The novel “Nova Swing” by M. John Harrison was published for the first time in 2006. It won the Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick awards. It’s the second novel in the Kefahuchi Tract series.
At the center of the city of Saudade fell a fragment of cosmic disturbance known as the Kefahuchi Tract. That created an area where everything is abnormal, even the laws of physics. For this reason, the city has become a center of touristic interest for people who want to try some really unique experience.
Vic Serotonin is a kind of guide who leads in and maybe even out of Saudade anyone who has the courage to venture into the anomaly. His activity is illegal and his last client seems even more dangerous than normal. Vic must also save himself from Lens Aschemann, a police detective determined to find the evidence needed to arrest him.
In “Nova Swing” M. John Harrison returns to the fictional universe of “Light“. This second novel isn’t a sequel of the previous one even if the Kefahuchi Tract remains in the center of the narrative. “Nova Swing” is all set in the 25th century and tells a story that is independent, which doesn’t require you to have read “Light” although there are connections between the two novels.
“Nova Swing” is even more than the previous one a character-based novel. Compared to “Light” it’s someway more linear and may even seem conventional by comparison. In the first novel, M. John Harrison blended a lot of different elements from various genres and subgenres into three subplots, “Nova Swing” focuses on one plot only and on some elements.
The story is set in the city of Saudade, where a fragment of the Kefahuchi Tract created an area where reality is no longer fixed. This made it very dangerous to get close to it but it’s also a unique experience and Vic Serotonin works there as a guide. Lens Aschemann, a police detective who looks like an elderly Albert Einstein, wants to stop him.
These protagonists and a number of other more or less important characters form a story that is in some ways reminiscent of “Roadside Picnic” by the Strugatski brothers with noir tones and vaguely cyberpunk elements. It’s always difficult to use labels for a novel such “Nova Swing” because M. John Harrison created the equivalent of the shades of color a painter could obtain by mixing together different colors.
The story is in some ways even more fragmented than in the “Light” with a plot that’s rather loose in which eventually emerge above all the details of the various moments. Even some of the names and surnames of the characters seem chosen with a precise sense so you have to pay attention to them.
Honestly there is more than ever the impression that the style is more important than substance. Don’t get me wrong, M. John Harrison develops well the characters and the story, although very fragmented, has a meaning, but the impression is that what the author is interested in is exploring the effects of the Kefahuchi Tract and the protagonists of “Nova Swing” have on others. It’s no coincidence that this novel doesn’t end up with some sort of resolution of Vic Serotonin’s story but continues with an additional chapter about other characters.
Personally, I regret to say that “Nova Swing” disappointed me a bit. Compared to “Light”, the elements that I found positive aren’t there while there are the ones I found negative or anyway not interesting for me. The protagonist Vic Serotonin is a character I couldn’t be interested in and I wish there was more space for Lens Aschemann, as to me he seemed to have a much greater potential.
“Nova Swing” has its moments, also with some food for though, such as when Elizabeth Kielar tells Vic that “people lose their way as an act of defence. Then they panic and decide they have to find it again.”. But those are moments, not ideas that are developed throughout the novel.
In the end, “Nova Swing” is a type of novel that leaves me rather cold but due to its characteristics the reactions are inevitably very subjective. If you like M. John Harrison’s style and the elements he put in his story, you might like it.