“The Light of Other Days” by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke – Review – Science Fiction

If you can get past the beginning, you’ll find yourself wrapped up in a brilliant idea.

"The Light of Other Days"

July 23, 2011 – My favorite kind of literature to read tends to be character based. If I don’t like any of the characters, I find it hard to finish a book, much less get wrapped up in it. That is why I find my enjoyment of “The Light of Other Days” so surprising. I had read what was, perhaps, the first fourth of the book before I put it down. It was months later before I picked it up again because the beginning simply isn’t that great. None of the characters caught me, the writing was poor in places, with far too much exposition and adverbs to bog down an already tedious process. So it took me a long time to get back to it, mostly so I could get it over with and give it back to the friend who lent it to me.

That’s about when it planted it’s first real hooks. You see, this book is about ideas. There are characters, and they get more interesting as the story goes along, to be sure, but it’s the ideas that really drew me in. In that sense, it deftly uses the greatest tool of science fiction: the ability of science to change the very fabric of our world, and ourselves. What would happen if all privacy became an obsolete concept? What would happen if all time and space were available to the common man, like watching a television set? What if mankind became omniscient?

Watching the revelations of what “really” happened throughout history, how that crime really happened, what it was really like in the civil war, the crusades, the life of Jesus himself, were all fascinating. I know it was fiction and yet the “realities” these characters were seeing were heart wrenching. I don’t envy them their entire historical identity being broken, but it is a wonder to read.

The characters of the book are really just windows through which we can see how all of society would be wrenched apart and rebuilt into something vastly different, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t uninteresting. Once the book gets going, Bobby, Kate and others all show complicated sides of themselves, question their broken realities and strive to make changes against forces that seem well beyond their control, or rather forces that have always been controlling them. The character arc for Bobby, in particular, is well done and interesting to watch, as his personal history and family identity unravel around him.

Closing Comments:
There’s no getting around the issue that the beginning is terrible. It will turn many readers off, I think. But if you can get past the slow, slow build, to when the characters get interesting, and the scientific advancements become world shaping, you will be absorbed. The last half of the book I could hardly put it down, and the last fifty pages or so blew my mind. It’s not for everyone, but if you like what a god idea can do, or if you’re a fan of science fiction’s ability to reshape our perspectives of the universe, you will enjoy this book.

STAR RATING: (3 & 1/2 stars)

Three and One-Half Stars

For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.

Spoiler Talk:
Wow, there was some sex in this book. Here’s an interesting glimpse into my sordid brain, but I’ve always wondered how much of our perspectives on sex are cultural barriers we’ve set up, and how much are truly a product of our beings, born from the genetic code, so to speak. Of course this is easier to answer if you know for sure how life began, or feel like you do at any rate, but if you give thought to how it might be… well it gets interesting. This is why I like to read books that question these things. Not to say that this book dwells on sex constantly, but there’s no escaping that is a dominant theme.

I won’t lie, every time a biblical truth was found to be false or different from my beliefs, I felt like I was hit in the gut a little bit. Yeah, it’s fictional, but it made me wonder what would happen to me, psychologically if I ever found out, beyond a shadow of a doubt, otherwise. I would probably be very much like David in the book, torn apart on the inside for a very long time.

I’m not sure how much this contributed to how much I loved the ending, where every human being is being “reborn” in the future. It’s hopeful. An optimistic promise that science can make everything better. Though it would seem to me to be a false hope, it is an image that will stick with you. The idea that mankind, through it’s boundless ingenuity can branch out, expand to the stars and, just maybe, save itself.


3 thoughts on ““The Light of Other Days” by Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke – Review – Science Fiction

  1. […] and Arthur C. Clarke was the first, and “Coyote” by Allen Steele was the second. You can find my review for ‘The Light of Other Days’ at this link, It really is great. and though I’ve already written the review for “Coyote” I’m […]

  2. glenchen says:

    Glad you liked it, and I found I pretty much had the same reaction to it. I was enamored by the concept, but found the writing pedantic. Now Coyote, on the other hand, grabbed me and held onto me from the beginning….

    Welcome back.

    • Edward Cheever says:

      Absolutely. I’ve got the Coyote review in reserve at the moment, I’ll probably post in next week after I get a couple movie reviews done and posted.

      It’s good to be back 🙂

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