Fiction Reviews

Eternal Light

(1991/2009) Paul McAuley, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 419pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08640-1


This welcome reprint (2009) by Gollancz of McAuley's expansive space opera is positively welcome. And if you missed it the first time around, the best part of two decades ago, then this is your chance.

Paul McAuley is both good at thriller writing as well as space opera, with Eternal Light he fuses the two. The set up is the future in which humanity has not only spread out through the Solar system but also the nearby stars using an expensive jump drive: in short interstellar travel is not as mundane as in Star Wars or Trek but we are clearly in space opera territory. And there has been an interstellar war in the recent past with some aliens, plus there are high-tech factions, not to mention 'the golden' who are extremely long-lived (biomedically rejuvenated) multi-billionaires. In short there are many factions knocking around.

If this set up was not complicated enough, it transpires that the Galaxy has a bit of a history with other sentient species, and humanity is beginning to get more than an inkling of this, not least because the aliens humanity had been battling have had their own encounters with others long ago, and far away, near the Galactic core. (Indeed this is teasingly presented in the novel's first paragraph before we are dropped straight into one of the lead character's (Dorthy's) encounter with aliens' distant past on an extra-solar archaeological dig.)

When one of the Golden discovers an anomalous, high velocity rogue star moving contrary to the spiral arm swirl and heading away from the Galactic core, he decides to recruit a team to go investigate as it could be there is alien technology to be had. Of course the ReUnited Nations already has a small task force out there...

The first half or so of the novel concerns how the Golden, Dorthy Yoshida (a telepath with experience of the aliens), Suzy Falcon (ace pilot) and an artist cum social activist/terrorist cyborg, all make their ways to the anomalous star. The novel's latter part charts their discoveries and how everyone deals with these (as well as their preconceptions).

Eternal Light is a densely plotted and filled with loud characters who present a universe packed with sense of wonder and yet it all works as a logical whole. Having said that I may have misled you earlier when I said of McAuley's 'space opera' and 'thriller' skills that with this novel "he fuses the two". You see when this first came out (1991) Paul McAuley only had a couple of novels under his belt, so had yet to shine as a thriller writer and so back then there was nothing with which to fuse. Therefore what you get with Eternal Light is a forerunner of what was to follow with a good proportion of his SF writing over the next couple of decades. Consequently if you only came to the man's broad canvass, action-filled space opera in recent years and enjoy it, then you will simply want to get Eternal Light.

Jonathan Cowie

Tony has also written a review of Eternal Light.

There are many other McAuley reviews on this site - see the Fiction Reviews Index link below.

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