Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Not Exactly a Light Read

Apologies for the lack of a post yesterday, my blog monkeys, but a combination of very little TV watching and a very tired and forgetful brain made sure that it was not to be. Likewise, while I did get Amy Tan's latest novel read during the trip, I was in no condition to write a cogent analysis of it, so instead I'll dip into the ever-dwindling supply of reviews written for my Genre Fiction class. This time, it's my SF entry.

Light by M. John Harrison.

This book follows the adventures of three different protagonists in different times and places. In 1999, physicist Michael Kearney becomes a serial killer in order to avoid the strange creature known as the Shrander which is seeking to retrieve the mysterious alien dice Kearney stole from it. In 2400, near the astronomical phenomenon known as the Kefahuchi Tract, Seria Mau Genlicher attempts to discover what the secret of the mysterious “Dr Haends” program is while avoiding the forces of the EMC who are hunting her down for stealing the K-Ship “White Cat,” although Seria Mau claims that it was the ship who stole her. Also in 2400, on the world of New Venusport, a down-and-out spaceship pilot and recovering virtual reality addict known as Ed Chianese is on the run from the vicious Cray sisters, hiding out first with the alien New Men and then with the Circus of Pathet Lao, where he begins to learn the art of prophecy, even though nobody seems interested in hearing about his visions of the coming war with the Nastic race. As the novel progresses, more and more clues are revealed to how each of these three separate stories is connected.

Light is an odd mixture of Hard SF, Space Opera, and Phiolosophical SF. A lot of the terminology used assumes a great familiarity with the theories of quantum mechanics, and all three plots have a high degree of scientific sophistication. The Seria Mau storyline is closest to a Space Opera, as Seria Mau battles the forces of the EMC K-Ships during her quest for the secret of “Dr. Haends.” Kearney’s storyline is much more existential, as he attempts to use random murders as a means of obscuring himself from the Shrander’s visions and his and his partner Brian Tate’s attempts to create a quantum computing system lead to odd, reality-warping results. Ed’s storyline starts off as borderline Cyberpunk with Ed immersed in VR, and then becomes a more traditional SF adventure story, before sliding into more philosophical waters as Ed pursues the path of prophecy.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. I was pleased with Harrison’s world-building skills, especially in his development of the K-Ships’ skills. I enjoyed Ed’s storyline from the beginning, but lost interest toward the end; I had trouble getting into Seria Mau’s story, but it picked up towards the end; and I detested Kearney’s story pretty much all the way through. A lot of that had to do with characterization. Out of the three main characters, only one was easy to identify with. Ed was a bit of a loser who was struggling to get out of the pit he had dug for himself, but at least he had concern for others. Seria Mau, who had sacrificed her humanity years before to be permanently bonded to the K-Ship, had been driven to borderline insanity by the lack of a physical body, but at least her irrational behavior was understandable in this light. But the Kearney storyline was filled with amoral characters whose shadowy motivations were never explained to my satisfaction. In many ways Kearney’s storyline reminded me of Chuck Palahniuk’s “Lullaby”, which also had a group of vaguely amoral, guiltless characters responsible for the deaths of many, many people, depicted in a very distant manner.

I would be very cautious about who I recommended this title to. People who hate ambiguities in the fiction (whether they be ambiguities in character motivation or ambiguities in plot resolution) should steer clear of this book. This book would probably appeal to fans of Literary Fiction, since so much of the novel hinges on subtext and imagery.