STATS: BOOK / M. John Harrison / 418pp. / 2002
Just a total wormhole. The closest that any work of fiction, really any work of anything, has ever come to impressing upon me the taste and feel of legitimate immortality — it’s froth and sparks and shards of light on the inside of the inside of a … anything short of the whole book makes it sound cheesy or like nothing, but I read the end on a plane and was ready for whatever could come.
I was once told to steer clear of Harrison because his fiction “reeks of a certain miserabilist Midlands attitude one moves to London in hopes of escaping,” but this is either not true or else that miserabilist Midlands attitude is a potent fund. I mean, the book is grim — “Looking back into Soho Square, he watched the schizophrenics passing his sandwiches from hand to hand, peeling them apart to examine the filling.” — but good-grim, the kind that’s both good to take a soak in and really good to spray through the bottom of and enter a kind of freefall into a world under the world that then lets out into a universe that makes a case for being the real universe even though we can only ever catch a faint glimmer of it and even that is close to too much.
LIGHT is a great quantum book about the extremeness of what’s real. It’s both three books in one and the first book in a trilogy:
You get Seria Mau, a space-chick who’s somehow melded herself with her spaceship so that its “mathematics” (which I think is Harrison-speak for “whatever the universe boils down to when it can boil down no more”) responds to her inmost — or probably actually vice versa — desires, with lots of holographic erotica outside the tank she’s confined to. Then you get Chinese Ed, lending the trinity its hardest boiled noir as he roams the bounty-hunter infested streets and freak circuses of the far future, in and out of the Twink Tanks that placate people from the abject kind of like how I remember the things in Strange Days working. And then, actually first of the three, you get Michael Kearney, a serial killer and science genius and the only guy around in the present day as opposed to the 25th century — relating both a surprisingly poignant and viable saga of young male lostness and bad-tending soul-searching, as well as the discovery of the Kefahuchi Tract, a feature of the universe that somehow enables all of the above to connect up.
So it’s really a book about wish-fulfillment, about shirking reality through training-wheel, baby-stuff type sex and drug and fantasy options for a while, and then sucking it up and plunging way in, down to where all of what had seemed like all of life before now seems like something that went in one ear and out the other: “They wondered why the universe, which seemed so harsh on top, was underneath so pliable. Wherever you looked, you found.” It goes to some of the most genuinely distant-feeling places I’ve ever felt a book go to since Narnia went when I was 4.
But the best thing about LIGHT is the Shrander, an embodied Weltgeist type evil thing that dogs everyone, in one way or another, without letting up. There’s lots of casting of bone dice and gnostic superstitious interpretative attempts — of the sort that I’ve been led to believe Harrison gets more into in his more earthbound/religiously macabre The Course of the Heart, which, from what I’ve heard, sounds like a way scarier and probably all-around better version of Donna Tartt’s already pretty good The Secret History — but the thing can’t be shaken or parsed.
You don’t get to know what the Shrander is or what it wants (its head looks not like a horse’s head but like a horse’s skull, which looks more like a giant bird’s head), but you do get to live out one of the best and scariest accounts of dogging / being dogged to be lived anywhere short of its actually happening to you — which, if you buy LIGHT even a little, you’ll agree is actually happening to you and will continue.
I always want to call him Mr. John Harrison, both b/c that’s how his name looks and b/c he deserves it for being formidable.
“Out there on the surface, among the strange low mounds and buried artefacts, he prepared for surgery.”