Review: Light Years from Home by Mike Chen

Review: Light Years from Home by Mike ChenLight Years From Home by Mike Chen
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, science fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Mira on January 25, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

Every family has issues. Most can’t blame them on extraterrestrials.
Evie Shao and her sister, Kass, aren’t on speaking terms. Fifteen years ago on a family camping trip, their father and brother vanished. Their dad turned up days later, dehydrated and confused—and convinced he'd been abducted by aliens. Their brother, Jakob, remained missing. The women dealt with it very differently. Kass, suspecting her college-dropout twin simply ran off, became the rock of the family. Evie traded academics to pursue alien conspiracy theories, always looking for Jakob.
When Evie's UFO network uncovers a new event, she goes to investigate. And discovers Jakob is back. He's different—older, stranger, and talking of an intergalactic war—but the tensions between the siblings haven't changed at all. If the family is going to come together to help Jakob, then Kass and Evie are going to have to fix their issues, and fast. Because the FBI is after Jakob, and if their brother is telling the truth, possibly an entire space armada, too.
The perfect combination of action, imagination and heart, Light Years From Home is a touching drama about a challenge as difficult as saving the galaxy: making peace with your family…and yourself.

My Review:

Every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but there are few families that are unhappy because one of the adult children has been abducted by aliens and recruited to fight in an intergalactic war.

Not that the Shao family was exactly happy BEFORE Jakob Shao joined the intergalactic fleet – but back then they were unhappy in ways that would be a bit more familiar. Now, not so much.

Light Years from Home isn’t quite the story we’re expecting from the blurb, because it’s not really about Jakob or his alien abduction at all. Not that he’s not part of it, but the story isn’t about him.

The story is about collateral damage, specifically the collateral damage of the Jakob-shaped hole in the Shao family. A hole that has only opened wider in the 15 years since Jakob left his family and his planet behind.

He comes back to Earth believing that nothing will have changed in his absence, and that it won’t matter if he leaves again. After all, he has a mission to complete and a universe to save. Healing the hole in his family’s heart is way above the level of feckless incompetence he left behind.

But Jakob Shao isn’t that man any longer. Not that his family will EVER let him forget it. Or them.

Escape Rating A: Light Years from Home is one of those stories that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. Parts that initially seem so far apart that they might as well be from different planets – if not galaxies.

This story is also very much what my book group has been calling “sad fluff”. Although this is sad fluff with spaceships.

By sad fluff I mean that this story is, in spite of the science fictional trappings, relationship fiction. It’s not about Jakob and the epic space battles. We believe they exist, but they’re not actually the point of the story. The point of the story is Jakob’s relationship with his family, and their relationships with each other.

This could be a story about any family dealing with the lack of closure wrapped about the disappearance of a family member. They all know Jakob left them behind. Their late father died believing Jakob had been abducted by aliens, but that’s a pretty far-fetched conclusion for the rest of the family. Except for Jakob’s younger sister Evie, who has made a career of investigating UFO sightings and the possibilities of extraterrestrial contact with Earth.

It’s much easier for Kass and their mother to believe that Jakob – charming, irresponsible, feckless Jakob – just wanted to get away from his parents’ endless expectations that he “live up to his potential” and “not waste his education,” etc., etc., etc. He has a history of that kind of behavior – he’s just been gone a whole lot longer this time.

And there are plenty of times in the story when Kass has nearly everyone convinced that Jakob has returned because he’s having a psychotic break. She nearly convinces both their younger sister Evie – who does believe in UFOs and alien abductions – AND THE READER! It’s only when Evie finds actual proof that Kass begins to believe that the thing that tore her family apart is real – and that she can’t blame Jakob for everything. That she has to start looking inside herself for answers.

As I was reading Light Years from Home, in spite of pretty much ALL the names of all the characters coming from the Assassin’s Creed videogame series, the things this story actually reminded me of came from other places.

While Jakob’s intergalactic experiences are mostly off stage, the setup reminded me more than a bit of The Last Starfighter – without that slam bang ending because Jakob’s story doesn’t get that kind of unabashed happy ending – nor should it.

Jakob’s personality and some of his story had echoes in Fergus Ferguson, the protagonist of The Finder Chronicles. If you’re wishing that Light Years from Home focused more on Jakob’s travels, try Finder.

But the thing this made me think of the most was Elton John’s song Rocket Man. Because this reads like it’s that song told from the point of view of the people that the Rocket Man has left behind back home.

If that’s not enough of a gut punch, the conclusion of Light Years from Home reached back into the ending of one of SF’s classic stories, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. And it’s every bit as much of a heartbreaker in Light Years from Home as it was back then.

2 thoughts on “Review: Light Years from Home by Mike Chen

  1. A Flowers for Algernon ending? =:O Oh, my. Sounds like a gut punch, but I’m still intrigued.

    But…I just checked my library and I own two of Chen’s earlier books. (Because, of course I do.) Unread. (Also of course.) I think I really need to concentrate on whittling down the existing TBR. Sigh.

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