Sf and Gender Module Week 10: M. John Harrison, Light (2002)

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

First published in New Worlds (1968) for which he was for a time literary editor. First novel The Committed Men (1971) a post-holocaust story. Second novel The Pastel City (1971) a "Dying Earth" science fantasy featuring his symbolic city of "Viriconium". Third novel The Centauri Device a "disgruntled space opera" (John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction).

Associated for a time with the Manchester-based publisher Savoy Books.

Later fiction brought a more abstract style and a more thorough engagement with the "real" world as well as (e.g. "The Ice Monkey") reflecting his passion for rock climbing. Novels and stories such as The Course of the Heart and "The Incalling" present dark urban landscapes haunted by occultism: Harrison has mentioned the influence of Arthur Machen. In stories like "Egnaro" and "A Young Man's Journey to Viriconium" (significantly retitled "A Young Man's Journey to London") we have a refusal of fantasy, or a refusal of the "closure" that fantasy can provide: "Most of my short stories are portal fantasies but you are not allowed through into the imaginary country, you're not allowed to believe in the fantasy." (Vector 226)

Three strands of Light: the tales of Michael Kearney, Seria Mau, and Ed Chianese, guided by the being who is the Shrander, Sandra Shen, and Dr Haends to open up the Kefahuchi Tract. (Another "portal"?)

Or: Kearney's damaged sexuality: Seria Mau's flight from the body to "become" a starship (see Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang): the childhood of Seria Mau and Ed Chianese.

The Tiptree website: "All the characters are shaped in ways that very specifically have to do with the structuring and exploration of gender. The male characters are in love with ostentatious masculinity as a thing that's sometimes joyful and sometimes horrifying; the female characters are often consumed with fierce denial of their bodies and their own femaleness."

* An exploration of gender: what is discovered is not necessarily pleasant.

Also one of the book's (and Harrison's) major themes is desire: wanting things to be "different". Desire implies choice, and choice implies denial of alternatives? n.b. how many of the characters are driven by denial rather than desire. Kearney denies his sexuality and his relationships with others; Seria Mau denies her body: "I don't want a body ...... I don't want those feelings a body has." (p. 31) Desire also implies an engagement with fantasy (see above): "We live in a culture which promises us a constant fantasy-reconstruction of ourselves." (Interview with Gabriel Chouinard on http://www.sfsite.com/12b/mjh142.htm

Echoes of MJH's previous fictions in Sprake ("The Incalling") but also of previous space opera (on faster-than-light travel: "All those theories worked, even when they ruled out one another's basic assumptions.", p. 139) More quantum virtuality?

How much of the story is "real", how much is exploration of a kind of virtual reality? The black and white cats? Anna Kearney and Anna Glyph? The Shrander's revelation that "We built you, Ed." (p. 315) The focus on the "dice" which Kearney has "stolen" from the Shrander, which turn out to be a game, a trivial enigma:
"So what do they do?"
"We never found that out either."

Reviews of Light by Cheryl Morgan and John Clute in Foundation 86.
"The Committed Man: M. John Harrison talks to Nicholas Royle" in Interzone 122 (Aug 1997)
Mark Bould, "Old, Mean and Misanthropic -- an Interview with M. John Harrison" in Vector 226 (Nov/Dec 2002)
M. John Harrison, "The Profession of Science Fiction" in Foundation 46 (Winter 1989)
China Mieville, "The Limits of Vision(aries)" in Vector 226 (Nov/Dec 2002)

And see Adam Roberts's review of Light on Infinity Plus:
"The fact that Kearney kills only women seems to pick out a larger misogynistic aspect of the novel, expressed chiefly in scenes in which violence is directed towards women."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

shrander / dr haends / sandra shen.

If you look at these names, they are partial anagrams of each other. "shrander" doubles the "r", "dr haends" doubles the "d" and "sandra shen" doubles both the "s" and "n".

The only un-doubled consonant is "r" - so doubling that... "her hands" ? I wonder...

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