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Light (Empty Space Trilogy #1)

3.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,433 Ratings  ·  384 Reviews
In M. John Harrison’s dangerously illuminating new novel, three quantum outlaws face a universe of their own creation, a universe where you make up the rules as you go along and break them just as fast, where there’s only one thing more mysterious than darkness.

In contemporary London, Michael Kearney is a serial killer on the run from the entity that drives him to kill. He
Paperback, 308 pages
Published August 31st 2004 by Spectra (first published 2002)
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Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century
222nd out of 460 books — 5,159 voters
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Best 21st Century SF
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 06, 2008 Evan rated it did not like it
M. John Harrison is under the impression that plot and character can be totally abandoned in favor of a frantic and sloppy exercise in "cyberpunk" style.

Far future cyberpunk just doesn't work.

First of all, the voice of the book is off: some deep future hep cat telling you like it is about quasars, dark matter, and quantum physics, baby, in language so opaque and "snappy" that a sense of wonder or even simple coherence is never achieved.

If you're going to do cyberpunk, and Harrison is very obvio
Kat  Hooper
Feb 27, 2012 Kat Hooper rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Michael Kearney is a physicist. He’s also a serial killer. Obsessed with numbers and patterns since he was three, he sees something behind them. Something is there, something dark and ominous that starts to emerge sometimes. He calls it the Shrander and the only way to hold it back is to kill someone. Trying to appease the Shrander, Michael uses Tarot cards and a special pair of bone dice to try to figure out what he’s supposed to do next. He’s also teamed
Nov 06, 2007 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Picking up this book was like waking up tired and groggy then talking to someone who has already been awake for three hours and drank a pot of coffee. In other words, it throws you into this weird world without much explanation, moving very quickly through a fairly complex bifurcated story structure (one part set in the present, another in space several centuries into the future). But despite the minimal amount of exposition here, you eventually figure out what is going on, and maybe even come t ...more
Sep 18, 2008 Rook rated it liked it
I normally don't take the time to add specifics to the rating I give a book, but this one necessitates it.
There are things about that frustrated me deeply. For most of the book, the point and the plot were discouragingly unclear. It was difficult to tell what anything had to do with anything, in the most general of senses. There was also a kind of oversexualization of the world setting that seems common nowadays, I think because of the lifting of the Western taboo on sex as a subject. It often s
Nov 06, 2009 Amanda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-the-best
i frigin' love M John Harrison! WOWEE, this book..umm..this book is so far beyond a simple sci-fi! it is about the choices we make (in the case of the characters, mostly bad choices) for various inner reasons or for fear of living or whatnot and how they shape or warp our existence. Do u really want to shape your life for the better or just pretend to and secretly, or openly, sabotage it at every chance. While i was reading Light i thought of a bunch of good things for the review and now i don't ...more
Ross Lockhart
Jun 21, 2007 Ross Lockhart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Light is easily one of the darkest books I’ve ever read, and that’s saying something. With a taut narrative split between three protagonists, a near-future serial killer/brilliant physicist (why are SF characters almost never mediocre physicists?), a far-future woman/starship with the impulse control of a spoiled and heavily armed child, and a "twink," a sort of futuristic virtual reality addict, Light moves along at breakneck speed, combining SF sensawunda, bleak noir cruelty, and lush, violent ...more
Nov 11, 2009 Szplug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this novel at a thrift shop as an impulse buy, believing that I would be getting something in the same vein as an Iain M. Banks story. I'm glad that I did: Harrison is perhaps a better writer than Banks (with or without the "M."), even as he possesses the same black sense of humour and ability to write wryly and casually about the grotesque and the vicious. Well-crafted science fiction provides a perfect way to pass a weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed Harrison's tripartite tale.

We op
This a remarkable book and rather impossible to summarize, it being an adventure through the shifting nature of reality.
It starts grim, and if I wasnt so starved for reading material I might have missed out on this thought provoking romp.
I promise when I have the book in front of me to post here some of the great quotes I highlighted.

Okay,have done some,I have put them in the comments
Alex Sarll
For anyone holding to the self-evident truth that genre fiction should be eligible for the big literary prizes, one hurdle remains. Which book, exactly, should win? In any year there are plenty of science fiction books (and doubtless crime ones, if I kept up with crime, and so forth) which bear comparison to the Booker shortlist - but ones which could win over the infidels? Ones unassailable enough to bear the extra scrutiny they'd inevitably receive? Banks' Use of Weapons was one obvious conten ...more
Bill Purdy
Jul 10, 2009 Bill Purdy rated it really liked it
Well, now...

