Doing the Kefahuchi Shuffle

Light - M. John Harrison

If given the choice between Science fiction and fantasy, 9 times out of 10 I'll go for Fantasy. It's hard to explain why; perhaps it's something to do with the aesthetic, but I suppose that's a discussion for another time.

 

However, sometimes I'll look up from decapitating another loathsome Orc, see the sci-fi guys flying spaceships and blasting aliens overhead, and I'll think to myself, 'Well now, that does look fun'. 

 

I picked up Light by M John Harrison because I liked the book cover. Yes, I'm aware of the idiom warning against such rash action, but it worked for me when I bought 'The Wind Itself', so I figured why not try again.

 

Light is a culture shock. Truly. In my last post I reviewed Way of Kings, and I described how the book threw a lot of overwhelming concepts and ideas at the reader off the bat, but then drip-fed answers artfully when it made perfect sense to the plot.

 

This is what Light does. But more so. Much more so. After finishing the book, I feel like I'm still completely baffled by some of the things the inhabitants take as the norm. Surgically altered humans, virtual reality addicts, advanced physics and ghostly sentient mathematical algorithms are used liberally without much in the way of explanation.

 

For me, this everyday weird bafflement took away somewhat from the overarching mystery of the plot a little. When everything is unknown, it's sometimes difficult to pick out which unknowns are important, and which are just set dressing.

 

The rest of the culture shock simply comes from humanity's outlook and attitude 300 years in the future. It reminded me in some ways of the excellent Snow Crash, with it's bleak vision of future-cool and out-of-control morality. The only thing more prevalent than death is sex.

 

The main mystery of the plot revolves around the 'Kefahuchi Tract', a space-time anomaly described as "a singularity without an event horizon". Many civilizations have been drawn to the Tract over the history of the universe, and all have broken upon it's mystery.

 

Enter our main characters, a down and out adventure seeker, a ship pilot who has chosen to be absorbed into the consciousness of her ship, and a serial-killing physicist in the year 1999. Oh, and a woolen-coat wearing, horse-skull headed alien entity known as 'The Shrander'.

 

We follow them as they meander and weave their way through the deluge of unknowns, until the conclusion of the book when we get a straight up explanation of which unknown is the one that matters. I felt it was a little clumsy.

 

This clumsiness extends to a lot of the exposition in the novel. I feel like the author has realized at certain points during the narrative that the reader has no idea what's happening, and simply can't go on any longer without knowing what's going on. He then almost grudgingly writes a couple of paragraphs explaining whats up. When he feels like it.

 

Light was never boring, I'll give it that. If you enjoy reading about science-jargon, casual sex and ancient alien mystery, it definitely provides, and I'd like to re-review this book after reading the entire Trilogy. Whenever that happens.