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A-Nova SwingIn M. John Harrison's novel Light (2002), characters from across time and space are drawn toward a disturbance in the ever-expanding universe known as the Tefahuchi Tract. Nova Swing is set 400 years from now on a nearby planet, where the forces of the Tract continuously rearrange life in the city of Saudade (named after a difficult-to-translate Portuguese word that means something like "fatalistic longing"). Amid all this madness, Vic Serotonin, criminal or tour guide (depending on whom you ask), waits for the next soul crazy enough to enter the Rift and further scramble all of the characters' lives.
Bantam. 272 pages. $16. ISBN: 0553385011

Sci Fi Weekly 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Harrison is utilizing a very potent SF trope, the deadly alien labyrinth, as a symbol of the emotional and intellectual labyrinth within us all. ... In the end, this exotic yet mimetic quest for a balm to ease the congenital pain of living, flavored with bits of J. G. Ballard (think of the aureole as a kind of crystal or drowned world) and William Burroughs (Interzone, of course), reads like a naturalistic excursion into a futuristic Elf Hill." Paul Di Filippo

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"The miracle a writer of the fantastic such as Harrison performs is to expand the possibilities of perception. In the end, the extravagances of Nova Swing are as real as anything we are ever told." John Clute

Daily Telegraph (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"M. John Harrison is that tremendous difficulty for a reviewer: an extraordinarily precise writer who deals in suggestion rather than statement. ... But [the book] is almost impossible to explain, partly because it insists that it is in the business of explaining the reader." Andrew McKie

Independent (London) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Harrison writes with tremendous panache of vast machines and bizarre cosmetic therapies and about the reaches between stars. But his real love is for doomed second-rate humanity-its ideals, its agues and its wonderful banality." Roz Kaveney

Times (London) 2 of 5 Stars
"The tone shifts wildly and the book feels more like a collection of tales (some unfinished) than a cohesive novel. ... Harrison eschews space opera in favor of something more like soap noir, only without the true grit that would have made it compelling." Lisa Tuttle

Critical Summary

Critics greeted M. John Harrison's Light (2002), which won the James Tiptree Jr. Award, as a revelation-a science fiction novel that drew upon much of the best of the genre but also transcended it. Reactions to this sort-of sequel were not quite as enthusiastic across the board, but even the negative reviews showed admiration for Harrison's stellar wit and style. The consensus is that Harrison has traveled not only to the outer limits of space and time but also to the outer bounds of the novel form. Readers who are up for extra-dimensional prose may be drawn into Nova Swing's orbit. However, those who are seeking traditional character-driven space opera may find themselves adrift.