If I am scratching my head when you see me next, it's because I am still trying to digest Light, a rather amazing work of literature disguised as a genre piece that will probably get a fifth star upon re-read. Light is just that good.

Problem is, it took me until I was about two-thirds of the way through the novel before I figured out (or, rather, started to figure out) what was going on. Now I feel compelled to re-read it if only to fully experience the clues Harrison weaves into the
Kyle Muntz
Jul 17, 2012 Kyle Muntz rated it it was amazing
Rereading. Back in 2007 or so this book absolutely blew my mind. I wasn't sure whether it book would live up to what I remember--turns out, it's better. There are similarities to Steve Erickson, PKD, Angela Carter, Lynch, Iain Banks, Brian Evenson, Delany's Nova, but none of these comparisons are really accurate. I'm still not sure whether I like this more than Viriconium (which is so different they're difficult to compare anyway), but this is narrative at its most sophisticated and unique. I re ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I chose this for my fourth speed dating project, in a hopeless attempt to clean out some of my to-read collection at home.

It is with mixed feeling that I abandon this book. I know many find it a challenge for various reasons. The sex doesn't bother me, the quantum mechanics is fine, in fact I don't even mind all that much that I don't know all the details. I'm intrigued by the creatures that seem to predate the characters, always in the shadows.

But I can't really find any interest in the charact
Apr 16, 2009 Josh rated it really liked it
Right after I finished it I didn't like it. It bothered me. I couldn't stop thinking about it. About a week or two later I realized I actually liked it a lot. It sneaks up on you.
Apr 03, 2008 Res rated it liked it
The one that interweaves three stories: physicist and serial killer Michael Keaton in the contemporary world, plus cyborg pirate ship Seria Mau Genlicher and virtual-world junkie Ed Chianese in the far future.

A-plus for worldbuilding, here. Far-future worlds are tough; half of them are implausibly similar to contemporary life, and the other half are so different they're incomprehensible, but Harrison doesn't fall into either of those traps. I loved the far future and the way he turns so many sci
Nov 16, 2008 Terence rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jon Lyndon
Oct 19, 2007 Jon Lyndon rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: SciFi & Literary readers.
"The Persian poet Rumi wrote, 'Open your hands if you wish to be held.' Almost the same could be said about M. John Harrison... Open your mind if you wish to be enthralled."—Jonathan Carroll

Few writers have have written better passages with descriptive and poetic prose, especially combined with an estranging vividness "capturing the strange mixture of beauty, banality and menace in everyday life".

"Light" is an aesthetic vision. Imaginative, startling and only barely Science Fiction. OK, it is ha
Tudor Ciocarlie
Jan 13, 2013 Tudor Ciocarlie rated it it was amazing
The most amazing novel! What Harrison creates through this complex three-part storyline, that revolves around the Kefahuchi Tract, a cosmic singularity without an even-horizon that creates rifts in reality, is not only one of the greatest SF books of the last decade, but one of the greatest pieces of literature ever put on paper.
Oct 01, 2013 Andrea rated it it was amazing
oh WOW! Bloody marvellous space opera with multiple threads of space, deep time, life, death, fear, exultation, exploration, mystery, aliens, adventure, discovery, loss and cats.
Confused and fearful at times, the gentle reader is hurtled along space-time with the protagonists.
And what a ride it is.
This is a difficult novel. Harrison's prose is meaty, but that is not where the difficulty lies; his characters are unlikeable, and while that is a challenge, it is not insurmountable. The main difficulty lies in the novel's structure -- much of it is an elaborate smoke screen, ultimately having little to no effect on the resolution. This also makes the novel particularly difficult to review, as its true nature doesn't become evident until the last four chapters, but any mention of what is in th ...more
Jan 06, 2009 Calley rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
I have to admit that I very nearly gave up on this book several times by page 50. It was confusing and at times tedious, and I always had this profound feeling that I just didn't get it (and occasionally that there was nothing to get). But I persisted, and I'm more than glad I did.

The thing that most people find off-putting about Light is its entirely self-concerned structure. Little to no attempt is made to present plot, setting, or character clearly to the reader, at least in the beginning. Th
Michael Burnam-fink
Dec 15, 2011 Michael Burnam-fink rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, 2011
The second best new sci-fi novel I've read this year (after The Wind-Up Girl), Light is an explosive, densely intertwined triple narrative that links the near present with the far future, a psychopathic mathematician with a girl who is a star-ship, and delivers eyeball-kicking writing on every page. This is not an easy or obvious book to read; in some places complications pile up so high that they obscure the plot and the characters, but it is a work of staggering Imagination and Fancy. Light is ...more
One of Neil Gaiman's new Audible picks. Won the Tiptree award for gender exploration. Very 'New Wave-y'.

