The Light trilogy is a parody of space opera, its history, politics, mores & assumptions. It is a dystopia which, in the tradition, ironically offers aspects of the present as a “future”. (Resource-based capital fosters the cultural & economic background for social & individual outrages the reader recognises instantly as unacceptable.) For that reason, none of its characters is intended to be sympathetic, relatable or reader-identificatory; neither are they intended to be any more than cartoons. This is customary in satire, as one of the ways of signalling that it is satire. We understand that there is no Kefahuchi Tract, nor are there any “New Men” or space police in powder blue uniforms, or powerful alien races who have designed humanity as an “uplift” programme: these inventions & cliches act as a constant reminder to the reader of the trilogy’s pastiches, parodies and mimicries; and, more generally, of the essentially infantile nature of space opera as a medium. A reading of the book as if it is naturalistic, or as if it is offered as a manual for acceptable—or even plausible—human behaviour will produce an unsatisfactory result.
It’s very well put, but when I see something so straightforwardly laid in front of us I cannot escape the feeling that the writer was actually angry with something or someone.
For all that, though, there are some genuinely real human dynamics at work underpinning the satire, however magnified. At least for me. And the prose, of course, elevates it beyond simply skewering stupid space opera.
Isn’t any narrative a parody? To the extent that it can never succeed as a ‘naturalistic’ representation. It’s just that some do this more deliberately than others. Some to the extent that they become satires.
In the case of the very best space opera it seems to me that it’s the structured pastiche and cliches – infantile or otherwise – that enable accounts of character and behaviours that are at least as plausible and authentic as the best realist fiction. I’m not sure how this works. Perhaps each is somehow parasitic upon the other.
As with Anna Kearney. On my reading the ‘Light’ trilogy is as much her story as anything (at the risk of stating the glaringly obvious. ) . You’d need to look hard among any Booker list to find her match and probably fail.
I don’t suppose you’re being overly modest. More that you’re distancing yourself – understandably – from those who might claim that they came away from the books with more than is on offer?
As long as it doesn’t put off anyone who hasn’t already done so from buying them which would be tremendous shame.
Darko’s right, this post was essentially a subtweet. As such it is in itself as larded with sarcasm as some elements of the trilogy; but I stand by the last couple of lines.
So, I can’t kill people because of the Shrander? Information I could have used yesterday!
What I like most is what sets it apart from a lot of fiction. So many boxes opened, but rarely do we see all of the contents or the label on the box.
If it was written as parody, or a deconstruction of the genre or just to win a bet matters not.
Hi Paul. Very glad you enjoyed it for that reason. That was a bet I’d been making since the 1970s.
Can you say what the subtweet was directed at?
Wouldn’t really be a subtweet then, would it…
Alas, no. It will remain a mystery.
Though here’s a thought Chris D: if in future (as a compulsive serial killer) you restrict your choice of victim entirely to men over the age of consent. If they’re venture capitalists so much the better. So it may cramp your style but at least you can say: yes, but look
Yet the richness/sadness/evocative nature of much of the narration involving human emotion and relationships in the trilogy is so utterly galvanising and moving. I would argue, Mike, that you have very cleverly (and perhaps even self-effacingly) placed miniature daguerrotypes of utterly real human situations within the parody/satire. ?
Nick F: Sure, and carefully observed, and carefully entangled with the physics & the language. That was one of the points of it all. But even there the remit was black comedy, with an absolutely clear intent to produce unforgiving ironies as commentary upon the actions of the characters. The responses I’m most bored by are the ones from people who wilfully read savage–and really quite obvious–irony as a behavioural manual, so they can make their own points.
That isn’t far from a functioning, 21st-century political ideology. Like a more useful version of American Psycho.
I’ve always read much of the trilogy as (black) comedy and seen the characters in the far-future chapters as (exceptionally well-drawn) cartoon characters – all those wonderful Pynchonian names! But I have to say that I’ve always found the Michael and Anna chapters deeply moving (‘You ruined my life,’ Kearney whispered. ‘You ruined your own life,’ said the Shrander) and unfortunately I see much of myself in the two of them – in a way then I do relate to and sympathise with them, though of course in many ways they’re quite cartoonish too, and certainly not models for acceptable behaviour! I feel a little embarrassed that I’ve made a fool of myself now… Anyway this is my first time commenting- thank you so much for the hours and hours of joy your work has brought me!
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Sean. It was a big risk to entangle the cartoonish with the realistic, & of course I expected to pay for that.
I don’t think black comedy rules out human sympathy, in fact I’m not sure it works without it. Think of The Tin Drum, or of Fleabag. The same goes for a decent parody: it has to somehow be the thing it’s parodying, so that powerful oppositions are engaged simultaneously in the reader’s mind. Anything else is lazy & not “true”.
The above was a bad-tempered post, aimed mainly at people who dismiss an ironic position–or a complex weave–by claiming that there isn’t–there can’t be–they won’t allow there to be–any such thing. Normally I’m able to smile that poor argument off, but I was having a bad week.
I hope you’ll enjoy the next book, which should be out sometime next year. All best.