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Light (GOLLANCZ S.F.) [Paperback]

M. John Harrison
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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Book Description

31 Oct 2002 GOLLANCZ S.F.
Beneath the unbearable light of the Kefahuchi Tract - a huge, fulminating ocean of radiant energy deep in the galaxy - three objects lie on the barren surface of an asteroid: an abandoned spacecraft, a pair of what look like bone dice, and a human skeleton. What are they, and what do they mean?

Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz (31 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575070269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575070264
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 840,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Light marks that fine writer M John Harrison's first return to the heartland of SF--including spaceships and hair-raising interstellar chases--since his apocalyptic anti-space opera The Centauri Device (1975).

The heavy SF action begins in 2400. Space-going humanity is the latest of many civilizations to be baffled by the impenetrable Kefahuchi Tract; that vast stellar region where an unshielded singularity makes physics itself unreliable. Along its accessible fringe, the "Beach", solar systems are littered with crazy, abandoned devices used to probe the Tract since before life began on Earth. A whole dead-end culture is based on beachcombing this rubble of industrial archaeology...

25th-century characters include a woman who's sacrificed almost everything to merge with the AI "mathematics" of a crack military spacecraft; a former daredevil who once surfed black holes but has retreated into a virtual reality tank; the lady proprietor of the Circus of Pathet Lao, with an alien freakshow and a hidden agenda; and a variety of raunchy, smelly, gene-sculpted lowlife, some comic, some menacing. Many are not what they seem.

Meanwhile in 1999 London, physicists Kearney and Tate--remembered in 2400 as the fathers of interstellar flight--are getting nowhere. Kearney's personal problems occupy familiar Harrison territory: urban paranoia, a seedily unreliable guru, bad sex, guilty rituals to propitiate a metaphysical-seeming threat called the Shrander--a pursuing image out of nightmare. In the lab, both Kearney and Tate fear the increasing quantum strangeness of their results.

The cosmological wonders and hazards of the Beach form a backdrop to space pursuits and violent skirmishes whose duration is measured in nanoseconds, reported in tensely lyrical prose. Eventually everything comes together as it should--even that oppressive 1999 story strand--with revelations, transformation, transcendence, and ultimate hope. Harrison demands your full attention and rewards it richly. --David Langford


This is a major publishing event in the SF world as Mike has not published an SF book for over 20 years. So far the buzz is huge and I have had interest from three major newspapers who want to give it full reviews. Reviews: The IndependentThe GuardianThe Daily websiteStarburstDreamwatchSFX 'Light is a novel of visionary power, alert both to the discontents of the modern world and the tubercularcondition of the future.'TLS Interviews:SFXSFRevu.comOutland (Ottakars magazine)The ZoneEnigmaBBC Radio Scotland Book Programme The launch party for Light took place on Tuesday 29th and was attended by the likes of Iain Banks and Muriel Gray, shockingly we even managed to get Lidnsay Duguid from the TLS and Claire Armitstead from The Guardian. It goes to show that SF can get some literary respect!!

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Towards the end of things, someone asked Michael Kearney, 'How do you see yourself spending the first minute of the new millennium?' Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 11 Sep 2006
Interesting how this book polarises opinion. I loved it. I fail to see how some reviewers view it as "infantile" or "puerile", referencing the few sex scenes and the character name Billy Anker. Playful and honest, but not puerile. And I can see how the opening is a bit disorientating: it does take a fair while before you can tell what's going on, and even longer before the threads start weaving together. But that's part of the manic pleasure it provides as you're carried along through one atmospheric environment after another. I thought the writing was absolutely extraordinary in places, tight, precise, evocative. Yes, it is a bit overwrought in places, overwritten, too stylish for its own good. But overall, it's stunning. The characters aren't particularly sympathetic, but one of the strands (Seria Mau) concerning a human in a symbiotic relationship with a starship, is superbly imagined and moving; as another reviewer noted, it captures actual sensation of N-dimensional space fantastically (comparable in quality to Christopher Priest's capturing of the perception of infinite width in Inverted World). Read it, unless you only like thick books which come in series and have swords on the front.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light speed 21 Oct 2004
By S James
I was not aware of any of the hype surrounding this book until after I had read it - so my views were not influenced by propaganda - I also have no author bias. I find the comparisons to Iain M Banks very interesting. To be honest, Banks is one of the few SF writers I read consistently, but I struggled with 'Look to Windward' and had to give up half way through. This was something completely different. I found Harrison's style dark, harrowing, brutal but always stylish and compelling - to the extent that I wanted to re-read it immediately after finishing it. Some of the other SF authors get bogged down in overtly technical aspects of science or they give descriptive text which while sometimes impressive, detracts from the characters themselves. Harrison does the descriptive bit but ignores the waffle - he achieves in 50 clear, harsh and vivid words what takes others 5000. The only way I can compare it is to the first time you see Pulp Fiction - it was shocking, unreal and awesome in equal measures. For me it was a masterpiece, like nothing that was seen before it - with style and content you won't forget - ever. The comparisons get more similar when you look at the characters; they are also unpleasant and more importantly human. The story deals with humanity, darkness, internal conflict and ultimately character progression in a way that I feel is completely new and uncharted. If you haven't read the book yet, please do so, but do it with an open mind. I really feel that this is a book that many SF writers would have loved to have written and even if they had the abilities to do so, they may not have had Harrison's bravery to publish it. It has taken the game to a new and exciting level.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light 18 Nov 2012
By TomCat
I've read in numerous places, which I'm far too lazy to reference here, that M. John Harrison's 2002 novel Light does for Space Opera what his Viriconium sequence did for Fantasy back in the 1980s. This is quite the claim, as Viriconium towers over the landscape of postmodern fantasy literature as a definite and unchallenged Olympus; the book that finally did-away with the literary naivety of the field by drawing direct attention to the problematic artificiality of secondary-world High Fantasy, all the while remaining deeply enamoured of the tropes, traditions and history of the genre; a genre with which Harrison is clearly well-versed and much in love.

