Perhaps I should preface this review by saying that I do not own many science fiction books. In fact, save for this book and maybe “Time Traveler’s Wife” if you want to get technical, all of the sci-fi books in my personal library are by Octavia Butler. She was an awesome writer and her work sets a very high bar for me in terms of sci-fi writing.
All of that said, I was not exactly wowed by M. John Harrison’s “Nova Swing,” but it is an interesting read. It’s a noir-ish futuristic tale in a world where people can planet hop, get tattoos that change and become “tailored” to be nearly invincible fighters, half-horse buggy pullers or prostitutes with all the “right” equipment.
The world that Harrison describes seems to be full of many interesting things, but for some reason, it takes a while for the book to get where it’s going. I had to force myself along at several points in the book (including the beginning) and at times it seems like there is jut not enough description. This is a crazy little world in this book. The reader needs to be able to visualize it.
The great thing about this book for me personally though, is that I am currently working on the draft of my first novel and though I don’t love this book, it has inspired me to think more about the “whys” in my own book.
In sci-fi, a lot of times the author is introducing the reader to something new. There are terms, laws and just general procedures that the writer must figure out how to communicate to the reader without turning the book into dry exposition. When you come across a term or an action in a sci-fi book that you are not familiar with, you automatically think “Well, why did that happen?” or “Why did that person say that?” and you try to use the text to deduce the answer. In non-sci-fi works we often take for granted the motivations of the characters, but as a writer, I need to be crystal clear on what motivates my characters. That sounds like a fairly simple idea, but it’s something that is easily lost when the story is unfolding and new plot twists jump on the page.
Also, that’s another great thing about sci-fi. It’s the perfect vehicle to discuss racism, sexism and all those other ridiculous isms. When you talk about pyschics, or people with purple eyes or kids with green hair being discriminated against, it’s easier to see the absurdity in all the “anti” movements as they apply to current society.
“Nova Swing” is not something I would recommend to someone who is new to science fiction, but a more seasoned sci-fi reader might find it enjoyable.
Read more of my book reviews on Good Reads.