Or why you should read Light,
by M John Harrison
The synopsis on the back of Light sets up a mystery about a human skeleton, a pair of bone dice, and abandoned spacecraft on an asteroid beneath the Kefahuchi Tract and suggests the novel will explain what these objects are doing there. Light itself, though, really functions as three distinct and largely separate stories about broken horrible people that eventually culminate in the scenario described. The first story is about Michael Kearney, a computer scientist trying to produce the first quantum computer who also happens to compulsively murder women in a bid to escape The Shrander. The second story follows Seria Mau Genlicher, a young K-ship captain and rogue on a quest to open a package belonging to a mysterious Dr. Haends. The final story is about Ed Chianese, a tank addicted twink out of money, time, and luck who is on the run from the Cray Sisters and the enigmatic Sandra Shen. The three stories, despite being set in radically different times and spaces, thematically weave together a larger story about the depths and lengths people will go to when haunted by their demons.
Light is a fractured thing, functioning at once as a horror story set in contemporary London, a space opera set in the farthest reaches of the Kefahuchi Tract, and a cyberpunk noir set in the squalor of the slums of New Venusport. It is a rich and eclectic mix of genres that at once feels daring, intellectual, and schizophrenic. Which is really a feeling that permeates the novel: the various protagonists of Light are all bold, compelling, and horribly flawed people. Michael Kearney is clearly brilliant and charismatic but also dangerously insane while Seria Mau is a cold blooded murderer who is also a traumatized girl suffering from profound dysmorphia and Ed Chianese is a compassionate junkie with the amorality of someone with nothing left to live for. It is a cast that is at once charming, despicable, and pathetic. Which is really what Light was for me: a very winning novel that was intellectually challenging and soul-soilingly dark.
But damn if it wasn't compelling to read.
I would recommend Light to any mature reader looking for something bizarre and genre. Light plays with a lot of familiar genre elements in really deft and creative ways and creates an interesting and original world. Even as a stalwart Sci-fi reader this book felt fresh and new. But it was also a dark and twisted read filled with horrible people doing dubious and down right awful things. This is not a feel good story or one suited to young readers. It's worth reading, but get ready to want a soul shower at the end of it.