Light (novel)

Light (novel)

infobox Book |
name = Light
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First UK edition cover
author = M. John Harrison
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre =
publisher = Gollancz
release_date = 31 October 2002
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback and Paperback)
pages = 336 pp
isbn = 0-575-07025-0
preceded_by =
followed_by = Nova Swing

"Light" is a science fiction novel written by M. John Harrison and published in 2002. It won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award that same year.

Plot summary

The book centres on the lives of three individuals - the physicist (and serial killer) Michael Kearney, on the verge of a breakthrough in theoretical physics sometime in 1999; Seria Mau Genlicher, the cybernetically-altered female pilot of a "K-ship", and the ex-space pilot and adventurer Ed Chianese. Seria Mau and Ed's stories take place in the year 2400 AD.

The lives of these three individuals are linked in many ways, though most tangibly by the presence of a mysterious creature called The Shrander, who appears in many guises to all three characters throughout the novel. They are also linked by the Kefahuchi Tract, a space-time anomaly described as "a singularity without an event horizon", an object of awe and wonder that has been the ruin of many civilisations attempting to decode its mysteries.

The Shrander takes many forms, but the one she prefers appears to human eyes as the body of an old woman in a maroon wool coat, with a horse's skull for a head. It is hinted that this approximates to her original form. Harrison appears to have taken his inspiration for this strange entity from the legend of the Mari Lwyd, a creature with a horse's skull for a head, bedecked in ribbons, that features in the ancient folklore of Gwent and Glamorgan.

Elements of Light originally surfaced in Harrison's short fiction, particularly the stories "The Horse of Iron and How We Can Know It" and "The Incalling". The former contains prototypes of the Shrander and Kearney characters, whilst the latter deals with the Sprakes, a clan of dubious urban magicians. Both stories are available in the collected volume of Harrison's short fiction, "Things That Never Happen".

References and Allusions

There are at least two allusions to the world of mountaineering in the book: the cruiser named "Touching the Void" and the remark by Chianese that "You don't get the tick unless you come back". There are also several references to The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, most notably the borrowed line about the vacuum of space "smelling of lemons". Seria Mau Genlicher's name is almost certainly a reference to Sarah Michelle Gellar, and at one point Kearney's partner Brian Tate reflects on watching reruns of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Several of the chapters are also named after rock songs or albums. Agents of Fortune is an album by Blue Oyster Cult, and Tumbling Dice is named after the Rolling Stones song. In addition, the street gang who are assigned to find Ed Chianese in New Venusport are called The Skeleton Keys of the Rain, after a Bob Dylan lyric.


Harrison wrote a partial sequel, "Nova Swing", which was published in 2006. Set a generation after the events of "Light", it deals with characters alluded to in the first novel, including Liv Hula, who "flew dipships" with Ed Chianese.

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