Light Chaser by Peter F Hamilton and Gareth L Powell (book review).

The starship Mnemonsyne has journeyed between the worlds of The Domain for millennia. It carries a single traveller, Amahle, a Light Chaser. Amahle is an explorer not of worlds but of people. Each time she visits a planet, she collects the memory collars left on her last visit, hundreds of years ago and distributes new. Back on her homeworld these memories are the best thing in entertainment, allowing the lucky few living in a post-scarcity world to experience hardships they will never have to endure.

Amahle watches them, too, hurtling through space alone, until she hears a message meant for her, then another and another. All directed at her from different people, on different worlds, in different times. Something is wrong with the worlds.

This is not a large book. I read the name Peter F. Hamilton and I think of doorstop-sized novels like ‘Pandora’s Star’ which comes in at nearly 1000 pages. ‘Light Chaser’ is a 173 novella that was over before I knew it. The experience of these two Science Fiction writers is clear even in this short example with a detailed world developed in such small space. Both have been publishing regularly for decades and racked up many literary awards and nominations. I have yet to read any of Gareth L. Powell’s work but as ‘Embers Of War’ won the British Science Fiction Association’s award for best novel I should rectify that oversight.

Amahle’s key characteristic is ennui and I could not shake that sense of pointlessness as I read this story. Amahle might be the main character of this story but that’s the only part of the definition of a protagonist she fulfils. The story revolves around her yet her agency is severely limited. Her life aboard the ship is dictated by her job and the AI running the ship and only breaks free by obeying messages from her long dead partner.

She doesn’t discover anything. She doesn’t instigate anything. She is the instrument of others as both servant and destroyer. The setting is interesting and the concepts worth pondering but as the plot went I found it underwhelming as Amahle went from following one set of directives over another. That choice is her only moment of agency and I’m disappointed as Amahle could have been so much more.

‘Light Chaser’ is a perfectly fine book and a good read but I’m not going to rave about it to anyone. Hamilton’s voice came through clearly, though fans of Powell will have to decide for themselves if he can be heard. This story is firmly set in space opera and fans of the genre won’t be disappointed. If you like other books by the authors or Ann Leckie’s ‘Ancillary Justice’ or Iain M. Banks’ ‘Culture’ series give this one a try.

LK Richardson

July 2021

(pub: TOR, 2021. 176 page paperback. Price: $13.99 (US), £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-250-76982-4

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