November 5th, 2004, 05:56 AM
I quote myself from October 12:
Well, I'm finally done with Light now and can honestly say I don't know what the fuss was about. I don't know why it would be anyone's favorite book of the year, much less anyone's favorite book of the decade, much less why it would be Neil Gaiman's favorite book of the decade. Yes, the writing was sometimes very good, and yes, there were interesting turns of phrase. Considering the current state of the art, I should add that it wasn't bloated. However, the characters were mostly unbelievable, the random uncaring killing and the random uncaring sex were depressing (and not artistically done, though maybe that was the point), I never got a decent sense of the future world or society supposedly being portrayed, and the ending was stunningly unsatisfactory--not that anyone is probably expecting satisfaction anymore if they've read that far.
I do sort of wonder what I missed with... minor spoiler... the scientists both figuring out the big discovery (as you look back from the more future timelines) and not seeming to make it at all (in the more present-day timeline).
Was there some meaning there that I was supposed to find both chic and insightful? Because it didn't work, though it did leave me plenty confused.
As for positive points, I definitely liked the white cat / black cat imagery, and the Shrander. I liked Annie Glyph. I think Neil Gaiman probably liked the shadow operators. But that's not a long list to stack up against the price of a new trade paperback and a much longer list of things I outright hated.
It's funny--even after reading everyone else's thoughts I still don't have anything to say. Knowing I would never read it again, I traded this book off to a friend soon after making the post.
November 12th, 2004, 11:25 AM
I'm still trying to figure out: what purpose did it serve to have the main character be a serial killer? Was it to show that genius and insanity are related? To show that his psychosis had no relation to his genius? To show that his psychosis had no relation to the fact that he was being follwed by an honest-to-god alien entity?
Basically, was this a SF vehicle for a character study of an extremely distrubed individual, or was it crucial that an extremely disturbed individual moved the SF plot forward?
Maybe some of the writers around might have more insight as to why people choose to write the characters they do?
November 12th, 2004, 07:48 PM
Archren, I think it served the story and the themes, particularly the theme of alienation. I don't think anybody could be much more outside of society that an serial killer. I think somebody, rather prudishly IMHO, mentioned they were annoyed by the use of the word f*ck to describe the sex in the book. The sex was both physically and emotionally violent, a lonely and alienating act, and the word was perfect for conveying this.
I think the critcism that there are no sympathetic characters in the book is valid. But I could actually recognise some of myself in each of those people.
November 12th, 2004, 11:52 PM
You're probably certainly right about the f-word throughout the book, Mono, although the sex between Ed Chianese and the rickshaw girl wasn't as soul-crushingly depressing as the rest of the sex, and I belive it was used there as well.
It is easy to say that one of the themes is alienation, but what does the book tell us about alienation? How does it further our understanding of it? I mean, the fact that serial killers are ultimately alienated while physics Ph.D.s are also mildly alienated isn't really news, you know?
I am personally horrible at picking apart themes and motifs in literature (physics person like I am, although a PhD is a little beyond my purview at the moment), so I am really curious to see how other people might see deeper currents in this than I do.
November 13th, 2004, 04:45 AM
I will go even further and say what purpose did any of the book serve ?
I felt it was totally devoid of entertainment qualities, though I know some may have enjoyed the stylized and oddly structured settings. If you look at it as something that is primarily about alienation and modern society - where did it offer anything new or interesting ? Where did it have anything to say that others haven't ? How can it have any meaning for everyday people who live everyday lives ?
November 13th, 2004, 11:21 AM
OK, I was thinking about this for quite awhile, and I figured something out:
When you look at the book through that theme of alienation, you see that Seira Mau is a ridiculously over-extended metaphor about the fact that abuse victims who wall themselves off from the universe repress their very human feelings, and because of that repression end up lashing out at people who love them/can help them. That alone probably explains why the book won the Tiptree award.
