After two novels and a short story collection that were at best mediocre, McAuley finally hits his stride with Eternal Light. It’s set in the same universe as the majority of his previous work, but it’s a huge leap forward in terms of quality. Primarily this is a direct sequel to Four Hundred Billion Stars, as it continues the journey of lead character Dorthy Yoshida, but with plenty of recaps it’s possible (and may actually be preferable) to skip the previous novel and read this as a standalone novel.
The central story takes another well-worn sf idea – the evolution of life beyond flesh – but weaves it around a giddily inventive plot. As with Secret Harmonies, McAuley splits his narrative between two main leads, thus ensuring that things never becomes dull.
At times Eternal Light borders on being too-hard sf, but thanks to its strong characters the book never completely disappears up it’s own standing wave function. If you like the sort of epic universe building of Stephen Baxter (and with its use of stars as weapons, evolving beyond the material universe, and a uroboric use of time Eternal Light is a close relative of Baxter’s Xeelee series) you’ll find much to enjoy here.
on 29 December 2010
Eternal Light is a big imaginative space opera novel of the classic formula. The plot revolves around a hypervelocity star discovered to be travelling against the rotation of the galaxy seemingly on a collision course with the solar system. Those who make the journey to the star each have their own ambitions and agendas, although none are prepared for what they find when in orbit around the they encounter the strange, fractured moon pock-marked with wormholes leading to the centre of the galaxy...
Ageless plutocrats, alien superweapons, vanished post-human intelligences, galactic mega-engineering, hard-bitten fighter pilots, telepathic astronomers, fun with Einstein-Minkowski space - all the ingredients of an enjoyable hard sf adventure story combine in a plot that keeps moving at a good clip. As with most good sf, the book asks the reader to reflect on our place in the universe and the extreme possibilities of human existence. Thus the Fermi Paradox and ideas of deep time form central plot elements and are subject to some interesting and pretty original reflections. The characterisation is also surprisingly good for hard sf, McAuley has a sharp appreciation of human idiosyncracies ensures that even minor characters have more than two dimensions. In particular of primary female protagonist, Australian-Japanese telepath Dorthy Yoshida, is as rounded a heroine as can be found in any genre, not just sf.
The inclusion of some cyberpunk elements ensures that the book has little aged despite being penned a good two decades ago. However like most hard sf, the novel does require a background knowledge of contemporary scientific developments and sf conventions to get the most out of it (or at least to raise a smile at quips about hyperbolic curves), but luckily it never buries the reader in jargon. Nonetheless, the book does include a few equations, which is in my view inexcusable in fiction. Eternal Light is nonetheless a good entry in a well established genre, using the tropes of hard sf in a sophisticated and thoughtful way.
on 23 April 2012
Maybe it's just me but I disagree with everyone here. I don't think the characters are fully rounded at all but quite invisible really. I couldn't empathise with anything going on in the book and at times there are passages or descriptions of hard sci-fi that I couldn't help thinking were just nonsense. I deperately tried to get into it but in the end, half way through, I decided that I just didn't care about, or believe in, anything that was going on...