The OF Blog: Best of 2007 Countdown: M. John Harrison, Nova Swing

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Best of 2007 Countdown: M. John Harrison, Nova Swing

Many of the finalists for my Best of 2007 list have written works that either have vivid characterizations or contain imagined vistas that are so strange and warped that it is impossible to think that the "normal" laws of physics (or anything else) can be presumed to apply. M. John Harrison's kinda-sorta-but-not-really sequel to 2002/2004'a Light, Nova Swing (released in 2006 in the UK but only in October here in the US) is an excellent example of the second.

In turns an exploration/detective novel and a dark comedy, this novel goes further into exploring the weirdness that emanates from the mysterious Kefahuchi Tract, as one part of it has somehow "split off" and fallen to Earth, in a place called the Saudade Event Site (more on this place's etymological meaning in my first review). But since this is a post about elements that appealed to me, I'll let new readers glance through my first review while I cite a passage from page 40 in the US paperback edition:

Among the litter in the apartment Vic kept a Bakelite telephone with cloth-covered cables and a bell that rang. Everyone had one that year; Vic's was as cheap as everything else he owned. Just after he finished shaving, the bell rang and he got a call from a broker named Paulie DeRaad, which he was expecting. The call was short, and it prompted Vic to open a drawer, from which he took out two objects wrapped in rag. One was a gun. The other was harder to describe - Vic sat by the window in the fading light, unwrapping it thoughtfully It was about eighteen inches long, and as the rag came off it seemed to move. That was an illusion. Low-angled light, in particular, would glance across the object's surface so that for just a moment it seemed to flex in your hands. It was half bone, half metal, or perhaps both at the same time; or perhaps neither.

He had no idea what it was. When he found it, two weeks before, it had been an animal, a one-off thing no one but him would ever see, white, hairless, larger than a dog, first moving away up a slope of rubble somewhere in the event site, then back towards him as if it had changed its mind and become curious about what Vic was. It had huge human eyes. How it turned from an animal into the type of object he finally picked up, manufactured out of this wafery artificial substance which in some lights looked like titanium and in others bone, he didn't know. He didn't want to know.
Passages such as this are not going to appeal to everyone. Those who like meticulous explanations for everything under the sun will not be enchanted by Harrison's narrative; they will think it bunk and might just loudly declaim it to those of a like mind. But for those of us such as myself who find themselves caught up in the rhythm of these passages, fascinated or horrified by such "monstrosities," reading a book such as Nova Swing becomes a real delight. It is for this reason that I added this book to my shortlist for the Best Novel of 2007 (US release, again, obviously).

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