27 August 2004

Light Again

North American readers have been impoverished, not having been able to read one of the best science fiction novels ever written: Light by M. John Harrison. Follow the link from the title there, though, and you can order the new Spectra edition.

Yes, I'm shilling for this book, I'm exhorting you to buy it, I'm threatening you with eternal damnation if you don't. Not because Harrison or his publicists or anyone told me to -- I've had no contact with any of them, and I would have been much more reluctant to speak so vociferously if I had. I wrote about Light back in March, and I have since been rereading it very slowly, trying to put together thoughts for what will, if the heat death of the universe doesn't arrive before I complete it, be a long essay about Harrison's recent novels. The experience of rereading Light has only made me respect the book more, because I am doing to it the sort of close reading I have done for only a few books in the past ... things by people named Shakespeare, Swift, Chekhov, and Faulkner. And the book can bear that kind of reading. It is that rich.

There's more than a book at stake here, though. That a major publisher like Spectra is willing to take a risk on a book like Light, a book that is likely to seem alienating and disturbing to the kinds of people who only want nothing more from a novel than easy entertainment or escape, is noteworthy. They aren't going to do it often, and they might be wary of ever doing it again if the book doesn't at least make back some of its investment. Much as I love the small presses, I don't want them to be the only source of rich and challenging writing.

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