LIGHT CHASER is a short novel written by Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell and logically should have been a science fiction novel, but a certain disconnect between the narrative point of departure and a key point of the underlying world-building deflected it from this goal.
Very impatient to read this novel as soon as it was released, I came across a mixed review on the blog The Cult of Apophis which left me perplexed. Reading this review I wondered if it was a bit too harsh, but I had yet to read the novel in question. Post hoc, I have to agree this review.
Indeed the lightness of the basic premise of the novel and of the thought process of our protagonist lead me to classify it as intellectually “pre-YA”.
We are told about someone, Amahle, with millennia of experience and a brain of amplified ability. She is confronted with a few anomalies, and radically changes not only her scientific and political paradigm, but also her ontological paradigm on this rather slim basis, without a long process of doubts, investigation, scientific tests or at least research done in the spirit of science.
At this level the novella (because, given its length, it is more of a long novella than a novel) reads like a summary of a set of ideas for a future novel, but the rigorous investigation and emotional development behind this radical change of paradigm are lacking. So the work of writing needed to motivate and make this conversion plausible isn’t provided, it’s a frictionless slide from one paradigm to another.
Without wanting to spoil the plot there are novellas, for example by Alastair Reynolds, where this transition with its journey of doubts, anomalies, haphazard deductions, partial revelations, is treated realistically, and not as the result of an almost blind credulity.
The question asked by LIGHT CHASER is how to fight against social and intellectual stagnation, how to fight against entropy? Is there a strategic key point that it suffices to blow up so that life can resume its “natural” course, that is to say, according to the hypothesis of the novel, its negentropic course?
Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell use a religious and spiritual type hypothesis, with trans-spatial and trans-temporal “souls”, to which they attempt to give a science-fictional materialised treatment. It’s ambitious, but the result is disappointing. If they had succeeded, they would have built a powerful literary cognitive strangelet.
The text abounds in interesting cameos, for example the short sketches of the worlds visited by our light chaser. Each world could have served as the basis for a chapter in a longer novel. The beginning of the novel is at the summit of science fiction in its description of the journey at 97% of the speed of light to inject a strangelet into the heart of a star and commit “xenocide” by a preemptive strike! (The ethical question is put in brackets).
Perhaps the question at this level is how to write science fiction that advances us intellectually and emotionally, instead of that stagnant literature that occupies a large part of the market today?
Answer: only an unyielding spiritual force can enable us to resist the stagnation and to craft and deliver the cognitive strangelets capable of blowing up the algorithms that regulate the market and increasingly the rest of our lives.
I wish our two authors good luck with their next avatars.