28 January 2005 by Published in: entertainment 1 comment

I can’t give this book the ringing endorsement given to it by Neil Gaiman, though that endorsement did cause me to read the thing. M. John Harrison’s Light is not my favorite SF book of the last decade (though I’d be hard pressed to say exactly which book was). There were parts of it I didn’t even like. Even so, I can’t deny that it is a remarkable book nonetheless. It’s a smart book and it’s a bright book and it’s a sleek book and if you love science for science’s sake and have any interest at all in probability and quantum physics I would recommend this book to you very highly. And yet, and yet…despite its elegance and intelligence and subject matter it lacked a certain warmth.

As a piece, it worked together beautifully. I particularly liked the daring of Harrison’s non-linear ordering of events. It was critical that this tale be told in the fragmentary way that it was, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy thing to do. I was very satisfied with the ending. In fact, I was so satisfied with the ending that I liked the book much better after I’d finished it than while I was reading it. I’m beginning to acquire a new respect for books that end properly.

My biggest problem with the book was probably that there was a dearth of sympathetic characters. Serial killers, anorexics, deranged magicians, and all sorts of unpleasant folks populate the story. And I never quite got the trick of liking any of them, even though I felt as though Harrison wanted me to. It’s as though his universe is unable to hold together if there’s any decent people in it, and you can forget any semblance of an act of kindness. There’s a couple of cats that aren’t terrible – merely catlike and indifferent – but that’s about it. No one you can really like shows up until the book is over halfway finished, and the one who does is a minor character, an exception to prove the rule that everyone’s a jerk. He also trots out some tired childhood traumas to explain people’s bizarre behaviors (*spoiler* can we please have a moratorium on sex abuse of children as the pivotal point of character development, already?).

I won’t say it wasn’t worth reading. I will say, however, that I’m taking all future Gaiman endorsements with a bigger grain of salt. Though I’m still gonna read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel when I get a chance, about which he says “…in my probably biased but not entirely uninformed opinion, [it] is the best English fantasy novel written in the last seventy years: over 800 pages, and when it ends you’re just sad there aren’t another 800…”.


Mon 31st Jan 2005 at 9:18 am

I added "Light" to my to-read list too, but had trouble finding it for sale online. I assumed it was out of print. Did you get it used? I’m reading and really enjoying JS&MN, though it was slow at the very beginning. I definitely recommend it.

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