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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 April 2018
There's no doubt that John Harrison sets out to stretch the bounds in Light, the first of a trilogy. Nor is there any doubt that what Harrison does in this book is very clever. The result is something that is arguably both a great book and a mess, so the three stars is something of an average.

Some readers may be put off by the fact that the narrative starts out in a way that is highly disjointed. We've got three interlaced story strands, one in present day England and two in a distant future, though there is no obvious connection between them. You have to read a whole lot of the book without much clue as to what's going on before it all comes together. Done properly, and if the reader has a lot of patience, this technique can be stunning. Gene Wolfe does it to perfection in the fantasy classic There Are Doors. Here it sort of works.

The two future strands, with central characters who are respectively an addict of an immersive entertainment system and someone who has given up her humanity to be the sort-of controlling brain of a starship, have a clever premise that space travelling humans, and a couple of non-human races, make use of vastly older technology they don't really understand, found near a strange natural (or not) phenomenon in a kind of tech graveyard. This is certainly interesting, though the strand I found I was happiest to return to was the present day one.

In this, the central character is one of two physicists, apparently trying to develop a quantum computer in a strangely amateurish setting. What they're doing seems to bear little resemblance to anything in current quantum computer research, but somehow, in part thanks to something unnatural seen in a computer simulation, it seems to end up being a faster-than-light drive instead. Oh, and the main character is haunted by a creature with a horse's skull for a head, which he somehow assumes will stay away from him if he kills people.

It's hard to have any sympathy for any of the central characters - one more obstacle Harrison seems to have intentionally put in the way to make this book harder work to enjoy. There's also a lot of techno-glitter - the sort of clever wordplay that sounds like it should be meaningful but really isn't. This technique is probably best illustrated by Roy's 'I've seen things you people wouldn't believe,' speech towards the end of Blade Runner. Harrison seems particularly fond of terminology from chaos theory - we get at least three references to a strange attractor - but often it feels like the words wash over the reader, sounding as if they have more content than is really there.

To an extent it all comes together at the end, though a fair amount is left unexplained. There's no doubt that reading this book is an experience you will remember. Whether you will enjoy it or not, I'm not sure. Several weeks after reading it, I still can't decide whether or not to go onto the other books in the trilogy - there's a kind of 'Want to read on, despite yourself' feeling as you go through the book, and this urges me to continue to the next volume. But it's the same kind of appeal of picking a scab. Might be best not to.
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on 4 October 2012
Having read this, I found the blurb on the back of the book to be the most misleading I think I have ever come across. Not necessarily in a bad way, merely in that the three mysterious objects is suggests are the heart of the book, are not the central narrative drive or quest of the characters at all and are only almost incidentally explained in the very ending. Though the book has plenty of wonder, imagination and creativity in its world building, it is actually about its main characters, which can be quite refreshing in science fiction books where often the characters are dwarfed by the science.

Having said that, the characters are troubling. Humans craving to surrender their bodies to merge with quantum infinities, clones, holograms, virtual projections, artificially created lifeforms, all questing to be human, to have a real body. Yet a relative immateriality doesn't seem to prevent any of them having sex, which happens a lot. Some of them are trying to fill their personal psychological voids, some seek after love and others just wish to have a physical sensation. So in part the book is an exploration of the struggle to be human.

The book is described as space opera, a genre label I've never understood the meaning of to be honest. The space bit I get and accede as far as this book is concerned. But operatic too me suggests not only a wide sweep, which again this book effortlessly meets, but a heightened sense of emotion. Now while Harrison deals with emotion a plenty as suggested in the characters' various quests for identity and to take the form of something other than themselves, the emotional pitch is a curiously flat one. This is largely because even though Harrison's builds an immense universe, most of these characters seem to be each other in various guises, so that the total population seems only to be about five people. A character has a single emotional register in one guise, yearns to be be something different and then achieves it either by taking on a new persona and physicality, or in death. And that's that, easy peasy lemony squeezy...

Moving between two temporal eras, our own and a far future one, yet the characters are all brought together by the end and their links to one another revealed, in a rather unsatisfying manner to my mind. For a book about quantum probabilities and improbablities, the narrative structure was too hidebound to facilitate this I felt.

There are some fine writing and insights to be gleaned from this book: "Every so often her eyes went across tate with the calm contempt of one neurotic for another", but the sum of the parts add up to considerably less than the whole.
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on 31 January 2015
Having been brought up on H.G Wells, Asimov, Wyndham etc.
this book left me cold. Whatever is the opposite of page turner (book closer?) this was it! Highly imaginative, certainly but unconstrained over the top imagination. Long, interminably tedious descriptions punctuated by pseudo scientific obscurantist gobledegook are padded out with boring dream sequences. A fragmentary story with unsympathetic characters searching for a worthwhile, interesting plot.
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on 28 March 2014
I read a review of Light a while back and was intrigued - and eventually got round to reading it recently. It's the most unsettling and memorable thing I've read in a long time.

Subject matter and style work well together, creating this sense of a world or worlds where things are marching ahead in an unstoppable fashion...a universe where everything fits together somehow, but in ways that always feel just out of reach and only comprehensible in fragments...existences where it's never clear how much is free will and how much is shaped by something beyond...

In short, this book may be a taut and vivid portrayal of a possible future at the edge of physics, but more importantly, like all the best (science) fiction, it is ultimately about what it means to be human, regardless of who we are, where we are, and what technology we have at our disposal.
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on 21 July 2015
Sorry, but nope. I enjoy Harrison's work generally, but this was not for me.
I read it to the half way point, but I could no longer care.
Interesting ideas, elegant sentences, no relatable characters, no plot threads that gripped me.
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on 3 January 2018
The writing is fluid, visceral, sculptural. The plot is a storm current, a rip tide. The payoff is exquisite. Glorious book.
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on 2 October 2014
Beautifully written, bizzare and mesmerising, slightly baffling. Not quite the complete package somehow, didn't quite connect in all the multiple dimensions it operates in. Something lacking in the storyline, style over substance perhaps. Enjoyed it though but not intrigued enough to keep going in the series.
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on 7 July 2013
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. I considered giving 5 stars but it was just a bit too tricksy to get into. But the effort is well worth it and having made it I will probably upgrade parts 2 and 3.A great new universe.
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on 3 February 2013
I very seldom read SF, but this is a fine book whatever one's genre preference. The 3-strand storyline is initially a bit challenging, but it exerts a real pull, and comes together beautifully as the book progresses to an extraordinary and highly satisfying conclusion. The writing is top-drawer - some of the sentences live on in the mind - as is the imaginative power. Some of the science went well beyond my humble general knowledge, but the author's skill was to make that stimulating rather than excluding in effect. Highly recommended.
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on 19 January 2015
Found the book quite hard to get into but once you pick up the different story lines and get some background on them it comes together nicely.
Will try and finish review when i have finished the book
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