10 December 2006

M. John Harrison, Nova Swing, 2006

A loosely connected sequel to Harrison’s Light, the 2002 novel which won him the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. In a retro future couched in the 1950s, some weird technologies, diseases and even weirder people are appearing on the streets of Saudade, where the unpredictable physics of the Kefahuchi Tract have intersected with the planet, creating a forbidden zone that is monitored for the dangerous and illegal trade in alien artifacts. Vic Seratonin is a corrupt tour operator secretly leading tourists over the event horizon, and the police are onto him but there are also stranger crimes to solve and some peculiarly warped destinies to be uncovered. Like plenty of ‘noir’ Nova Swing begins with a classy dame walking into a seedy joint; on a superficial level this is clearly Roadside Picnic meets Mickey Spillane, but on any deeper level it could only be compared with Light – that was a journey around Mike Harrison’s psyche and Nova Swing is no different, as there are again some very internal things going on in these pages. But although the two books are connected they do resonate differently: Light’s canvas was pretty broad and far-reaching across time and space, whereas Nova Swing’s characters all inhabit their own sad, microcosmic, intersecting lives, centred around one street on a far-off world, their motives, dreams and fears sensitively revealed. As an analogy, if Light was the wave then Nova Swing is the particle: both are equally illuminating on Mike Harrison’s preoccupations yet are equally difficult to pin down, challenging the reader to figure out just how this peculiar story took shape. The way their anachronistic ’50s world actually fits into the far future I’m at a loss to explain but somehow it does, because with Harrison’s uniquely gifted prose that’s only to be expected. ‘New Weird’? An appropriate enough label for sure, but don’t let that put you off.  PY


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