- A standalone novella
- Published by Tor.com in 2021
- Hard SF with a lot of romance
- 173 pages
Amahle spends her life travelling the universe, collecting stories and memories from the hundreds of scattered human worlds. But one memory keeps returning, that of a man who knows her, and claims she is in terrible danger . . .
I am fascinated by the idea of joint-author books. There’s a common assumption that a book is created simply by one person sitting at a computer and tapping away until a story has emerged, but this is not true. Editors and beta readers all play a role in the final shape of a story, of course, but there are novels produced by more than one pen. The most famous example right now is probably The Expanse, written by James S. A. Corey, who is in fact two different authors, Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. Light Chaser‘s authors are open about their identities, but there will always be the question: who wrote what? Of course, we don’t need to know the answer, but it’s fun to wonder. Because these two authors have very different publication histories.
Peter F. Hamilton is famous for writing massive books. It’s rare for them to dip below seven hundred pages, and some of them exceed a thousand. His works are full of technical detail, gothic atmospheres writ large across the stars, and are generally rather chunky. Yes, he’s written short stories, but it’s still unusual to see his name on a book this slim. In contrast, Powell writes entire trilogies that could fit into a Hamilton doorstopper. His books are far more character-focused, and full of adventure and humour. While they are both British Sf authors of some renown in their field, they seem an odd pairing to write a book. Which might be why Light Chaser feels so disjointed.
The premise is a good one. I love stories that take place over long periods of time, and ones that acknowledge the size and age of the universe. Light Chaser starts out this way. Amahle is talked with collecting the stories of human worlds, and if this had been an anthology with that as a framing narrative, I would probably have been a lot more interested. Unfortunately, the planets never really distinguish themselves from one another. They’re all technologically regressed, imitating periods of Earth’s history rather than having their own. It’s not that they’re badly realised, it’s just that they’re all a bit dull. I’m sitting here a week later and I can’t remember much about any of them. This technological regression also feeds into the thematic narrative running through the book, and it’s one that I simply don’t care for. Light Chaser makes the argument that stability is bad, and makes the common mistake of conflating change with progress. I’m not suggesting that everything in the world needs to stay as it currently is (because that would be moronic), but nor do I support the idea that we should change things simply because we can. There is, whatever Light Chaser may have us believe, no need to evolve for evolution’s sake.
That’s an issue, but it’s one I can move past. The joy of SF is the diversity of viewpoints after all, but then Light Chaser commits the cardinal sin of fiction. It becomes a romance. Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine and others are welcome to enjoy the sweetness of it all, but a romance is not the story I came here to read. It’s a disappointing turn of events that scuppers the book’s chances of landing with me. It’s not that Powell and Hamilton can’t write romance, more that I wanted a story about cruising the universe learning about new cultures. What I got wasn’t that. Far from it. Because Light Chaser isn’t actually interested in the premise of its blurb. Instead, it’s interested in a story about reborn souls being brought together by destiny. This may very well work from some (and judging by the award nominations, that ‘some’ is quite a large number), but it didn’t work for me.