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Literature: Light

Light is a science fiction novel by former New Wave writer M. John Harrison, first published in 2002.

It centers around three main characters connected to the Kefahuchi Tract and its secrets. Michael Kearney is a mathematician in London, 1999, on his way to discovering a defining piece of FTL Travel; he’s also a serial killer running from a shadowy creature he calls the Shrander. Seria Mau Genlicher is a girl who became a spaceship in the space-faring future; recently she got her hands on a mysterious box that could be the key to being human again. Ed Chianese is a junkie getting tossed into transient relationships, but he keeps encountering a woman named Madame Shen who will show him the future.

Light was succeeded in 2008 by a sort-of sequel, Nova Swing. It takes place in the same universe, but only has one shared character, Liv Hula.


Light contains the following tropes:

  • Ace Pilot / Badass Driver Like sister, like brother: both Seria Mau and Ed.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst – Seria Mau, in losing her mother and being sexually abused by her father.
  • Alien Sky – Redline
  • Animal Motifs – Cats: white for Seria Mau, black for Ed.
  • Arc Words – “Sparks in everything”, “Wherever you look, you find” / “There’s always more after that”, and the Shrander’s anagram alternate names.
  • Artificial Human – The shadow operators create one when they make a cultivar for Seria Mau to use, though it doesn’t do anything.
  • Bad Dreams – All the POV characters, at least: Kearney, Seria Mau, and Ed. Special mention to Ed, though, since his get paired up with childhood memories and prophesies of war.
  • Black Box The Dr. Haends box seems to be useless and simply a MacGuffin to fight over, but it turns out it’s part of the Shrander, and becomes the tool for Seria Mau’s transformation.
  • Blessed with Suck – Seria Mau wanted to be a spaceship, and escape being human. Now, her body is crippled and unable to feel, locked in a tank – but she does indeed integrate as much as is humanly possible with a ship.
  • Body Horror – Seria Mau (and other K-pilots) can’t move, has numerous broken-and-healed-wrong bones, is blind physically but can see via the ship’s cameras, is wired with IVs, is suspended in a tank full of liquid like warm saliva, is wrinkled and shrunken, and still has human needs like being touched, but can’t ever touch anyone again.
  • Brain Uploading – Pairs with Artificial Human somewhat, yielding the cultivars. Annie Glyph chooses this route after she helps Ed get rid of Bella Cray, turning herself from the heavily-muscled rickshaw girl into the petite blonde Mona. (Though, one never gets a description of how one makes a cultivar, so it could equally be a form of plastic surgery instead.)
  • Brilliant, but Lazy – Ed, at first, though eventually he gets better.
  • Cats Are Mean – subverted; cats are the mascots of the Light ‘verse and generally portrayed in a neutral-to-good light.
  • Chekhov's Skill – Ed used to fly dipships, and "flew all of them, except for one." Guess what he flies at the end?
  • Children Are Innocent – subverted; All K-pilots are excellent at their jobs, which are all military-based and involve killing, and the indoctrination process that makes them K-pilots leaves them broken and perennially thirteen, without the ability to grow up.
  • Cloning Blues Billy Anker, a clone of Uncle Zip.
  • Comm Links – A variation occurs with fetches, which can be equated with hologram-telephones.
  • Death Is Cheap, when you’re Uncle Zip. Or a cultivar.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen / Kuudere – An Alternate Character Interpretation of Seria Mau, or possibly Madame Shen.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?? / Deus ex Machina – The three heroes’ separate meetings with the Shrander.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me – Oh, Seria Mau, so much.
  • Driven to Villainy – What Kearney thinks has happened to him, due to the Shrander and its influence.
  • Eldritch Abomination– What Kearney thinks the Shrander is.
  • Fantastic Drug – Twink tanks.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel
  • Freudian Excuse "Ooh, I’ve been abused by my father, let’s run away and join the military!" "Ooh, my sister left and broke my home even more, let’s run away and become a rebel!"