Then there's Ed Chianese, an alienated individual who is helped by the love of an "innocent" (Annie, who having "died" and been "reborn" qualifies for a second attempt at child-like innocence). And as we all know from "Catcher in the Rye" (another book that I really hated), one of the only cures for alienation is the love of an innocent (Caulfield's little sister).
However, this heavy-handed moralizing shoved into an SF story made for a less-than-enthralling SF story, which I still say didn't really work for me. Obviously it made an impression, since I'm still thinking about it, but I think someone like Cordwainer Smith handled grand themes like this without compromisng on the entertainment value of the pure SF story.
And I still don't understand what Harrison was going for with the really unrealistic Kearny plot.
November 23rd, 2004, 08:21 PM
I too was ambivalent about this book. I finished it less than a week ago and I am reminded of Neal Stephenson on Slashdot.
Look at his response to the second question. LIGHT is clearly on the 'Dante' side of the divide, whereas we at sffworld are mainly 'Beowulf'. I found LIGHT vaguely entertaining, literate but not gripping; a page-turner this was not. This would be the sort of book that makes a university course 'required reading' list. I don't deny that it was well written. At times I engaged with the characters but the feeling of alienation (as previously mentioned) pervades the book.
I could go on about the themes, the subtext, the symbology, the black/white cat dichotomies. It was laden with 'meaning'. LIGHT, for what it's worth, is 'serious writing'.
As a read, I rate it 6/10 for enjoyment; 8/10 for quality of writing - that's 'quality' in terms of Literature (with a capital 'L'). Overall, a 7/10. But I would be reticent about recommending it.
P.S. Look at Neal Stephenson's answer to question four as well; actually the whole thing is a delightful read.
December 29th, 2005, 06:53 PM
Sadly I can't I really hated the book. I was really excited about it after reading an interview with M. John Harrison in which he explained why he wrote Space Opera. It was brilliant and compelling. So I bought "Light" expecting Space Opera and I was completely dissapointed when I found... something completely different I found the whole book absurd and meaningless. Oh, yes, and quite boring most of the time.
Originally Posted by Archren
About Kearny, I have read somewhere that it was a kind of homage to "The dice man" by Luke Reinhart (a book which I couldn't finish, I must confess).
January 2nd, 2006, 07:20 PM
definitely in the 'not impressed' camp
This was given to me by my father-in-law, he bought it mainly because the front cover says:-
Light is brilliant - Iain M Banks
now if Mr Banks meant that physical light is actually brilliant then I owe him an apology, otherwise he owes my father-in-law £6.99!!! He had to give up on this about a quarter of the way through but handed it on to me without mentioning this.
Well I finished this, barely, and found it to be one of the worst reads I have ever come across. Does he have some good ideas - yes, can he construct some great sentences - yes, but can he tell a good story - emphatically no! Most of us could sit there and sweat the thesaurus, and various literary tricks, to produce some good looking flowery prose. Flesh these out with some sketchy ideas, add in some poor characters and, hey presto, you've got Light.
What puzzles me is the fact that this book contains so many facets that I normally like. His ability to combine them so badly may actually be an ahievement in itself.
February 16th, 2007, 12:49 PM
To be brutally honest, working my way through this book felt not unlike patiently waiting out the drunken ramblings of a friend. A deep-thinking, well-spoken friend who yammers on a little too long. Say, about a week. I didn't mind the back and forth between the different stories so much but was confused within the bodies of the three. The Ed storyline was the only one that seemed to progress whereas as the other two felt frustratingly static. I suppose it wasn't helped by the fact that the characters seemed more symbolic constructs designed to convey a theme rather than the more grounded characters of a traditional narrative. Which wouldn't be a bad thing if this was a short story but, even at a fairly modest 320 pages, Light felt frustratingly long. Harrison introduces some truly "out there" concepts - the think thank, the former human turned ship, the Kefahuchi Tract - but then remains cryptic throughout. A wasted opportunity and, ultimately, a very frustrating read.
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