To think that the same writer could reinvigorate not just one, but two distinct genres both of which, let's be honest, suffer from more than their fair share of cliché, repetition and imaginative exhaustion is difficult to believe, but having read the frankly staggering (and not to mention extraordinarily beautiful) Light, I'm definitely coming round to the idea. It's 30-odd years since Harrison seemingly abandoned New Wave sci-fi with his early (and criminally underrated) novel The Centauri Device, but his forays into the lands of Fantasy and (later) Literary Fiction were obviously time well spent, as Light meshes a keen commitment to psychological realism with a penchant for inventive, stripped-back imagist prose. The book toys with and deconstructs many of the familiar tenets of science fiction, but in a joyous and celebratory way, never sneering. Harrison's frame of reference is galaxy-spanning, and Light is replete with subtle (and not-so-subtle) tributes to the canon of famous (and not-so-famous) science fiction literature, T.V. and film.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Radiant read... 13 Dec 2006
I'm not surprised that this book has polarized opinions, don't read this if you think it's going to be another formulaic space opera. Light is a book that asks more questions than it answers and certainly isn't from the Clarke or Asimov branch of "science" fiction. Instead you get something a lot like the film Pi, an exploration of madness and obsession mingled with the strangeness that is pure math and quantum theory. Nothing much is explained, it's just left for the reader to piece together in whatever way they want.

This is a challenging read, but if you're tired of the same old formula of derivative fiction try this guy out. It is a truly intense book that might not be on everyone else's wavelength but is all the better for that. I've been devouring his work since rediscovering him a while back. I had read the Virconium books a long time ago but had lost them (and his name wouldn't come to me) until I found Light.

Reading Harrison's work you begin to see his influence refracted through all that is good in SF/Fantasy at the moment, from Iain Banks to China Mieville. His strength, apart from some wonderful prose, is his ability to transcend genres; moving through the full spectrum of pastiche, science fiction and literature, sometimes in the same paragraph.

Highly recomended if you like to think about what you're reading.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Even more wondrously weird when sleepy.....
The characters are all damaged, broken or generally downright unpleasant but the story holds your attention, and the imagery is certainly wondrously weird. Read more
Published 3 months ago by P. J. Dunn
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting
I read a review of Light a while back and was intrigued - and eventually got round to reading it recently. Read more
Published 4 months ago by D. Hiscock
1.0 out of 5 stars a bleak world
I found it so depressing that I could not finish it, so I may have missed the good aspects of this book?
Published 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Not boring
If you're familiar with Harrison's work, then this feels part of the continuum. But not so much that it's predictable or boring. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Jacob Wright
1.0 out of 5 stars What a horrible waste
I bought this book based on the fantastic reviews.

What a terrible waste.

First off, the good points: it is extremely well written (especially relative to... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Timothy Hammond
4.0 out of 5 stars Quantum fiction
Takes a bit of getting used to but once you get the code it pulls you in.Really interesting attempt to apply quantum theory and measurement to sciece fiction. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Nicolas Milne
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind-banging first half - superior characterisation.
M. John Harrison doesn't treat his readers as idiots, or as standard-trope fanciers. My expectations were really up-ended within the first chapter. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Alexander J. Thirkill
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh my gosh
The best sci fi book since, Philip k dick first inspired a generation of writers. This is billy Gibson meets Steven Hawkins. It is gonna blow your mind.
Published 15 months ago by tab79
1.0 out of 5 stars so many ambiguities i gave up
never quite tells you what's going on, so it could be 'x' 'y' or 'z' same happens on the next page and the next, before long you're trying to keep track of a hundred possibilities... Read more
Published 16 months ago by A. K. Hitchen
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written!
Intelligent, imaginitive, disturbing, well written. Finished it at a single sitting and immediately downloaded the rest of the trilogy. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Craybut
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