Nova Swing

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nova Swing by M John Harrison.

M John Harrison Nova Swing

If I wasn’t already gratefully familiar with the style of M. John Harrison, and you gave me this book to read without attribution, my guess at the author would be R.A. Lafferty (which is high praise from me) — with perhaps a dash of William S. Burroughs. Nova Swing is a sequel to Harrison’s Light, but there’s little connection of plot or character: they share a 25th-century setting in the interstellar space of the “Beach” near the Kefahuchi Tract, an anomalous zone of cosmic and alien enigmas. Still, Harrison is not one for superfluous exposition, and his highly allusive approach makes the prior orientation of the first book useful for reading the second.

The noir elements in Light are more central in Nova Swing, and the overall gist is less epochal (which is not to underrate the intimacy of the first book). A central conceit is the idea of “site crime,” because an unexplained event of alien life/technology/reality in the city of Saudade has created a site which is terrifyingly transformative of human perception and being. It seems to be to the 25th century what recreational drugs were to the 20th century. People come to it for thrills, danger, enlightenment, and self-annihilation. Naturally, the civil authorities organize to repress and contain it. Inevitably, they have little success.

As with its predecessor, this is not a book that can brag about its accessibility. There were definitely stretches of the novel where I wondered if it was really going to tell a story, or if it was just pushing characters around and making aesthetic impressions. The whole thing really came together in the last few chapters, though. [via]