Thursday, May 17, 2007


Title:Nova Swing
Author:M John Harrison

Vic Serotonin hangs out in Liv Hula's Black Cat White Cat, a public meeting place for his illegal tourist trade. People come to Saudadee, they do the bars, the fights, and sometimes they want to see the Site. But with Lens Aschemann from Site Crime, a detective who looks like an older Einstein, cracking down on the tourist trade, things are difficult. The site, the event site, the zone, the aureole, a part of that KefahuchiTract, an alien phenomena come crashing from the sky, transforming all that it touches - a place that it is hard to enter, and not come out altered in some way, where nothing is as it seems, and what it seems won't stay what it seems for long, where black and white cats stream in and out every day.

Vic abandoned his most recent customer in there, she panicked and ran, he felt he had no other choice but to get himself to safety. Though he brought an artefact with him - a daughter - something which he could sell, but turned out to be dangerous, to be infectious. Aschemann sits in the Cafe Surf, trying to work out where all these 'new' people are coming from - the band plays and the seem to stagger out of the toilets newly formed, unsure of where they are, but picking up the idea pretty quickly. The Cafe Surf backs on to the zone, the 'new' people go looking for drink and sex and good times - by the end of the night they vanish, either returning to the ether or going to go ground within the city. Aschemann is convinced that Vic is smuggling these people in from the zone, Vic has no idea what he is talking about. The zone is changing, the rules are changing, things are going to get strange.

Nova Swing is M. John Harrison's loose sequel to his novel Light, though it is all set on Saudadee, rather than layering threads from the present to the future. Harrison is at his most dizzying and hallucinogenic with Nova Swing, the pace and style reminding of the gleeful bafflement that comes from reading Steve Aylett, perhaps a little more focussed, perhaps more towards the Jeff Noon end of the spectrum. Descriptions of life in Saudade, the suggestions of the zone that are worked throughout the book, before the reader actually enters the zone towards the end, feels claustrophobic and disorientating from our point of view, almost like Mark Z Danielwski's House Of Leaves expanded to take over a planet.

At times Nova Swing feels plotless, rambling, lacking in a linear logic. Undoubtedly this will put readers off; this is not a work for everyone. But damn, Harrison has such a way with words, something which he has developed over his long career, as evidenced in so much of his short story work in recent times (like Light before, there are parts of Nova Swing that are expanded from shorts, that make references to the shorts). With Nova Swing it is the sense of the words, the feel, the texture, the way they get into my head and make me experience his vision, which makes this such an enjoyable reading experience.

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