10% - Lots of complicated realites, and sexually explicit. Takes some effort to follow in the car.

3 main characters (see wikipedia entry

in the present:
Michael Kearny - physicist, killer, masturbater

in the year 2400:
Seria Mau Genlicher - woman linked with a spaceship, not so nice either
Ed Chianese - virtual reality addict or 'twink'

The Shrander - my
Mar 10, 2015 deilann rated it did not like it
Making sense is a stylistic choice. A stylistic choice that this book firmly opted out of. That’s not to say that’s always a bad thing. There are a few books where “not making sense” works rather well. This is not one of them.
M. John Harrison appears to be trying to write cyberpunkish weird fiction and in doing so, misses the mark on both. The cyberpunk isn’t cyberpunk and the weird isn’t weird. It’s just an incoherent far-future what-the-fuckery mess. Now, I usually like the worldbuilding style
Dec 12, 2015 Karissa rated it liked it
I have had this book awhile to read and finally picked it up. It’s a very interesting book but somewhat hard to follow and understand. I am still trying to kind of figure out what happened here.

I listened to this on audiobook. It is part of the Neil Gaiman presents series. The narrator did a decent job of narrating it.

The book follows three main characters. The first is Michael Kearney who is a physicist and serial killer. He thinks he is being chased by a creature called the Schrander and that
Jun 14, 2014 Cecily marked it as to-read
Added because in the acknowledgements of Perdido Street Station, M John Harrison is one of only two authors credited (the other being the wonderful Mervyn Peake).

Comments in the Mievillians group suggest this may be a good one to start with:

Aug 01, 2007 Adam rated it it was amazing
This book will continue to reverberate in your head years after you read...something has entered me from this book but what is it...a must read.
Sep 09, 2015 tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My cat is black and white. I love him both.
Nov 16, 2014 Gwern rated it it was ok
See the top Goodreads review by Evan. Overall, Light is a huge disappointment given the glowing reviews given of it by the likes of Neil Gaiman and previous work of Harrison I've read like Virconium: occasional flash of inspiration in worldbuilding, excellent writing in parts marred by flat descriptions, repetition (particularly anything to do with K-ships), and some deeply questionable approaches to depicting sex.

The three stories come together and intertwine only by a very generous reckoning (
Nigel Bird
Nov 21, 2012 Nigel Bird rated it really liked it
Light is a little different from my usual read, but it came to me highly recommended by a trusted friend and so I went for it.
Essentially, it’s the science-fiction aspect of the book that is my uncharted territory, not that I needed to have worried. M John Harrison has produced a work that is highly engaging throughout and suffuses high drama and tension into an intricate plot that is populated by tremendous characters.
The story is told in three strands which occasionallyoverlap and eventually c
Mark Pantoja
May 23, 2012 Mark Pantoja rated it liked it
Shelves: okay-sci-fi
Here's what I've learned from the M. John Harrison school of writing:

1 - Make sure that secondary characters never directly talk about anything, and be sure that they say plenty of enigmatic statements, by using non-sequitor declarative statements and start/stop conversations abruptly.

2 - It is best to describe physical surroundings and characters well after the reader has made a picture in their own mind. Examples: Shadow Boys are mentioned in the first 10 pages, but are not described until pa
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aka Gabriel King (with Jane Johnson)

Michael John Harrison was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1945 and now lives in London.
Harrison is stylistically an Imagist and his early work relies heavily on the use of strange juxtapositions characteristic of absurdism.

More about M. John Harrison...

Other Books in the Series

Empty Space Trilogy (3 books)
  • Nova Swing (Empty Space Trilogy #2)
  • Empty Space (Empty Space Trilogy #3)

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“Behind all this bad behaviour was an insecurity magnificent in scope, metaphysical in nature. Space was big, and the boys from Earth were awed despite themselves by the things they found there: but worse, their science was a mess. Every race they met on their way through the Core had a star drive based on a different theory. All those theories worked, even when they ruled out one another's basic assumptions. You could travel between the stars, it began to seem, by assuming anything [. . . .]

It was affronting to discover that. So when they fetched up on the edge of the Tract, looked it in the eye, and began to despatch their doomed entradas, the Earthlings were hoping to find, among other things, some answers. They wondered why the universe, which seemed so harsh on top, was underneath so pliable. Anything worked. Wherever you looked, you found. They were hoping to find out why.”
“She was a tall woman with a wide smile,
good tits and a way of licking mayonnaise out the corner of her mouth which suggested she might be
equally good at licking mayonnaise out the corner of yours.”
More quotes…