  • Hidden Depths – On the surface, Ed seems like a stoner only interested in sex and tweaking, but it turns it out he was an ace pilot before he got sucked into the drugs. Also, one could read Seria Mau this way, as she seems either petty or sociopathic or both at first, but you realize that even if she can’t shake these qualities, she does have a good reason.
  • Hyperspace Is a Scary Place – The Kefahuchi Tract, where the K-tech comes from.
  • I Did What I Had to Do – Kearney thinks this is why he killed all those women, but the Shrander tears it down by saying it never kept her away in the first place. So it ends up that Kearney was simply deluding himself.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty – subverted; Immortality means being a forever-broken and crippled thirteen-year-old in a fishtank.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue – The Shrander is coming for you, Kearney.
  • Inertial Dampening
  • Jade-Colored Glasses – Happens early on to Seria Mau.
  • Jerkass – Uncle Zip, the instigator of the whole event. Also, an Alternate Character Interpretation of Seria Mau, if you don’t appreciate the Freudian Excuse.
  • Kids Are Cruel / Teens Are Monsters – Most K-pilots, even the "good" ones, because they never really grew up.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed Kearney finally meets his end when the Shrander abducts him.
  • Little Miss Badass – Seria Mau may be petty and lonely and bitter, but she does have some serious armaments. And an airlock.
  • Lost Technology – K-tech.
  • Long Lost Sibling Ed and Seria Mau.
  • MacGuffin – The Dr. Haends package.
  • Mad Mathematician – Kearney, of course.
  • Murderer P.O.V. – Kearney’s path.
  • My Beloved Smother – A variation occurs, as it is actually Ed and Seria Mau’s father, not mother.
  • Naked on Arrival – Ed, ejected from the twink tank.
  • Negative Space Wedgie - The Kefahuchi Tract itself. Might also count as an Eldritch Location.
  • No Blood for PhlebotinumEveryone is fighting each other over the last of the K-tech / new planet-full of it.
  • Not What I Signed On For – Seria Mau, in becoming a K-pilot. Ed, in predicting the future through an empty fish tank.
  • Nothing Is Scarier – Kearney’s descriptions of the Shrander stalking him, and the shadows he sees (but never a full, coherent form).
  • Pet the Dog – Serial killer Kearney gets one when he realizes that Anna has always been there for him and that he might really love her. Also, when he actually does try to have proper intercourse with her (which is not as weird as it sounds).
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child – What all the K-ships are, but especially Seria Mau.
  • Present Day – Kearney’s path.
  • Send in the Clones - Uncle Zip's purpose in life is this. Sort of.
  • Space Opera – Subverted, in that there isn’t an epically-big love story, are few space battles, let alone epic ones, and the technology drastically changes how humanity operates. In other words, adheres strongly to the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism.
  • Spaceship Girl – Seria Mau
  • There Are No Coincidences – Notice how the Shrander, Sandra Shen, and Dr. Haends all have the same letters in their names? Not a coincidence. Subverted in that you think Kearney’s dice will be important, but the Shrander just comments that it happened to keep them and they weren’t a particularly powerful item, just pieces from an ancient game.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness – An interpretation of Kearney’s path... if you didn’t have the other two to tie it up.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole – Averted— The K Culture hid a cache of their technology in a location nearly impossible to reach, except via a wormhole they built for that purpose. The wormhole is anchored very near the Radio RX-1 black hole, and is powered by it, but the wormhole is at least survivable (only barely, and only under optimal circumstances) whereas the black hole would simply crush you into nothing
  • Unwanted Spouse – Anna Kearney, until about halfway through the book.
  • Villain Protagonist – Kearney and, arguably, Seria Mau.
  • We Will Use Manual Labour In The Future - The Rickshaw girls.
  • What You Are in the Dark
  • You Can't Go Home Again – K-pilots can never be human again, and instead they live in limbo between being human and being a machine, without much good of either. Subverted in a way when the Shrander gives Seria Mau the ability to shapeshift into anything she wants.

Liaden UniverseScience Fiction LiteratureLilith's Brood
SpinSeiun AwardAccelerando

alternative title(s): Light
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