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

Light Chaser’ by Peter F Hamilton and Gareth L Powell is a standalone space opera novella.

Amahle is the light chaser the title refers to. Every thousand or so years in real time, she does a circuit of planets in the Domain to collect memory collars from the selected few and their descendants. In return, she offers them anything from baubles via medicines to molecular designs for nanites, so long as what she leaves behind does not change the way their civilisations exist.

These can be anything from traditional medieval fiefdoms to cyber-moon Darwinism. Her customer for the collars is the Everlife Consortium based on the humungous orbital dock of the planet, Glisten. They in turn sell the collars as entertainment.

It takes years to travel between planets. With nothing better to do, Amahle samples the collars for herself, particularly those of her old planet-side lovers. One, Gregor Rothenburg, has a visit from a charismatic young boy with a message for her. It comprises of eight digits, that she knows him as Carloman, not to trust her AI and that is all the message comprises ‘for this time’.

Amahle cannot get the message out of her mind. The ‘for this time’ hint leads her to believe there are other messages. She starts steadily working her way through the other memory collars. Sure enough there is a second message waiting. This time it warns that human civilisations are being held in a stasis and not being allowed to develop. The key to stopping this stasis is to remember him, Carloman.

This starts her on the spaceflight to self-discovery, getting to understand who and why human development is being crippled and finding a way to restart it.

This theme is a clear over-arching political message that stagnating into stable regimes is not good for the human race. It needs to grow and expand. But I am left wondering if this is also a hint about the state of the Science Fiction genre.

Star Chaser’ does go beyond the norm of the genre in a mindboggling way to question the very essence of time, as we know it.

The authors have done something very clever to give such a short manuscript the feel of the expanse of space. Though it fits in with the needs of the story, they have picked planets Amahle visits the extremes of human habitability, eg a relatively young planet with problematic volcanic tectonic activity versus an old planet with still plates, worn down mountains and a shallow ocean. Interestingly, each visited planet comes with its own political message.

Despite the expanse, there is an attention to necessary detail that makes the story feel grounded such as the waxiness of the skin of a recently deceased person.

There are moments of light relief or familiarity to add to the novella’s richness. The ship’s AI makes Amahle teach the cat she brings on board to use the litter tray because cats do not respect maintenance bots doing the training. There is the famous yet mangled Sherlock quote: ‘… and, as one of her ancestors had been fond of quoting, once you have eliminated the impossible, what remained had to be the truth.

I have read both Hamilton’s ‘Salvation’ and Powell’s ‘Embers Of War’ trilogies. This novella’s writing is clearly an amalgam of both authors’ styles yet, in doing so, it has become something much better. The bulkiness of Hamilton’s explanations is missing, yet the expanse of his space opera is kept. The straightforwardness of Powell’s storylines seems to be there but, if closely read, there are undercurrents of messages and intricately woven plot points to be found. Such an example is how Amahle identifies the last planet she must visit. The answer lies hidden in the first memory collar she heard Carloman being mentioned, but it is left to the reader to identify the circularity of this part of the story.

Star Chaser’ is no ordinary space opera; in fact it goes way beyond that. The novella has depth, discusses modern issues, uses literary techniques with gay abandon and is an easy read. This makes it a strong candidate to become a classic of the genre.

Rosie Oliver

August 2021

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

check out website: www.tor.com

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