Sunday, 15 June 2008

Nova Swing - M John Harrison

M John Harrison is, to my mind, one of the most under-rated authors alive today. His prose is rich and unselfconscious and he produces smooth, complex work. He conjures place, atmosphere, and character like a… I was going to write ‘magician’, but there is no sleight of hand here, and the only smoke and mirrors are those he writes about.

A sequel, of sorts, to the equally brilliant (sorry) Light, Nova Swing reads a bit like Roadside Picnic as written by Dashiell Hammett. It is cool, dark, a fable of the seamy side of life, lived in bars and fight clubs, docksides and beachfront promenades, mostly at night and into the early hours. But it is Harrison’s own book, very much his own. The world he creates is made believable in the detail – so much like our own world, yet so very different.

There will be many who never get to see this book as it will, if it is there at all, be in the science fiction section. Forget that. Ignore it. Harrison writes fiction. Excellent fiction. Some of it just happens to be set in exotic locations that are so beautifully drawn, it is breathtaking.

This is not a novel about spaceships and alien invasions. It is a novel of atmospheres, a tale of people making the best of their lives in unusual circumstances. These people are so finely observed I would not in the least be surprised to find that Harrison had lived on Straint Street for a year, drinking in the Black Cat White Cat, scribbling endlessly in his journals just like Emil, following Vic up and possibly into the zone. I, for one, hope there is enough material for another visit to Saudade.