(Gollancz, £17.99, 247 pages, hardback, published 9 November
a planet (or city, it's never quite entirely clear) called Saudade a
mysterious event a generation or so ago has brought part of the astronomical
phenomenon known as the Kefahuchi Tract down to earth. The event site
is the location for strange apparitions and peculiar artefacts some
of which are smuggled into Saudade. There is also apparently endless
business in guiding fascinated punters illegally into the site. A branch
of the Saudade police is dedicated to combating such Site crime.
The book tracks various characters - the "travel agent" Vic
Serotonin, his client Elizabeth Kielar, who wants Serotonin's help to
enter the site, Fat Antoyne, Liv Hula, Emil and Edith Bonaventure, Paulie
Deraad, the policeman Lens Aschemann whom we are told (somewhat relentlessly)
resembles the older Albert Einstein, plus his new female assistant who
has a datableed continually scrolling information down her arm -- through
the various bars that are near to the event site. All of this action
(or lack of it) takes place in the shadow of a spaceport where spaceships
land and take off apparently at random.
It seems these names may carry some significance (serotonin is a neurotransmitter
that apparently helps to keep you relaxed and happy, but the Bonaventures
travel nowhere and are not saintly.) For the most part what their significance
might be is not very obvious.
Oh, and someone is carrying out murders, leaving a peculiar trademark
tattoo on the victims.
Though the book's focus is narrow the influences on the narrative are
not. There is quite a strong larding of Ballard, perhaps a touch of
Dick, but the overriding influence is from film noir. In fact the novel
could almost be intended for filming -- the shoot would need only about
Despite being typeset and printed in England a few Americanisms creep
in (barkeep, different than, lighted, fit [as a past tense]) -- though,
confusingly, the last is not adhered to consistently. There are also
typos enough to ruin an attentive reader's concentration.
After a few false starts we eventually penetrate the event site and
things there inevitably have something of a nebulous, Alice Through
The Looking Glass, quality. But very little is resolved by it. Reflecting
life? Perhaps. The Nova Swing of the title disappointingly turns out
to be the name of the space ship on which three of the characters finally
blast off into the less-than-wide blue quite-near. And (disastrously
for a novel with this set-up?) though there is the merest hint who it
might be, the tattoo murderer remains undiscovered.
Harrison has never been less than a stylist but, here, there is a tendency
from the outset to tell rather than show which detracts from immediacy
and prevents the characters from fully springing to life.
According to Wikipedia, "The famous saudade of the Portuguese
is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably
cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards
the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant
sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness." This passage just
about sums up the novel - though to say it is indolent would be harsh.
The outpouring of gratitude (it was almost relief) that greeted Harrison's
return to the genre with Light was always slightly overdone.
In Nova Swing it is the SF trappings that seem out of place.
But even if it had been a mainstream novel the noirish style and lack
of engagement with the characters would render it substantially flawed. The
part for Bogart is obvious, as is Sydney Greenstreet's. Which, though,
of the rest would be played by Peter Lorre? And are any of the women
worthy of Bacall? The answer is no.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: