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Nova Swing by M. John Harrison
Review by Andrea Johnson
Bantam Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553385014
Date: 25 September 2007 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

A generation after Ed Chianese burned out, and Seria Mau tried to get her body back, Harrison introduces us to a new group of scared, lonely, and often pathetic people, who spend their days reliving past dreams. The sequel to Light, Nova Swing is when everyone is familiar with K-ships that go faster than light, franchises of Uncle Zip on every corner to genetically modify you into anything you want to be, and the tear in space time down the street? Been there since before I was born, nothing unusual about it. An intellectual mystery with that old school film noir feeling, full of the fluid, simile ridden writing style Harrison fans have come to expect, Nova Swing feels so normal in some ways, yet strange and alien in others.

A travel agent of sorts, a police inspector and his unnamed assistant, a prize fighter's widow, a bar owner, a burned out adventurer and his musician daughter, and an unusually shy client collide in the city of Saudade, full of dives, alleys, and burn outs. Saudade is neighbor to the "Event Site", also known as the Saudade Event, where spacetime was torn, where physics, time, and senses go bad. You can walk right through the Site's event horizon, and don't worry, nothing in there can kill you, or at least it hasn't killed anyone yet.

Vic Serotonin acts as travel agent/tour guide to people who wish to enter the Event Site, illegally of course. He won't charge you much, but he also won't chase you down or search for you, should you refuse to follow his directions and take a wrong turn within the site. While within the site, Vic sees a strange, albino dog-like creature with hauntingly human eyes, he approaches the animal, only to have it turn into a bone like material. Not knowing it's worth, or even what it is, Vic takes the artifact to Paulie DeRaad, the local gangster/club owner turned illegal artifact broker. For his worst offense of selling illegal artifacts from the site, Vic gains the attention of detective Lens Aschemann, a lonely man who is still pining for his agoraphobic wife, dead many years now. Strange things have been coming out of the site, strange things have been walking out of the site, in human bodies, and for love of his deceased wife, Aschemann is going to figure out what is going on. In Paulie's possession, the new artifact attacks one of his boys, trying to meld with him, a trainwreck of grotesque bio-cyber rape. Insulted and infected, Paulie happily sells Vic out to Aschemann. As much as Aschemann wants to arrest Vic, he would prefer being led into the Site first.

Literate and visually stunning, Nova Swing is more style piece than plot driven. The most chronologically clear of any Harrison novel I've read, and taking place in a fairly limited geographical area, the action is fun and easy to follow. Harrison takes pains to dive deep into the history and psyche's of our characters. We know what drives Aschemann, what drives Vic and the other site adventurers. What you don't know, and will never find out, is pretty much exactly what is going on. Many plot-lines, both major and minor, are never finished. Many characters don't get closure. First time Harrison readers may be turned off by this, but he's done it before, and it wasn't a surprise for me. As entertaining as Nova Swing is, I feel it was missing some of the Harrison magic I'm used to. The chronology was too clear, the physics worked too well. I'm used to Harrison playing inside the event site, in twisted gravity and misleading time frames. If you enjoy SF-noir, cybertech, wormholes and computer code with a life of it's own, you will probably enjoy Nova Swing, however I do suggest reading Light first.

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