Nick Tramdack's Reviews > Nova Swing

Nova Swing by M. John Harrison
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's review
Apr 25, 2011

really liked it
Read in December, 2009

Since this book is a sequel to Light, one of my favorite novels, I wanted to love it. Sadly, I only really like it. It lacks the strong plot coherence of Light; very often while reading one Harrison's brilliant lines I was like "That's cool, that's cool, but why here and now? Why is he focusing on THIS?"

There's really something to be said for a more discursive style of novel writing, especially in genres like space opera that have historically been given over to plot at the expense of everything else. Harrison is on the forefront of this movement. In his reviews he's attacked writers like Stephen King for refusing to question a pulp tradition in which all plot elements must be wrapped up at the end of the story and where "ambiguity equals failure." I take this point...

But I think Nova Swing sometimes goes too far in the opposite direction. For instance, late in the book, the detective Aschemann finds "he had developed a small growth on one eyelid. It was fantastically delicate, convoluted and infolded like petals of flesh, and in some lights resembled a rose." If I'm not mistaken, this growth is never mentioned again in the novel. I was okay with 200 pages of this, but by this time, I was rolling my eyes. It seemed like Harrison was just on autopilot here, throwing in roses and a verb-form ("infolded") that begins with "in".

So your enjoyment of this book will probably come down to how much you are willing to forget about a strong suspenseful plotline and focus on everything else... meaning Harrison's riffs on gnosticism, mirrors, cats, and quantum physics.

Like check this out:

"A sun-diver like the Saucy Sal was more mathematics than substance. It didn't really know what to be, and without an active pilot interface would revert instantly to a slurry of nanotech and smart carbon components, a few collapsing magnetic fields. It was in the class of emergent artefacts, a neurosis with an engine. You don't so much fly your hyperdip as nurse it through a programme of dynamic self-reinvention."

Goddamn it, LOOK at that. Harrison thinks he's so fucking smart to use the language of psychoanalysis to talk about technology. I'd love to turn that around to say something bad, but I can't. Because actually, he is that smart.

Not perfect, but more than worth the read.
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