Once I started reading M. John Harrison’s Nova Swing, winner of the 2007 Clarke and Philip K. Dick Awards, I was convinced that I wouldn’t like it, yet I was motivated to continue reading out of curiosity. After finishing the book, I feel quizzical—Can a person feel a question mark in their mind like they feel a tiny gas bubble in their gut?— The book is definitely surreal. I know that there are parts of the book that I will think about for a long time (see quotes at the end of the blog). On the other hand, I am not sure how to neatly describe the book and I am certainly not sure that I would recommend it. The book is what I sometimes describe as experiential, in that it requires the reader to vividly imagine the setting and what is taking place. This experience is perhaps more important than the plot.
Briefly, Vic Serotonin describes himself as a travel guide to the Saudade event site, which is never neatly defined in the book. It is like a dangerous, living dreamscape. At the beginning of the story, Vic takes a woman into the site and loses her. Later on, she desperately wants Vic to take her back into the site. Vic also illegally sells an artifact from the site. The artifact physically bonds with the courier and begins to turn his body into something strange. Later, it does something similar to the crime boss who procured the artifact from Vic. Another major character is Len Aschemann, a detective who is obsessed with his dead wife. At first he is wants to catch Vic doing something grossly illegal. Later he wants Vic to take him into the site. Len is accompanied by an assistant, who is never given a name despite her importance in parts of the plot. There are assorted other side plots.
Nova Swing is the Sequel to Light, which I did not read. Based on what I have read on the internet, I am not sure it mattered. I think books like Nova Swing are an acquired taste. Part of me wants to bury my head in traditional books and never come out again. Part of me is glad that I had this experience.
I found two beautiful quotes amongst all the surrealism:
Not many people get two chances to be new.
That was how life went. A single moment seemed to extend forever, then suddenly you were snapped out of it. The forward motion of time stretched whatever rubbery glue-like substance had fixed you there until it failed catastrophically. You weren’t the person you were before you were trapped; you weren’t the person you were while you were trapped: the merciless thing about it, Liv discovered, was that you weren’t someone entirely different either.