Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Published by Tordotcom on August 24, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
In Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell's action-packed sci-fi adventure Light Chaser, a love powerful enough to transcend death can bring down an entire empire.
Amahle is a Light Chaser - one of a number of explorers, who travel the universe alone (except for their onboard AI), trading trinkets for life stories.
But when she listens to the stories sent down through the ages she hears the same voice talking directly to her from different times and on different worlds. She comes to understand that something terrible is happening, and only she is in a position to do anything about it.
And it will cost everything to put it right.
How to reboot the galaxy in 10 (or so) not so easy lessons. Because that first lesson includes the really heavy lifting of getting you to believe that the cushy, if a bit lonely, life you’ve been leading for millennia NEEDS to be rebooted in the worst way.
And that you’re the only one who can possibly do the job. If you can be convinced to deal with the heartbreak of both a completely epic betrayal on a galactic scale AND the heartbreak of un-forgetting the loss of the love of your artificially long life. Over and over again.
Amahle is the Light Chaser of the title. She, and all of her ilk, travel in endless repeating circuits of their little corner of the galaxy, distributing trinkets, treasures and carefully curated technology to dozens – or perhaps hundreds – of stagnant little planets in return for recordings of memories and experiences faithfully preserved in high-tech collars in the centuries since their previous visits.
There’s nothing sinister about the recordings themselves. In fact, the reverse. The Light Chasers are treated pretty much like deities, and the tech and the treasure that they bring is a boon to both the individual economies and the local planetary government. The collars keep records only, they don’t take anything from their wearers.
But the conditions of the planets. That’s where things get sinister. Because each planet is locked in whatever era of development it was created – whether their situation is bloody, medieval horror or post-scarcity techno-pampered ennui.
There’s no growth. There’s no change. There’s no evolution. Golden ages last forever – but so do Dark ones. To the point where Amahle, no matter how many times her memory has been wiped, is starting to notice.
Which is where Carloman comes in. Over and over again. Seemingly reborn on multiple planets in multiple eras, seeking out one of her collar-wearers so that he can deliver a message. Knowing that she will inevitably see that message in the long (at least relatively) journeys between the stars.
If he doesn’t manage to get the whole message across in one circuit, he’ll simply have to try again. Until he gets it right. Or she does.
Escape Rating B: As much as I LOVED yesterday’s Red Team Blues, I did go into it thinking I was going to get something SFnal – so I had still had a taste for that in my mind. (And I had another book just fail.) So I went looking for something short and SFnal that I already had – which is where Light Chaser comes in.
There are two threads to this story. The first one is hidden – at first. Because from one perspective, Light Chaser is the ultimate star-crossed, crosstime, long-distance romance. It’s so long distance and so far across time that initially Amahle doesn’t even remember that once upon a time, it happened. (And yes, there are hints of This is How You Lose the Time War if you squint a bit.)
Amahle’s been made to forget, repeatedly and often over the very long years, but her once and future love, Carloman, loves her so damn much that he’s managed to get around a veritable empire of AIs that are keeping them apart.
We never do find out how he does that, we only know that he has. And does. And possibly will again if it doesn’t work this time around.
The truly SFnal part of the story is the story of Amahle’s life in her here and now, as Carloman’s intrusions into the collars she has collected and viewed slowly but surely strips away her somewhat bored complaisance and wakes her up to a truth that seemingly only he can see. But once she’s seen it, she can’t unsee it, to the point where she tears her whole world apart to get it back.
It starts at the end and ends at the beginning, but along the way it portrays a far future world that isn’t what it ought to be – and tells the story of the painful stripping away of both illusion and self needed to get it back on track.
I finished Light Chaser wanting just a bit more of pretty much everything, as there is a LOT of handwavium involved in making the whole thing work. But within the constraints of a novella, it does a terrific job of making the reader think right along with Amahle. Digging this one out of the depths of the virtually towering TBR pile was absolutely the right thing to do!