Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nova Swing By M. John Harrison

If you are a fan of the latest wave of noir SF, you are probably familiar with M. John Harrison, author of Nova Swing, the 2007 winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award, UK’s premier prize for science fiction literature.

This is a brilliantly painful book, unrelenting in its focus on bleak and grim characters, trapped either by their past or their present circumstances. The novel is populated with minions, molls, bar keeps and genetically-modified rickshaw girls all living on the borderlands of the city of Saudade, near the so-called “event site”, an anomaly of space and time that was caused when parts of the Kefahuchi Tract fell to the ground of a planet 10,000 light years from Earth.

Like all good noir, it starts with a gal in a bar in need of some help. The year is 2444 AD and Elizabeth Kielar needs something from the crash zone. Vic is the man who is going to help her. Vic Seratonin is a dangerous tour operator, who takes his clients into the ever-changing event site, often leaving with contraband artifacts he fences through Paulie DeRaad. Lens Aschemann is the Site Crime detective charged with halting this illegal trade. During his investigations of Vic and Paulie, he begins to suspect something even bigger is going on and coming out of the bathrooms at the CafĂ© Surf. And that doesn’t even begin to explain the streams of black and white cats that flow out of the site periodically.

I’m not sure this is a likable book. It is a cruel book, mysterious and unsettling. It makes you think … hard. It haunts me. Shades of Burroughs, Ballard and Dick, if that’s your thing, you’ll want to check this out. Highly recommended.

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