Clarke, Arthur C. & Stephen Baxter. The Light of Other Days.

NY: Tor, 2000.

I’ll admit up front that I’m not especially a fan of Baxter’s individual works. I’ve tried a few of them and even though he’s won several awards, I find his style stiff and sometimes impenetrable. Which means I’m probably biased regarding those books he has co-written with Grand Masters like Clarke (and, more recently, Terry Pratchett).

This one is set in our own near future and focuses on the social effects of almost-but-not-quite time travel, via mini-wormholes that don’t require a fixed control point at both ends. The highly speculative physics that makes this possible is probably Clarke’s contribution, but Baxter spends so much time explaining it, and in words of so many syllables, I found myself skimming to get to the actual story. The protagonists (they don’t come across as heroes, really) are Kate Manzoni, a freelance investigative journalist (who doesn’t worry much about staying within the law as long as she gets a story), and Bobby Patterson, son and heir of Hiram Patterson, megalomaniac boss of a newspaper/manufacturing/ physics empire. Hiram (who is emphatically the villain) will do anything for a buck and the hell with unforeseen consequences. He’s almost a cartoon character, manipulative, violent, bigoted, and willing to sacrifice anyone and anything for his own ends. And the invention of the far-viewing wormhole system means, to him, the chance to play ultimate paparazzi, digging up the goods on celebrities for his tabloids. He’s also perfectly willing to spy on the White House to increase his market share. But then [insert more pseudophysics], the system turns out to be capable of giving us a close-up image of history, too.

The consequences of this, especially when the general public gets hold of it, is an overnight, worldwide revolution in most of our social systems, the vanishing of personal privacy and national security, the uncovering of extremely embarrassing national secrets from past centuries, and the collapse of prophet-based religions. This section of the book is actually quite fascinating and it’s hard to argue with the authors’ proposed cause and effects. Nor is it surprising that, over the next decade or so, young people adapt quickly to the new way of things (and make changes in it to suit themselves) while their elders have a much, much harder time of it.

So, the characters are rather wooden and overdone, and the science is unnecessarily over-explained, but the second half of the book is actually quite interesting. Though Baxter’s overwrought style doesn’t do it any favors.

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Published in: on 9 November 2014 at 7:58 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. One of the better ones featuring the AC Clarke co-author. Much, much better than any of the collaborations with Gentry Lee.


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