It is some time after Ed Chianese's trip into the Kefahuchi Tract. A major industry of the Halo is now tourism. The Tract has begun to expand and change, but, more problematically, parts of it have also begun to fall to earth, piecemeal, on the Beach planets. We are in a city, perhaps on New Venusport or Motel Splendido: next to the city is the event site, the zone, from out of which pour new, inexplicable artefacts, organisms and escapes of living algorithm - the wrong physics loose in the universe. They can cause plague and change. An entire department of the local police, Site Crime, exists to stop them being imported into the city by adventurers, entradistas, and the men known as 'travel agents', profiteers who can manage - or think they can manage -the bad physics, skewed geographies and psychic onslaughts of the event site. But now a new class of semi-biological artefact is finding its way out of the site, and this may be more than anyone can handle.
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Years after Ed Chianese's fateful trip into the Kefahuchi Tract, the tract has begun to expand and change in ways we never could have predicted--and, even more terrifying, parts of it have actually begun to fall to Earth, transforming the landscapes they encounter.
Not far from Moneytown, in a neighborhood of underground clubs, body-modification chop shops, adolescent contract killers, and sexy streetwalking Monas, you'll find the Saudade Event Site: a zone of strange geography, twisted physics, and frightening psychic onslaughts--not to mention the black and white cats that come pouring out at irregular intervals.
Vic Serotonin is a "travel agent" into and out of Saudade. His latest client is a woman who's nearly as unpredictable as the site itself--and maybe just as dangerous. She wants a tour just as a troubling new class of biological artifacts are leaving the site--living algorithms that are transforming the world outside in inexplicable and unsettling ways. Shadowed by a metaphysically inclined detective determined to shut his illegal operation down, Vic must make sense of a universe rapidly veering toward a virulent and viral form of chaos ... and a humanity almost lost.
Questions for M. John Harrison
Amazon.com: You've returned to the same setting as Light with Nova Swing, but Nova Swing isn't really a sequel, right?
Harrison: It's a kind of companion piece. It's less sprawling than Light. It could be read independently but there's some interplay, which you would miss if you hadn't read the other book. I wanted to revisit the genetically-modified servants and entertainers--the prostitutes, gladiators, rickshaw girls, and gun-kiddies--and show them as more human than some of the human beings. A key element I wanted to extend from the first book was the idea of human behaviour as code, further undermining conventional ideas we have of personality, character, and consciousness. I liked the idea of a kind of life based on complex algorithms which can run themselves on any platform. The Kefahuchi Code is imagined as preceding physics in some way. Reality is just another substrate it can run on.
Amazon.com: If a reader came up to you and asked you what Nova Swing was about, what would you say?
Harrison: It's about being a meme and not knowing it. The set-up is this: we are on one of the Beach planets. A generation--perhaps two--after Ed Chianese took his ship The Black Cat off the Beach and into the Kefahuchi Tract, part of the Tract has fallen to earth in a city called Saudade. It's a zone of the unreliable. It's infected with K-code: or maybe it is K-code, the wrong physics loose in the universe. Everyone is drawn to the "event site" like moths to a flame, from failed entradista Vic Serotonin to middle class tourist Elizabeth Keilar; from Vic's friend Pauli DeRaad, ex vacuum commando and all-round Earth Military Contracts factotum, to Lens Aschemann the dissociated police detective. They're all looking for something their lives don't show them. But for everyone who goes in, something new and weird is coming out...
Amazon.com: You've written novels with contemporary settings, novels that mix the contemporary and SF, like Light, and then something like Nova Swing, which is all set in the future. What is it that attracts you to the SF element?
Harrison: SF is an opportunity to have an intense relationship with your own imagination. It's a kind of drive-by poetry, trashy and addictive; it's fun. After that, for me, it's an opportunity to explore that kind of imaginative artifact from inside, and use a little camped-up contemporary science as a way of generating new metaphors around my typical obsessions. While I agree with almost everything that Geoff Ryman and the Mundanes say about SF, I can't join them because I find it impossible to assign different levels of plausibility to acts of the imagination. If you limit yourself on the grounds that faster-than-light travel isn't "realistic," you might as well go whole hog and write only fiction set on the street where you live; if you limit yourself to that, you might as well go whole hog and write nothing but nonfiction; if you limit yourself to that, you might as well go whole hog, admit that writing is not the real world--and can't even successfully represent the real world--and give it up altogether. I'd be happy to do that, and indeed I've already done all of those things more than once in the last 40 years. But if you're going to write SF in the first place, why not lie back, admit it's a farrago, and enjoy it? I think there's a great deal to be gained from revaluing and enjoying the distinction between the invented and the real. As long as you maintain that, SF's a great genre.
Amazon.com: When you start a new novel, is it easier every time because you've got more experience each time?
Harrison: If you were trying to solve the same problems every time, I think it would get easier. But if you can maintain a complex relationship with who you are, and always let form show you what you could say (rather than going the rationalist route of selecting a form that fits the things you already expect to be saying), the next book will always be a challenge. Whatever you do, it's hard to escape your typical subject matter and obsessions. The main thing is to look for situations in which you can make bad decisions, otherwise you're writing from a template.
Amazon.com: You read and review a lot of novels for English media. What's most disappointed you and/or most surprised you in a good way recently?
Harrison: I didn't enjoy House of Meetings. I thought Amis's need to add literary value obscured the human facts of the Gulag. By the opposite token, Dave Eggers's What Is the What is one of the most powerful and affecting books I've read, precisely because he doesn't let his own needs and abilities overshadow the work the book is doing. Though I was a bit sniffy with it in the Times Literary Supplement, I really rather enjoyed my encounter with The Dictator and the Hammock, by Daniel Pennac. Pennac is as intrusive an author as Amis, but that's part of the contract: you don't read him, you have a lively argument with him then lose your temper because he was gaming you all along. Someone else who is gaming you, in a different way, is Chuck Palahniuk. I adored Rant, though I found its voice a bit overpowering by the end. Apart from the Eggers, the books I've liked most recently haven't been books I've reviewed: Ali Smith, The Accidental; Houellebecq's Atomised [The Elementary Particles in the US]; The Mistress's Daughter by A.M. Homes.
Amazon.com: What projects are you working on now?
Harrison: I'm writing a collection of short stories. I'm foraging about in the set-up for the next novel, trying to set enough limits for it to be writeable. I've been blogging at Uncle Zip's Window. (That turned out to be a project in itself.) I recently wrote some stories for Barbara Campbell's web-based durational performance 1001 Nights Cast; and, along with Tim Etchells, Deborah Levi, Jo Randerson, and Richard Maxwell, generated text for a performance by Kate McIntosh (Loose Promise), which premieres in Berlin later this year. The 1001 Nights rules encourage you to write quickly, relinquish control of the product, give up the obsessive write/rewrite cycle. Challenging for someone like me.About the Author:
M. John Harrison is the award-winning author of eight previous novels and four collections of short stories. His fifth novel, Viriconium, was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize and his sixth, Climbers, won the Boardman Tasker Award. Light was recently awarded the James Tiptree Jr. Award and shortlisted for the 2002 Arthur C. Clarke Award.
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