by M. John Harrison
Review by David Brody

What is this "New Weird" thing anyway? I can't answer that, but China Miéville has a partial answer in the December 2003 Locus, so go read that. All I know is that if the result of this imperfect act of naming is writing as darned good as Miéville, Alistair Reynolds and M. John Harrison then label, categorize, generalize and specify as much as you want.

Of course, by now we know that Harrison is about as good as it gets. As a latecomer to the British New Wave of the 60's he managed, very quickly, to redefine fantasy with his Viriconium stories and recreate space opera with The Centauri Device. With Light, a self-admitted attempt to prove that he is still as good as ever, he leads the charge of young energetic British writers who may actually be creating a movement in the form of the New Weird.

But, whether you call a movement New Wave, New Weird or Cyberpunk, all it's ever meant is an attempt to prove that SF and Fantasy can be as literate and polished as any kind of writing. And I think that the point has been proven. In fact, from Ballard to Gibson to Miéville, I think the best writing anywhere in the last forty years or so has been in SF and Fantasy.

Alas, as Ted Sturgeon said "ninety percent of everything is crap", and that remains as true in SF as with anything else: The epic overwhelms the profound, and just plain bad writing keeps at bay the possibility of entertainment with depth. Light, firmly planted in that other ten percent, manages to be epic, entertaining and (God forbid) even profound.

Light has three central characters with very separate but strangely related stories.

Michael Kearny is a deeply troubled physicist in present day England whose work will lead to the discovery of a means of travel to the stars. He has a particularly nasty hobby that I won't give away because it's a nifty surprise delivered by Harrison right on page two. He is pursued by a strange, possibly alien, being called the Shrander.

The other two protagonists exist in a distant future made possible by Kearney's discovery. They live in the glow of a vast impenetrable cloud of gas and light (hence the title) which has driven countless generations of humans and others to unsuccessfully attempt exploration of it's core.

Seria Mau Genlicher is the human heart of a stolen warship made from the technological remnants of a long dead alien civilization. (Harrison has said that she is his answer to Ann McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang.)

Ed Chianese is a virtual reality addict drawn against his will into a compicated web of deceit and manipulation that I can say no more about without giving away too much.

Harrison takes us from one storyline to another, while leaving us a few cleverly planted clues as to their connection, then deftly ties it up in a very satisfying finish. The prose it top notch and the characters have an emotional richness that is a joy to sink your teeth into.

Light won't be out in the US until September, but you can get the British edition at Amazon UK. It's worth the poor exchange rate and high cost of shipping. While there you can dig deeper into the New Weird. Weird it is, not altogether new, but awfully good.

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