay they could describe it as Stalker meets Blade Runner/Casablanca) to this but in Harrison’s Delaney and Bester channeled through Beckett prose this is a world of unfulfilled dreams, anguish, sickness, madness, and piercing melancholy; delivered in a surreal, dream state fugue.

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