Despite a rough experience with the Night’s Dawn trilogy, I once again find myself enjoying Peter F. Hamilton’s ability to create worlds. I found myself lured by two of Light Chaser’s promises. One, Light Chaser is a novella instead of a 2000 page epic; and two, he has a co-author, Gareth Powell. I figured why not give it a shot?
Light Chaser is the story of Amahle, a near immortal being (through the wonders of science and relativity) who travels the galaxy. Her mission is to trade trinkets and status for the memories of specific inhabitants on the various planets that populate her route. Her ship travels near the speed of light, creating vast separations of time between her visits to the same planets, allowing almost millenia to occur, making her a near mythical figure. However, in some of the memories she reviews, the same voice begins to reach out to her from different planets and different times. It warns her of a terrible secret, giving her the clues to solve the mystery and put an end to a nefarious scheme once and for all. Unfortunately for Amahle, it will take everything from her and destroy everything she knows.
Right off the bat I’ll tell you, Light Chaser was more enjoyable than I expected. Given my history with Hamilton’s stories, I was more or less reading this to get a quick taste of what he’s been up to, expecting to see the typical strengths and weaknesses of his other works. However, this book does something weird. It starts at the end of the story. For readers of Hamilton this is definitely out of place, but it came as a welcome change to the typical formula. I’ve never read one of Powell’s books, so I can’t tell if this is his influence, or a new direction from Hamilton, but this piqued my interest to say the least.
If you’re hoping for a playlist of Hamilton’s greatest hits, in some sense, you get what you pay for. His classic gigantic worldbuilding based around a pairing of technological innovations is all over this book. I wish there was a little more variety, and a little more meat on the bone in some of these scenarios, but Hamilton’s contributions are on shining display and serve the story well. Powell, on the other hand, seems to be in the driver seat for character and story, of which there is plenty. There is a frenetic and deliberate pace to the story that is focused around Amahle’s development of and complicity within the system she participates in. It is a more character focused story, the worldbuilding serves as impetus instead of it being the main focus. The plot and the worldbuilding enhance each other, creating a pleasant if sometimes bombastic mixture of the authors’ strengths.
The duo also goes through great pains to try and keep the time-based aspects of the story in check. It may not hold up under tight scrutiny, but they don’t just wave their hands and say “it’s our version of time,” while misdirecting you with witticisms. Instead, it plays both a functional and thematic role within the story and the life of Amahle.
However, I have a couple of complaints. The story does sometimes drag, especially towards the center of the low page count. The lack of variety, mixed with Amahle’s general apathy and dearth of curiosity, while poignant and thematically purposeful, sometimes made me want to scream “I get it!” It’s not bad, and it may work for most people. But for me it just feels like a little more could have been done to round out the more nefarious aspects of the society Amahle is a member of.
After my frustrations with some of Hamilton’s solo work, I feel collaborative projects might be to his benefit as it rounds out the strengths and weaknesses of his writing. He has a real talent detailing how societies would and do coalesce around specific technologies and use them to amplify existing power structures. It’s just the stories around that skill rarely interact with it, and Powell knew how to interact with it. He makes Amahle feel like a real person trapped by the overwhelming benefits of the system, who has to learn to make good. With their powers combined, Hamilton and Powell have written a neat novella that explores light speed in a fun, intense, and interesting way.
Review: Light Chaser 8.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to us in exchange for an unbiased review. The thoughts on this story are my own.