At The Speed Of Light by Simon Morden (book review).

At The Speed Of Light’ by Simon Morden is a standalone novella that is a crossover between space opera and hard Science Fiction. This is a rarity and therefore to be enjoyed for its freshness of approach. Does it deliver?

Corbyn wakes up in a hibernation tank covered in gel with a voice giving him instructions. His body is similar to a human’s, but with strange differences eg his fingers were ‘just tubes of meat and bones’. He gets up, moves to a small room, gets dressed, prepares for reduced gravity and gets battered to death. He is in a psychologist’s room as a normal human, being giving a consultation about his strange out-of-body dreams. Enough clues make him believe this, too, is a dream and, to prove it, he jumps put of the window high up in a tower block. Corbyn wakes up in a hibernation tank…

He finds a way to break the continuous repeating dream cycle. He is a spaceship, designated as UNDSP-14CORBYN, fourteenth of his line sent from Earth to travel at just under light-speed to explore the stars. Another spaceship is not far away matching his flight vector, suffering from the damage of Cerenkov radiation or perhaps a collision with a significantly massive object. Are there people on board? Looks like there might be.

He has to rescue them. It is not easy, given his limitations. The reader is given sufficient details of the difficulties without going into screeds of underlying technical explanations, hard science fiction at its best. He rescues a woman, PuhLeeDah. Her story is pure space opera.

The juxtaposition of hard Science Fiction and space opera works because Corbyn and PuhLeeDah are their respective champions set in a place where there is minimal outside interference to their story. He is the scientist and she the historian.

He works through problems; she gets answers by asking others questions. The difficulty is once the first part is accepted as a dream sequence, the novella’s first half has the feel of hard Science Fiction without it being obvious space opera is in the mix. The story is worth reading to the end to get a balanced perspective between the sub-genres which, in so many ways, is very satisfying.

Also very satisfying is all the significant conflicts and problems at the start are explained by the end. It is a rounded story with contrasting characters, enough ‘gizmology’ to keep the inner geek satisfied without being intrusive on non-geek readers and has some insights into life in general eg ‘…history was a mutable thing, changing to service the needs of the present.

At The Speed Of Light’ is successfully multi-faceted in that it will appeal to a lot science fictional tastes: a good story, interesting characters, lovely world-building and has some interesting things to say about today’s world. It packs a lot of punch in a novella.

Rosie Oliver

January 2022

(pub: Newcon Press, 2017. 117 pages paperback. Price: £6.99. ISBN: 978-1-910935-23-3)

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