The Emptiness of Space

9780575096325Gollancz is delighted to be able to share with you this very exciting guest post from M. John Harrison on Empty Space.

When I finished the first Kefahuchi Tract novel, no one but me liked its working title, Empty Space. My then-editor at Gollancz, the redoubtable Malcolm Edwards, backed into a corner by the scheduling pressures of modern publishing, gave me ten days to find a new one.

I tried a lot of titles in that time. I tried Discontinuity. I tried Monster Beach, Hydrogen Jukebox, Transformation Jukebox and These Dirty Stars. I tried Go Deep, Rocket Jockey and Starcrossed. I tried These Million Stars and I tried Pilots of the Future. You can see how I was thinking. You can see where I was going with this. I tried Radio Retro, Torched Up, Immortal Hand and Gravitation Alley.

I tried The Source.

Eventually I got tangled in a string of lights: Deep Light, I thought, Real Light. After Light or Afterlight. Light Years or The Light Years. I thought of The Machineries of Light. Light Inaccessible (hid from our eyes). White Light (white heat). Ancient Lights, Light Speed. Down by Light, Blind by Light. Hard light. All these lights had something, but they lacked something too. My ten days was down to a day. My day was down to an hour. I typed the list. I handwrote the list. “Light,” I thought. “That’s the key. I’m just not finding the right qualifier.”

Malcolm sent me an email. He sent me another.

I thought: “Why have a qualifier at all?”

I sent Malcolm an email. “I’m calling it Light,” I said.

It was raw, it was 1950s and it was aggressively simple. What more could anyone want? I decided to drop the subtitle, which at that time was “A science fiction novel about sex, masturbation and the addictive personality.”

This anecdote becomes, in a way, the story of the Empty Space trilogy itself. I got a lot of mileage out of the list later, as chapter titles: but it was also a list of themes, conditions and even components of a “world” which I knew I could develop. It was a world of starcrossed lovers who weren’t even sure they were real; of old fashioned rockets and brand new physics; of the randomised transformation jukebox of meme, gene and algorithm; and of a woman, in the end, who was looking for a name. A name is everything in this world.

Light poured down on Light. Nova Swing is, in a sense, all about its own title: a change of direction, a new life for its own (mainly female) minor characters after the mainly male heroes have backed themselves into their final corner. The nova swing: a brand new dance that we all can do. As for the title of the third volume, Empty Space, which pulls the other two together and makes all three into one thing: well, it’s not just a sentimental return to the working title of Light

We know that in this physics universe the vacuum is all action all the way to the bottom–right down to the fizzing quantum foam at the base of everything. Nothing less empty than space can be imagined, even by the you’re-worth-it airheads, twinked-out space marines and emotionally puzzled electronic entities of the Halo, whose final wild rides I hope you enjoy.

–M John Harrison
Empty Space is out now where all good books are sold.