Light

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Light by M John Harrison.

M John Harrison Light

Light braids narratives about three central characters. The least admirable of these (and that’s saying something), a figure downright despicable in fact, shares the given name of the author. “M” is for Michael, and writer Harrison is “Mike” to his friends. Michael Kearney is an English physicist in the early 21st century, and I find it strange to imagine what it must have been like, or done for, Harrison to invent and describe this murdering obsessive with his own name. This novel, like all of Harrison’s I’ve read, is a writer’s delight, brimming with artful language and deploying its genre elements in original and impressive ways.

The other two plot threads are set in the 25th century far from Earth, and there is a somewhat mechanical rotation among the three, chapter by chapter. They are certainly set in the same imagined universe, so that they occasionally illuminate each others’ background, but it’s not until roughly the midpoint of the book that any of the actual relationships among these individuals start to become evident. Seria Mau is the mercenary captain of The White Cat, a cutting-edge starship constructed around salvaged technology from a long-expired alien civilization. Ed Chinaese is a washed-up pilot and explorer who has been killing time dead in a downmarket virtual reality.

The stories in this book are about the use and abuse of memory, the boundaries of human understanding, and a kind of cosmic hope. They play out through a blend of exotic physics and occultism witnessed through the sort of conversational and gestural detail that transforms banalities into objects of fascination. [via]